“When you turn on the stress response, and you can’t turn it off, now you are headed for disease,” said chiropractor and author Joe Dispenza in his recent Ted Talk . But Joe wasn’t talking about tangible, real-time stressors. He was talking about the human capacity to turn on the stress response by thought alone.
As chiropractors, we are very much acquainted with the sympathetic nervous system that activates during fight or flight. We know that stress has the potential to knock the body out of homeostasis, and that mindset can have an important role in this. But often, changing the mind when it is set on a negative or stressful path just isn’t that easy.
Joe Dispenza has a passion for “exploring how people can use the latest findings from the fields of neuroscience and quantum physics to not only heal illness but also to enjoy a more fulfilled and happy life .” His experience as a chiropractor saw him delivering adjustments that (we now know) had the potential to change the structure and function of the brain, but now he has turned his sights on the neuroscience that allows us to live out our full potential.
To Dispenza, there is a science behind changing your mind. It has to do with three areas of the brain that have distinct functions, but when they work together they have the power to shift even the most stubborn of mental habits.
“We have three brains that allow us to go from thinking to doing to being. Each brain is its own individual bio-computer, with its own anatomy and own circuitry, its own physiology and chemistry. They even have their own history, with their own sense of time and space,” says Dispenza.
He is talking about the neocortex, the limbic system and the cerebellum – all of which have different functions. The limbic system is the chemical or emotional brain responsible for regulating internal chemical order, the cerebellum is the seat of the subconscious mind, and the neocortex is the thinking brain.
But changing a habit or a thinking pattern isn’t the role of the neocortex alone.
“What the neocortex loves to do is to gather information. Every time you learn something new, you create a new synaptic connection in your thinking brain. That’s what learning is. Learning is forging new connections. Every time you learn something new, your brain physically changes. You read a book on how to ride a bicycle, you read a book on how to build a doghouse…your brain literally up-scales its hardware to reflect a new level of mind.
The principle in neuroscience says that neurons that fire together wire together. As you begin to learn new information, you biologically wire that information into the cerebral architecture.”
Essentially, we are changing our mind every time we make our brain work differently. “Once you have understood something intellectually, and you apply it or personally experience it, it means you have to modify your behaviour in some way.” This allows us to harness the power of experience to increase the impact of the intellectual understanding.
For example: it’s one thing to read about forgiveness, it’s another thing to experience doing it.
Dizpenza’s theory shows how we can reframe things that previously turned on the stress response, and teach ourselves to react differently. It all comes down to the combination of information and experience, the neocortex and limbic system.
According to Dispenza, your five senses gather information from your environment. Jungles of neurons organise themselves into patterns to interpret this stimuli, and then the brain releases a chemical, an emotion. This chemical comes from the limbic brain.
“You can remember your first kiss. You can remember graduating from college. You can remember the birth of your first child… We can say you were altered from that experience. The problem is you can’t remember what you had for dinner the night before. Why? Routine lulls the brain to sleep.”
When we experience something that is out of the ordinary, when something causes us to sit up and pay attention, we break out of the lull of routine and we experience the biochemical power of information and emotion combined.
That’s how those red-letter moments occur.
Dispenza isn’t the only one referring to the power of the neocortex and limbic system when it comes to the mind. Authors Selekman and Beyebach talk about it in their book on changing self-destructive habits . They wrote of a biological loop that keeps us in the grip of self-destructive patterns. It starts with external or internal stressors, moves straight to the limbic system as cravings and urges kick in, and then moves into the realm of the prefrontal cortex as desire and anticipation reinforce the habit. As we move through the stages of habit action, reward of pleasure, temporary relief and satisfaction, the prefrontal cortex and limbic system interact to reinforce the pattern. Soon we find ourselves back at the beginning of the cycle.
Repetition makes this a well-worn path in our brain. This isn’t just true for stressors, or habits, but also for addictions as research shows us.
But how do we change our minds and reroute this well-worn path? Dispenza explains that it starts with metacognition, or the ability for us to observe ourselves and apply logic. The circuits in our brain allow us to create an image of what we want to do or change. This image is our intention.
“Whenever you make your brain work differently, you are changing your mind, because mind is the brain in action…If you persist with a certain amount of amplitude, and if you put intention behind that thought, that thought becomes the strongest and loudest voice in your head,” says Dispenza. The brain then has to seal that circuit more permanently.
With neural growth factor sealing this new connection, other old connections become weaker. As behaviour matches intention, mind and body can work together.
Then, the emotions kick in and teach the body through experience what your mind understands through intellect. “Now we are embodying knowledge. The word is becoming flesh. The limbic brain makes a new batch of peptides that signal to the body, and you begin to literally change your genetic expression because there is new information coming to the brain.”
The key to making change stick is in repeating the experience so many times that you no longer have to think about it. Here, when body and mind work together, we signal the cerebellum. The new behaviour becomes automatic.
The process of change may seem daunting at the outset, but when you break it down to the power of information, experience and repetition, it moves into the realm of the possible. Even the most stressful and stubborn of mindsets can move.
 Dispenza, J (2012), “Dr. Joe Dispenza TED Talk – Tacoma Washington,” Ted Talks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjNSwUb_Sj4 retrieved 18 January 2016
 Dispenza, J (2015), “About Dr. Joe Dispenza” http://www.drjoedispenza.com/index.php?page_id=about retrieved 19 January 2016
 Selekman M, and Beyebach, M (2013), “Changing Self-Destructive Habits: Pathways to Solutions with Couples and Families,” Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, New York, NY pp.18 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=GY2bBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=limbic+prefrontal+habit&source=bl&ots=gGXjRkNJ4h&sig=rDucv5OSHGuX4rc5Z3nOBFYu0nY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiT-_GQ4OnKAhWIL6YKHenZA0cQ6AEIPDAE#v=onepage&q=limbic%20prefrontal%20habit&f=false retrieved 9 Feb 2016