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The Science of Changing Your Mind Part 3 of an interview with Joe Dispenza, DC
Pathways: What is mental rehearsal and how can we use it to change?
Dr. Dispenza: Mental rehearsal allows us to change our brain— to create a new level of mind—without doing anything physical other than thinking. It involves mentally seeing and experiencing our “self” demonstrating or practicing a skill, habit, or state of being of our own choosing. Through mental rehearsal, we can employ the advanced faculties of our frontal lobe to make significant changes in our life.
Several studies have shown that the brain does not know the difference between what it is thinking internally and what it is experiencing in its external environment. In one experiment, two groups of non-pianists were asked to learn one-handed piano exercises and to practice two hours a day for five days—with one important difference. One group physically practiced their exercises, while the other mentally rehearsed the same exercises without using their fingers. At the end of the five days, brain scans showed that both groups grew the same amount of new brain circuits. How is that possible?
We know that when we think the same thoughts or perform the same actions over and over, we repeatedly stimulate specific networks of neurons in particular areas of the brain. As a result, we build stronger, more enriched connections between these groups of nerve cells. This concept in neuroscience is called Hebbian learning. The idea is simple: nerve cells that fire together, wire together.
According to functional brain scans in this particular experiment, the subjects that mentally rehearsed were so inwardly focused that their brain did not know the difference between the internal and the external world. Thus, they were activating their brain in the same way as if they were actually playing the piano. In fact, their brain circuits strengthened and developed in the same area of the brain as the group that physically practiced.
Pathways: You say in your book that thinking isn’t enough to change our mind, and that change is a process of thinking, doing, and then being. Can you explain how this works?
Dr. Dispenza: The change we want to make has to go beyond thinking and even doing—we need to go all the way to being. If I want to truly be a pianist, I will start by acquiring knowledge, which involves thinking. Then I can start to gain experience through mental rehearsal, which again involves thinking. I also have to involve the body in the act of doing— physically demonstrating what I’ve intellectually learned—by playing the piano. But that isn’t going far enough. Imagine a concert pianist who does her best work in practice sessions, but struggles during a concert. Or to bring this a little closer to home, imagine a spouse who is the model of understanding on the drive home from work, but devolves into an impatient pouter as soon as he or she comes through the door.