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How Conscious Attention Effects Positive Change in the Brain, Part 1

The last two decades have produced more research on the brain and brain technologies than all past years put together.

Much of this new information dramatically changes how we view the brain, revealing mental and emotional capacities that, once we discover how to use them, can be lifelong assets with which we may create positive change to our brains … and do so consciously … in the direction of our highest aspirations.

That’s good news.

In addition to your brain being responsive to change throughout life, it means you can also consciously alter its structure by the particular focus of your attention.

Let’s explore how this may be significant to you and your relationships.

When you change your focus, your thoughts change.

Your attention, when applied consciously to make the specific changes you want, can be a powerful tool of healing and transformative action. How?

  • The thoughts you focus on inside expand to create a particular worldview of life around you.

Your thoughts create images in your mind that your entire body responds to accordingly. A focus on what you want or how you have overcome obstacles in the past, for example, is going to produce completely different chemical reactions inside you from a focus on what you lack or how your loved have not met your expectations.

It is estimated that you have about 60,000 thoughts a day. Many of these subconscious stirrings, by the way, are remnants of what you picked up in childhood experiences.  Though you may not be aware of this inner stream of thoughts, you can be once you focus your attention on becoming aware of your “self-talk.”

  • A different focus shifts the thoughts and images in your mind.

Your beliefs are perceptions that interpret the events in your life. When you shift your perceptions inside, your outward behaviors change, as does the physiology of your entire body.

The moment you see or hear of a person who is successful at something you aspire to achieve, such as, for example, a trim-healthy body, a prosperous business or a great mutually enriching love relationship, etc., what thoughts automatically fire inside your mind?

If you’ve achieved a measure of success in a certain area, your brain most likely produces positive thoughts, such as “I wonder how much work and passion went into their success?” In contrast, if it’s an area you’ve struggled with for some time, or even worse seemingly “always,” you are likely to automatically think some negative thoughts, such as, “When will I ever … so and so?” or “Why does he get all the breaks?” or  “I hate her, her success annoys me.”

No doubt, these thought patterns produce drastically different behavior patterns.

These subconscious exchanges between you and life around you are potentially life changing … and the more aware you become of even minor inner changes you are making, the more you notice their, at times, miracle-making effect on others and life around you.

When neurons fire together, accordingly, they rewire in patterned ways.

As is often said in neuroscience since the late 1990s, neurons that “fire together, wire together.” When a pair of neurons fire at the same time, they build an association or connection between them.

  • This is what happens whenever learning takes place.

Whenever you learn something new, a new grouping of cells comes together to form neural associations between them. If you learn something new, it is because either old or new neurons are wiring together in new ways. When you hear certain words or see certain images around you, and respond to what you see and hear in different ways, for example, your brain automatically forms new associations. With repetition or practice, these connections thicken and strengthen, meaning the behavioral response is more likely to be repeated.

  • This, by the way, is how you learned all of what you know, even how to walk, run and ride a bike.

Even prior to birth, your brain began processes of structuring neurons in certain patterns, wiring and rewiring neurons together to form set pathways that permitted the essential transmission of these chemical and electrical messages throughout the neural network of your body. As you can imagine, most of this learning happens subconsciously, that is, without a lot of conscious thinking on your part.

When you apply focused attention to these processes, however, you get to actually choose the specific changes you want to make to your brain. This key finding in the field of neuroscience is discussed by several experts in the field, for example:

The power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself. ~ DANIEL L. SIEGEL, M.D.

In short, practicing a new way of responding to or thinking about an old issue causes neurons to fire together in different ways, forming new connections, perhaps new neurons.

New learning occurs as new cells and connections between cells are formed. Though events and experiences may alter the structure of your brain, new learning and connections largely depend upon how you respond to events around you, rather than the actual events themselves. If your brain is in a protective mode, such as may occur, for example, when you or someone criticizes you, your body turns off the brain’s learning mode. (You know all those lectures you’ve heard or given? They were a waste of time and energy.)

You are always in the process of becoming what you are most thinking. Thoughts shape your actions. You become what you do. Let your brain work for you with optimal efficiency by discovering the power of consciously focusing your attention.

How is it possible for attention to produce structural changes in the brain? This will be the topic of Part 2 of this post.

In the meantime, remember:

What we are today comes from out thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” ~ BUDDHA

Are you conscious of your thoughts?


Cozolino, Louis (2002). The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain. NY: W. W. Norton.

Siegel, Daniel J. (1999). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. NY: Guilford Press.

How Conscious Attention Effects Positive Change in the Brain, Part 1

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2012). How Conscious Attention Effects Positive Change in the Brain, Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Apr 2012
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