Do you agree with me when I say that positive thinking is powerful?
For some people, positive thinking is about being delusional. They think that it underestimates outside events and neglects the realities around us.
Science thinks otherwise. It says that positive thinking is indeed productive, and if you know how to harness it, it can lead you to a life of limitless opportunity, happiness, and greatness.
Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman is back today. He’s a professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology in Stanford and runs the Huberman Lab which studies brain functions, how our brains change through experiences, and how to repair the brain after injury or disease. He’s going to share his knowledge and expertise to help us all believe that positive thinking truly works!
This is Part Two of our interview. In Part One, we talked about awesome stuff like unlocking the power of our minds so we can be at our best despite experiencing stress, fear, or trauma. If you want to learn more about practical tips like breathing and sleeping and how they can help deal with stress, make sure to check it out! With the things that are happening around us, it could be the answer that you’re looking for.
In today’s episode, we dive deep into the science of positive thinking, the science of gratitude and abundance, and the one belief Dr. Huberman believes everyone could benefit from. I’m so excited for you to listen to this, so let’s get started!
Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist at Stanford University. He also runs the Huberman Lab, which studies brain states such as fear, courage, anxiety, and calm. They also work on discovering how we can better move in and out of these states through visual cues, breathwork, movement, and supplementation.
In his career, Andrew has made many important contributions to the fields of brain development, brain plasticity, neural regeneration, and repair. He’s received numerous awards and recognitions for his research and publications, including the McKnight Foundation Neuroscience Scholar Award, the Biomedical Scholar Award from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Cogan Award for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
In addition to being a tenured professor, Dr. Andrew is also a brilliant neuroscientist and teacher — he excellently explains complicated concepts in a way that everyday people can understand and helps us use neuroscience to improve our lives!
Andrew’s goal is to understand how the brain allows us to sense, evaluate, and respond to the world around us. He’s actively working on methods to re-wire and repair eye-to-brain connections for people who suffer from blinding diseases, as well as investigating emotions and how they drive human behavior.
Dr. Andrew is an expert on how the human brain works — I can’t wait for him to share his wisdom with you today!
How do you deal with life’s stresses and trials? William James, a psychologist and philosopher, suggests that the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. I think he’s talking about positive thinking, which is the ability to focus on what’s good.
Interestingly, the concept of positive thinking can be explained by science, too. Neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman, has an explanation of how this happens.
“Positive thinking is about learning how to take control of internal processes, and understanding that will shape your external environment. It’s about knowing that despite shifts in the external landscape, you’re going to be okay.” – Andrew Huberman
It might sound a little bit complicated, but Andrew discusses these internal processes that can help us achieve a mental attitude that looks forward to a better and happier life. According to him, we need to understand and take control of these two systems to live a life undaunted by obstacles and hardships. These are our mind’s dopamine and serotonin systems.
“Dopamine might be one of the most powerful neurochemicals in our system. It’s the molecule of motivation. It pushes us to have goals and to strive more. It’s an innate tool that helps us propel forward.” – Andrew Huberman
To know that our bodies have their way of developing a growth mindset is another discovery that truly amazes me! As Andrew said, the dopamine system is natural, which means that we don’t need any medicine or pill to have it. He even added that there are hardwired processes critical to the propagation of our species that can get direct access to the dopamine system. This includes finding our mates, the birth of a new child, food, social connection, and even water. However, he explains that this innate system has its downsides:
“There’s a little cul-de-sac that dopamine can take you into. Some people get so much dopamine release from these intermediate goals that they never make it to the end goal. Besides, because dopamine leads us to be in constant pursuit, it will eventually wear your nervous system down. You will be exhausted and eventually run [down], particularly if you’re always after external rewards.” – Andrew Huberman
To regulate dopamine, Andrew talks about another internal process. This time, it involves the serotonin system. Once you know what it’s all about, you’ll be able to understand how positive thinking is truly possible. Andrew explains it this way:
“Our body has another reward system, which is the serotonin system. This doesn’t put us into forward motion but tends to make us feel good. It makes us feel calm. It’s not about pursuing things, but being happy with what we already have. That’s an important reward mechanism that nature has built in to balance the dopamine system.” – Andrew Huberman
With these internal processes that we have, focusing on the good while we’re caught up in life’s challenges is not impossible. Again, Andrew shared science-backed claims that everyone can achieve a positive mindset because we’re all equipped with the system to have it. No pill or medication is needed — it’s within you and me. Our minds are intelligently designed with the capacity to get us through life’s most challenging moments. All we need to learn is how to tap in and use their secrets to our advantage.
If we can do this, then we’ll be on our way to being unstoppable and great!
If positive thinking is all about learning to control our mind’s internal processes, specifically those that are related to dopamine and serotonin, does it mean that we should be running after them 24/7?
As mentioned, despite their powerful nature, neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin have their limitations. To be able to work around these and maximize their benefits, Andrew points out some things that we can follow.
For Andrew, addiction takes place when there’s a progressive narrowing of the things that bring pleasure — specifically in this scenario, dopamine release. The thing with dopamine release is it sometimes becomes the finish line. Have you noticed that even after getting pumped up with excitement and all, we still fail to achieve our goals? Or how many of us have initially felt motivated and started to do things but never finish them? I think that this addiction to dopamine rewards could be a reason why some of us develop the habit of quitting. For Andrew, we can combat this by appreciating what we have.
“Dopamine release gives you the energy to continue to pursue more of what you want. But it should not be the endpoint, but a way to propel you forward.” – Andrew Huberman
According to Andrew, gratitude and appreciation can help us avoid addiction to dopamine releases. We see this manifested when we tend to get delighted by everything — a result of dopamine. In this way, we turn dopamine to thoughts about movement towards and the experience of pursuing things that are outside our reach.
Andrew also added another benefit of gratitude and appreciation:
“Appreciation and gratitude build social bonds. From there, we already have the fundamentals to the survival and evolution of our species.” – Andrew Huberman
By knowing the science behind gratitude and appreciation, we can move toward closing the gap between where we are right now and our goals. I used to believe that the key to happiness is living in and appreciating the present. Thanks to Andrew, I also learned that it’s the secret to making our dreams happen!
By attaching the dopamine reward system to our efforts, we are ensured that we’re going to perform well over time. However, our focus can’t always be about pursuits, and Andrew explains why.
“You also need to tap into your serotonin system. You can get this from meditation, prayer, journaling, or reflection. By doing that, you’re able to restore the system and allow it to renew. This can make you effective so that you can get back into the pursuit of things.” – Andrew Huberman
I want you to stop and reflect. Have you had any experience where you’ve worked too hard to reach your goals? How did you feel about it? Many of us tend to overwork ourselves in the pursuit of our dreams, but like Andrew says, rest is also vital — not just for optimal performance but also to just enjoying life. Scientifically, his explanation was this:
“The key is to have a dopamine system that can be accessed [and] to have a serotonin system that you can access.” – Andrew Huberman
This is no secret, my friends. As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Rest. Take a break. Let your serotonin system do its job to help you live a happier and fuller life.
Pursuit can be very taxing. It’s like wandering in the desert, not knowing if there’s water at all. It’s depleting. This is particularly true when your pursuit is all about external goals. It’ll wear you down, and sometimes, can even lead to depression. To avoid this, Andrew gives a piece of simple advice.
“The key is to figure out what are the rewards that you can acquire along the way internally.” – Andrew Huberman
It’s easier to motivate yourself when your motivation is attached to physical things. How many times have we heard success stories that start from the goal of having a dream house or that new body? But what if after years and years of work, these things still do not manifest? How do we trick our minds to find rewards in subjective things that aren’t physically coming to us? Andrew has an answer.
“One is making sure you cultivate the feeling of appreciation. But here’s something very important. Take that feeling of being saturated with dopamine, the huge win, and attach it to the effort process that got you there.” – Andrew Huberman
Was there any point in your life that you were aiming for something but kept on failing to get it? What do your parents or older people tell you? I’m pretty sure that they say something along the lines of, “At least you did your best.” And this is what Andrew was saying all along. By shifting your focus from the result to the effort process itself, things immediately feel better, right?
When you attach your brain’s wires to your efforts, you get to keep a lot of valuable content to your brain. Andrew looks at this as the reason why many Silicon Valley philanthropists can give away so much to charity. Because they connect their dopamine rewards to their efforts, they can intuitively understand the process that gets them to where they are today. It adds to their confidence that they can repeat their success.
These principles are simple, but it’s a science that shows how massive an impact it can make in the lives of many! By making use of these simple practices, we can truly be in control not only of our thoughts and lives, too.
If there’s one new belief that we should all try in 2021, Andrew says that it’s knowing that the reward mechanisms in the brain’s dopamine release are completely under your control.
“When you keep control of that system, you’re not just releasing dopamine. Use your thoughts or humor of any kind. Attach it to things that feel very real and important in life. From there, you can access this subjective release that essentially guarantees that you’re going to be able to continue to move forward in the pursuit of goals.” – Andrew Huberman
Andrew believes that by having control of your mind and its internal processes, you can be joyful and optimistic. Andrew also emphasizes one factor that helps in controlling your mind and thoughts.
“It’s wonderful to be around people that know how to make use of the minds’ internal capacity. These are the people we orient to as leaders, as coworkers, and as teammates. This can happen in sports teams, the workplace, and the family. When we see other people have a capacity and they’re not just grinding it out, an interaction happens between members of the same species where we start to feel more possibility for ourselves.” – Andrew Huberman
So I challenge everyone — this year, evaluate how you show up when you’re in your pursuit of goals. Know that the internal processes in your mind are incredibly valuable and that by learning how to control them, you can improve your life. Don’t leave it to the control and discretion of external events. The choice for happiness and greatness is always within you.
This conversation was fascinating. We just began the new year, and this is the perfect time to start practicing focusing on what’s good and be more appreciative of the little things in our lives. By doing so, we can have a strong impact on both our physical and mental health. Just as Andrew explains, the key is inside you. You just need to understand it to fully awaken all your capabilities.
This conversation is not just informative but deeply eye-opening. There’s so much more amazing stuff that I might have missed, so make sure to catch the full episode here.
I want you to take this information, run with it, and start applying it. And don’t forget to tag Andrew, @hubermanlab, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with a screenshot of the episode and your most empowering takeaways. And please go to Apple Podcasts and check The School of Greatness out on YouTube. Subscribe, give a five-star rating, and leave us a comment so we can help more people to tap into and unleash their greatness within.
If you want to improve your life through positive thinking, Episode 1,073 with Andrew Huberman is the perfect place to begin!
let us know your thoughts