Personal Development and the “Sensory”-Brain Barrier

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

There’s an interesting phenomenon about our brains, that has a fascinating parallel when it comes to our personal development.

Our body’s normal mechanism of fighting illness includes identifying harmful cells within our bodies and then killing them. That’s the job of white blood cells; search and destroy harmful invaders within our body. That can even mean destroying healthy cells that are at risk.

When it comes to our brains, that is not necessarily the best form of defense. We need those brain cells to stay in tact.

Consequently, the primary defense mechanism protecting our brains is something called the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a “highly selective semipermeable border that separates the circulating blood from the brain”. Along the barrier there are gates that will allow certain cells to pass, but it represents a different defense mechanism than that used for the rest of our bodies.

I learned of this listening to lectures from Dr. Indre Viskontas, a Neuroscientist who is also a performing soprano. The parallel of this defense mechanism struck me as more than symbolic when it comes to what we, the operators and owners of our conscious minds, allow past what I will call our sensory-brain barrier.

What we allow to enter our minds will have an impact on our beliefs. We talk of optimistic people as seeing the world through rose colored glasses, or seeing the glass as half full, vs half empty, and vice versa. Our life paradigms, or our belief systems, have many components that shape and mold them. Dare I say that for most people this process happens passively rather than consciously.

The influence of our parents or childhood caregivers is undoubtedly one of the largest influences on how we see the world, at least in our formative years. The education we receive, the thoughts expressed by peers, teachers and others in our lives also shape our beliefs, often without us even recognizing it. We form belief systems for how the world really is, based on what we allow past this sensory-brain barrier. Then we live our lives based on those beliefs.

As we understand the function of the brain-blood barrier, we have the opportunity to begin functioning in a similar fashion with the input we allow into our minds.

My sweet mother of 87 years likes to watch the news. She seems to faithfully watch her favorite news programs, set to record on her DVR. After years of doing this, it puts her at risk of seeing the world as a much worse place than it really is. News programs do not gain business or win viewers by showing them what’s right with the world. Quite the opposite. This has the effect that if you consistently watch news media, you will get a distorted view of the world. If I happen to be visiting her when she’s watching one of these programs, it is not uncommon for me to see her grimace or cringe.

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to watch it. The world is not likely to change for the better if you do watch it, but your life will most certainly be more negative.

I use this example to show how you can apply the concept of a sensory-brain barrier.

What are you allowing into your mind?

What shows do you watch?

What music do you listen to?

What educational programs are you feeding your mind?

What books are you reading?

By consciously choosing what we let into our minds, primarily through our eyes and ears, we can change the world that we are living in. In fact, the starting point for positive change has to be within our minds.

When we awaken to the fact that we can instigate change for our thoughts, it will then change our behaviors. When our behaviors change, our results will follow.

This can be true in both positive and negative directions, but the choice remains our own.

By consciously choosing a healthy mental diet, we can see dramatic changes for good in our lives.

How are you doing in your personal development? Take this ten question quiz to find out.

James Stephenson is the author of Small Steps, Big Feat.