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The Biology Of Intention-Setting: Our Body’s Response To Activating The Mind

Overwhelming evidence finds that mind activation, through mindfulness and intention-setting can change our biology: real, intrinsic change.

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Overwhelming evidence finds that mind activation, through mindfulness and intention-setting can change our biology: real, intrinsic change.

Up until the last decade or less, intention-setting, along with mindfulness, was looked at as a “pseudoscience” of sorts. But, the last few years have seen an onslaught of comprehensive studies on the science of mindfulness and specifically, mindfulness that is linked directly to intention-setting.

Defining Intentions
So, what exactly are intentions? Intentions are thoughts we are constantly setting, subconsciously too, like opening a door or buttoning your shirt. Intention setting is more powerful than habits, goals, planning, and the likes. You can start simple and build a conscious, fulfilling pattern that can turn wishful thinking into willful direction, direction that can span across multiple dimensions of your life: anything from drinking more water to taking a breath before retorting in an argument. As your intention follow-through increases, you will look back at the puzzle pieces and see a significant change in your relationships, health, and so on. The key, initially, is to stay aware. It’s a more holistic approach towards accomplishment and keeps you from getting lost in the complexities and magnanimity of growth. Essentially, it’s turning mindfulness into practice.

Subconscious vs Conscious Intentions

While subconscious intentions keep us alive, everyday, it is conscious intention-setting that is the key to staying productive with purpose. But, within exploring subconscious intentions, itself, we’ve already established a connection between our cellular biology, the brain, and activation, haven’t we? It is purely neurological. A particular part of your brain sends a message to a particular part of your body, hence creating action and, on a deeper level, progressive cellular change. Sounds a lot like a basic biology lesson, but let’s explore the deeper implications of this connection. If implicit intentions and habits can change us at a cellular level over time, then how does our body respond to conscious intention-setting in the different arenas of our life?

Overwhelming evidence finds that mind activation, through mindfulness and intention-setting can change our biology: real, intrinsic change. Here’s how.

According to a study published in 2009, by M. Desmurget et al, the brain may function as a tightly strung unit, with swift action and reaction, but it is, in fact, made up of several, separate sections that come together to perform your “intentions.” During the study, scientists observed several patients undergoing open-brain surgery. During surgery, they used an electrode to simulate parts of the parietal lobe and the premotor cortex to see how patients would react. When inferior parietal lobes were stimulated with low currents, patients felt like performing certain basic day-to-day actions, like lifting an arm. But, when the electrode current was increased, on the same location, patients were convinced they did perform those actions, when in fact, there was no physical movement. Proving that, simulating that part of the brain can have an illusion effect. In contrast, when the premotor cortex was stimulated, patients performed certain basic functions but had no knowledge of their physical actions. The subconscious brain activity, much like the electrodes, allows you to perform regular undertakings, like picking up what you dropped, without being fully aware of it.

Impulse Control

In fact, multiples movements and types of activities can be predicted by your brain several seconds before the action is completed. Numerous, published, scientific studies prove that studying patterns in your brain is a better way to predict your action, than predicting on the basis of chance. Science Daily, for example, published a one-year study done through the survey of multiple participants under MRI. This helped them predict actions several seconds before the action took place, all through signals in different regions of the brain. In essence, our brain sets the intention and our body follows suit. While we may not truly control our impulses, does that mean we can’t control our actions?

If human history and anthropology are any indications, we most definitely can. Over time, we have learned not only to recognise our worst impulses but curb them through awareness. One such study, by Angus SD & Newton J, theorizes that setting and sharing intentions was a large part of the evolution of human’s cognitive abilities: psychologically and physiologically. The study also discusses shared intentions in detail: keeping sight of shared intentions can only take place when we, as humans, stay mindful of our own intentions, recognise them, and are willing to put them out there. Shared intentions lead to the propulsion of techno-cultural advances and by way of that, our minds and bodies evolved to keep up.

The Physiology Of Intention

A large part of human history and prehistory is the evolution of our human bodies and the world around us as a byproduct. Without the recognition of our subconscious intentions, the curbing of our impulses, and guiding our intention in a new direction, who knows what we would look like, act like, or be like? That is exactly how intention-setting can change us. At the very core of it, intention-setting can affect our neurology, which in turn, changes our physiology. Conversely, while mindfulness can set our intentions, so can biology. The simplest example would be brain damage, if a certain area of our brain is physically damaged or underdeveloped, that breaks the unit that forms the brain, severing the seamless connection to the body. So, it is safe to conclude that biology, the brain, and mindfulness are undeniably linked, perhaps beyond what we can humanly fathom.

Neuroplasticity

While we have established the connection between the brain and the change it can cause on a cellular level, within our bodies, what about change within the brain itself? This leads us to the well-known concept of neuroplasticity, which, according to Dr. Richard Davidson (professor of psychiatry & psychology) means: the brain is an organ that is built to change according to experience. As a founder for the Center Of Healthy Minds, Dr. Davidson has conducted detailed research on neuroplasticity. According to the findings of several studies by his foundation, the brain, on a psychical and psychological level, can restructure to suit new circumstances and experiences it encounters. If our brain, unwittingly, is constantly changing, then it’s only prudent that we practice this wittingly too.

Dr. Bruce Lipton, author, and researcher behind the book — The Biology Of Belief has gathered years of research, including his own, to examine the mechanisms through which our cells receive and process information. The book is touted as a groundbreaking study in biology, claiming that every moment we set an intention, we fire up the pathways between our mind, brain, and body. According to him, “the beliefs we hold in our mind are converted to electromagnetic fields by nerve cells and our brain broadcasts this information to the cells in our body.” Some of the studies prove that not only can our brain have an acute impact on our behaviour, but it can alter our gene-ology altogether. For example, negative intentions or impulse intentions can often set our body into fight-or-flight mode, a very real reaction to our thoughts.

The path towards optimal living is possible, largely, through the conscious adoption of a mindful mindset. The cases above demonstrate, quite clearly, that the mind affects the body and vice versa, in which case, it’s only prudent to increase our success rate (in any pillar of life) through purposeful action. Simultaneously, stay wary of impulse intentions that may not lead to positive impact. Setting intentions is simple cognizance, followed by small directional changes that can be applied to the present. The key is to stay mindful and gradually, train yourself and your body to function with intention. The results? Well, how about you give it a try and share your journey?

For more on the practice of intention-setting and the application of intentions on the mental, physical, and emotional pillars of your life, keep an eye out for a deep dive in our next blog.

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