10 things you need to know about the mind

Psychologist Emily Toner takes us inside this mysterious mass of nerves and fibres in our heads.

The mind is complex. There’s a lot we don’t know about why we think and feel the way we do. But the things we do know can help us bring more happiness, peacefulness and fulfillment into our daily lives.

As part of the Medibank School of Better – a free online learning space designed to give you the knowledge and skills to live better each day – clinical psychologist Emily Toner leads a short, practical course on the inner workings of the mind.

Here, she shares some essential things we should know about our brains.

1. Your brain is full of complex connections. Your brain consists of billions of special cells called neurons that talk to each other via connections known as neural pathways.

2. Your brain can change. The neural pathways in your brain keep changing and growing your whole life depending on your environment and how you use your brain. This is known as neuroplasticity.

3. Thinking patterns matter. If you spend your time worrying, the ‘worry’ pathways of your brain get stronger and stronger and easier to trigger. Alternatively, the more you focus on the present, the stronger these pathways become and the easier it becomes to remain present.

4. Stress can lead to more stress. The amygdala is the ‘fear centre’ of your brain. When you experience long periods of stress this area gets bigger, while other areas such as the frontal lobe – involved in attention, memory and planning – get smaller.

“The neural pathways in your brain keep changing and growing your whole life. This is known as neuroplasticity.”

5. We’re built to anticipate danger. Our brains have an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’ to help us avoid danger. This means that we are more likely to remember and to anticipate negative events occurring than positive ones.

6. Science makes us hard on ourselves. The negativity bias can also impact our thoughts about ourselves. This means that we are more likely to criticise than encourage ourselves when things go wrong.

7. Smile and your brain smiles with you. Our bodies are pretty clever and can influence our brain and the way we feel. For example, when you intentionally smile your body sends signals to the brain telling it that you’re happy.

“Our brain treats social pain, like feeling rejected, exactly the same way it treats physical pain.”

8. Our visual focus changes with mood. When we are sad, we have a narrow focus. When we are happy, we see more of our visual field and are more likely to see the big picture over the detail. So the experience of positive emotion literally opens our mind!

9. We get used to happiness quickly. Unfortunately, positive emotions don’t always last. Shortly after a positive event happens – like buying a car or going on holiday – your brain tends to quickly return to its baseline level of happiness. This is known as hedonic adaption.

10. Love hurts – literally. Our brain treats social pain, like feeling rejected, exactly the same way it treats physical pain, such as having a broken leg. This means that social connection is just as important to our brain as physical survival.

Want to learn more about how the mind works? Check out the Medibank School of Better, where Emily Toner takes you through some short, practical lessons on the psychology of mindfulness.  

Recommended reading - Around the world

Community

Why the Mediterranean diet is so good for you

Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos explains why eating Mediterranean-style can make you healthier.

Read more
Travel

9 delicious recipes from around the world

Looking for some international culinary inspiration?

Read more
Travel

A lesson in Japanese cuisine

Be magazine learns the secrets to balanced Japanese cooking.

Read more
Travel

Healthy eating around the world

What we can learn from other cultures when it comes to food.

Read more
Travel

4 enticing food-growing regions

Discover pockets of the world where sumptuous local flavours are the trademark.

Read more
In Brief

The Saltiest Chicken Nugget in the World

Alarming results from recent study on salt content in fast food.

Read more
Community

Tastes of the Amazon

Sambazon is an acai company who has a fair trade partnership to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Read more
Travel

3 historic restaurants across Europe

These classic establishments in historic European cities have barely changed in centuries

Read more
Community

Speedy Asian cooking with Marion Grasby

Devoted food traveller Marion Grasby dishes up some advice on creating delicious meals - fast.

Read more
Lifestyle

Marion Grasby on cultural and culinary diversity

Marion Grasby tells us what’s on the menu for her wedding.

Read more
Community

Sevtap Yuce: Cooking from the heart

Simple, fresh food made with love is at the heart of Sevtap Yuce’s newest cookbook, Turkish Fire

Read more
Community

12 food documentaries

These documentaries will show the food you eat in a whole new light.

Read more
Travel

5 cooking classes around the globe

Let your travels infuse your cooking and take home the flavours of a trip.

Read more
Recipes

How to cook with native Australian bush flavours

Interested to try your hand at cooking with native Australian flavours? Here's how.

Read more
Lifestyle

Pickling and preserving – the Nordic way

When it comes to smoking, curing and pickling, the Scandinavians have it right. We show you how

Read more

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.