How to train your brain to make your dreams come true: Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart reveals the simple mind tricks that could turn your life around

As a successful doctor of psychiatry and neuroscience, it looked as if I had it all: I was married to a fellow psychiatrist and had a job working for the NHS. We were a carefree young couple, with a great social life and lots of opportunity to travel the world. Everyone assumed I was in complete control of my life.

But I was running on autopilot, and when I reached my mid-30s everything fell apart. I had become increasingly unhappy in my work, worn down by the long hours and workload and the sense of not being able to make a real difference to my patients.

I witnessed so much human suffering and saw how tough and cruel life was for the mentally vulnerable. I cared deeply about my patients, but I had a nagging sense that they deserved more than just medication and hospitalisation – that a healthier regime and a sense of wellbeing could do wonders to aid their recovery.

At the same time my marriage fell apart and it had a disastrous impact on my own sense of identity and confidence. I felt like I was drowning, with nothing to hold on to and no end in sight.

However, rock bottom gave me new clarity. It gave me a determination I had not known I possessed, and a feeling that I must progress on my own to fulfil my potential.

Pictured: Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart

I’d grown up in London as part of an immigrant Indian family where yoga and meditation were part of the daily routine and we adhered to a strict vegetarian diet, but I had thrown that all aside to study medicine.

Now, as I battled to find a new path for myself, I found strength and solace in the alternative practices of my childhood. I started to apply my cynical medic’s mindset to investigating concepts like positive thinking and visualisation, switching my focus towards the science of brain optimisation.

All my life it had never occurred to me that I could be anything other than a doctor. But, after nine years of medical training and seven years of practice, I realised my calling was to be a wellbeing coach – and to my amazement I found I was able to make my brain work differently to support this plan.

Now, ten years on, I run a successful coaching business, helping thousands of people find the route to achieving their dreams. I am a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, an award-winning author, and I travel the world to speak at conferences. I can honestly tell you my life transformation is NOT down to luck, nepotism, good connections or even to hard work. I am convinced I was able to change my life through harnessing the full power of subconscious thought.

Through in-depth research, and putting everything I’ve learned through the filters of neuroscience and psychiatry, I have discovered a new science of brain optimisation called The Source. It combines a long-standing understanding of the brain, updated with cutting-edge cognitive science, overlayed with a healthy measure of spirituality.

Whether you are secretly longing for a new job, hankering after a dream home, the perfect partner or you even just feel stagnant in your life, The Source can give you powerful tools to help you move forward…

Combine modern science and old-fashioned gut instinct

Popular self-help books such as The Secret, which sold 30 million copies worldwide, based their success on using ‘thought vibrations’ and ‘higher powers’ to ‘manifest’ our desires, citing wondrous and spontaneous happenings. However, my approach takes the ideology of these inspirational books and backs it up with modern science.

There is now robust research to show how age-old practices such as mindfulness have demonstrable, evidence-based benefits.

Furthermore, our new-found understanding of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change – clearly demonstrates that directing our thoughts can influence our material life circumstances and our relationships. Through a simple series of exercises, we can all learn to merge the limbic brain (the bit which controls the more spiritual, esoteric side of thinking) with the cortex (the part which controls logic) to create a powerful ‘whole brain’ state.

This, when combined with gut instinct (a concept also backed by science) can open doors previously thought to be closed.

It may sound complicated, or even impossible. But you can start today, and from the comfort of your own home. The potential to grow and change our brain, and how it directs our lives, is far greater than we have been led to believe and I can provide you with the tools to turn insight into motivation and autopilot into action.

Set your goals – and be bold

The most important first step to change is setting your intention. Ask yourself: ‘Is my life panning out the way I want it to?’ If the answer is no, aim to find one overarching goal that underpins everything else you want to achieve. This intention should feel bold, exciting and motivating. Try:

  • I want to let go of fear and let courage and vision govern my decisions from now on.
  • I want to develop the confidence to build a flourishing business.
  • I want to take control of my emotions and turn around a difficult relationship or family situation.
  • I want to find happiness through greater health and life purpose.

A cut-out-and-keep guide to success 

An action board is a collage of pictures which represents your chosen journey or ambition. It is a visual version of your innermost dreams and it works by priming your brain to spot and grasp the right opportunities. It is a powerful tool which has greater impact on your brain and your future behaviour than a written list because the process of creating it activates tactile, visual, emotional, intuitive and motivational pathways in your brain.

Every time you look at your board you trigger strong visual associations which send a powerful message to your brain about what you truly want.

You just need a large piece of card and a stack of magazines, scissors and glue.

  • Cut out any images that represent or resonate with your dream: metaphorical as well as literal images to trigger the emotional and subconscious parts of your brain as well as the logical and conscious parts (so a balloon to remind you of the importance of being free from burdens). Your board should inspire energy and action.
  • Don’t rush this process – even when you think you’ve found all the images you need, return to the magazines or get some new ones. Avoid using words (unless you find a phrase or quote that really resonates) and numbers (apart from the exact amount of money you’d like to earn if the figure is important to you).
  • Group your images according to their themes and use your intuition to place them loosely on the card, with the most important in the centre and at the top of your board.
  • If you want more space in your life, make sure your board is not crammed.
  • Step away from your board for at least 24 hours to let the ideas settle, and ask a trusted friend or relative to challenge you on it (eg ‘Do you really want this?’ ‘Have you asked for as much as you deserve?’ or ‘Is there anything else you want that you might have missed out?’)
  • Adjust accordingly, then stick the images down securely and put your board where you will see it every day. The ideal place is by your bed so you can look at it just before you fall asleep at night. The transitional period from wakefulness to sleep is when your brain is particularly suggestible.
  • Every time you look at your board visualise your dream coming true.

Declutter your brain 

Begin to clear the clutter and habitual patterns from your brain with some simple exercises such as visualisation and value tagging.

Value tagging is the process of placing a new idea at front of your mind by thinking about it often. You then give your subconscious the opportunity to tag thoughts and opportunities on to it as you go about your daily activities. Similar to when you learn a new word and start to hear that word in random conversations, or if you long to own a red Mini, you’ll notice every other red Mini on the road.

With time, your subconscious will start to work in your favour, spotting opportunities that you can harness to nudge closer to your dream.

Visualisation really works too. Studies have shown there is surprisingly little difference to the brain between experiencing an event directly and a strongly imagined vision of the same event.

For instance, brain scans have shown how merely imagining yourself kicking a ball into the net can create and strengthen neural pathways, and even the muscles necessary to perform the action for real.

So it makes sense that visualising your ideal future can help prime your brain to spot opportunities to make it happen.

When I set out on my new path and turned my back on life as an NHS doctor, I tapped into The Source to imagine a future where I had variety: some reading around neuroscience, some writing, some coaching, a happy new relationship and a beautiful home. I’m pleased to say this is now a reality beyond what I could have hoped for.

Switch out of autopilot 

If you want to make significant changes in your life, you need to nudge your brain out of its comfortable ‘autopilot’ mode so it can be more receptive to new ideas.

In order to cope with the constant barrage of information, your brain naturally develops a kind of personal ‘algorithm’ which filters the millions of messages it receives every hour and allows it to short-cut basic decisions on your behalf.

This is a subconscious process based on set, safe patterns such as taking the same route to work every day or sitting in the same place at the table. It is an efficient way of working for the brain which requires less energy and keeps you safe. But it can hold you back if you’re looking for change.

So think about a different journey to work, sit at a different seat – directing the brain away from these unconscious biases, and encourage it be more open, flexible and courageous.

Banish the ‘ghosts’ that haunt you 

It is a good idea to recognise and shake off any unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour. These ‘ghosts’ can stem from childhood or previous experience and compel you to follow unhelpful or even harmful rules which might be subconsciously holding you back.

So check for ‘ghosts’ that might not be conducive to your new way of thinking.

  • Roles: What was your ‘role’ in your family? What other ‘roles’ were there and how did you relate to them? (eg ‘go-between’, ‘scapegoat’, ‘peacemaker’ or ‘rebel’).
  • Secrets: Were there secrets and lies in your family when you were growing up? Who kept them? How did they influence your life?
  • Values: What were held up as core ‘values’ in your family? Were honesty, hard work, kindness, success, fairness, self-expression or intellectualism important?
  • Boundaries: What was your family’s attitude to rules, illegal behaviour, keeping promises?

Exploring the ‘ghosts’ we all carry, and thinking about how well they serve you now, is a revealing and rewarding process. Keep these ghosts in your mind and notice when they play out in real life. Start to make small changes that can adjust these subconscious reactions over time. This is how you start to take charge of your future.

Start – and maintain – a gratitude list 

Keeping a growing gratitude list is a great way to stop your brain dwelling on negatives and to prime it to notice when good things happen. Write on a lined piece of paper an ongoing list of everything you have to feel grateful for. This helps harness your brain’s value-tagging system, making positive achievements and happy thoughts easier to recall in future.

Work out which friends you need to ditch

Studies show our thinking, mood and behaviour are greatly influenced by those around us: a friend getting divorced can increase your risk of divorce, or an overweight pal increases your risk of weight gain.

So it is important to ensure good connections with the important people in your life.

Try this exercise to examine the impact of those around you:

  • Draw a tree with five branches and at the end of each write the name of a person most significant to you.
  • Along each branch write five words (both positive and negative) that best describe that person and sum up what they mean to you; this gives 25 key traits that are consistently influencing your mindset.
  • Underline with red pen any words you recognise in yourself that relate to strengths.
  • Underline with yellow pen any negative traits you might share. If your tree is filled with negativity, then take action to change it by aiming to see less of this person, or changing the way that you interact with them.
  • Pick one person you will spend more time with and learn from, one relationship you will continue exactly as it is, and one you intend to prune, or disconnect from.

To harness the power of The Source, you need to learn to trust your intuition, your ‘gut feelings’.

The gut–brain connection is far from a mystical ‘sixth sense’.

Scans have revealed a complex communication system between the millions of neurons in the gut walls and the part of the brain integral to our decision-making, the expression of emotion and where our habits are stored.

Because of this, lifestyle factors such as what we eat and the supplements we take can affect our powers of intuition.

Physical neglect – excessive travel, poor diet, lack of exercise or dehydration – can have profound neurobiological consequences.

So it is important to look after yourself – and your gut.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *