Did you know that you can get better at playing the piano just by thinking about it? That may sound like the beginning to a bad infomercial for a self-help seminar on the power of positive thinking, but according to recent research, it’s true. Thinking about an activity triggers the same part of the brain used when actually performing that activity, thus strengthening the neural structures associated with that activity and actually improving performance when you finally get around to doing more than just thinking about it. And you do have to perform the activity eventually, of course. Just thinking about it will only take you so far. But the fact that just thinking about the activity has any impact on performance is a testimony to how much we can impact our own brains through our thoughts.
I guess it really is the thought that counts.
Check out the video below for a nice introduction to the research. Although the video focuses specifically on using imagination to improve performance of specific tasks, it seems to have pretty obvious implications for how thinking about pretty much anything for extended periods can affect our brains. This could be quite positive (e.g. meditating on scripture), but similar research documents the negative impact that prolonged exposure to pornography can have on the brain. So this is just another reminder that our thoughts matter.