Truth: Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I would recommend that you go to the bookstore and buy it right now.

It’s one of these titles that are pretty much on every “10-books-everyone-needs-to-read-in-their-lifetime” list. And it’s well worth the time.

It’s written by two prominent minds in the field of neuroscience. Andrew Newberg, M.D., is the director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. Mark Robert Waldman is Executive MBA Faculty at Loyola Marymount University where he teaches the NeuroLeadership program.

If I’m to summarise the main idea of the book in one sentence, it will be this: It teaches us how to become better at communicating with the world, build trust, cooperate vs. compete, and train our brains for positive thinking.

And before you take that trip to the bookstore, keep in mind that this is not your usual pop-psychology beach reading. It’s somewhat on the serious side.

Each chapter discusses what the authors call The 12 Strategies of Compassionate Communication, namely:

  1. Relax: Make sure you are relaxed; stretching, yawning several times before (not during) the meeting will do the trick.
  2. Stay Present: Helps you concentrate, quiets your mind and decreases blood pressure.
  3. Cultivate inner silence: It’s about leaning to suppress our inner thoughts which can be often distracting.
  4. Increase positivity: Use positive speech; you will need 3 to 5 positives to overcome the effect of every negative used.
  5. Reflect on your deepest values: Don’t let anger cloud a conversation. Think positively about the conversation outcome, of making fair decisions and of making the discussion more efficient.
  6. Assess a pleasant memory: Before speaking to someone, think of something pleasant. It causes your face muscles to relax, which, in turn, stimulates a feeling of trust in the other person.
  7. Observe non-verbal cues: Maintain softness in your eyes, keep eye contact (it decreases the stress hormone cortisol), mind your facial expressions.
  8. Express appreciation: Start a conversation with a compliment, on a positive note. And make it sound genuine.
  9. Speak warmly: It builds trust and it has proven therapeutic effects.
  10. Speak slowly: Speak slowly; pause between words. It’s often really hard to do. But it makes the listener pay more attention to you and increases their respect for you.
  11. Speak briefly: The 30-Second Rule: Never speak for more than 20-30 seconds at a time. This is how much the other person’s window of attention is. And the short spam limits our ability to express negative emotions.
  12. Listen deeply: Stay focused on the person who is speaking and notice their words, tone, gestures, facial expressions.


A major notion discussed at length in the book is also the “power of words”— “Words can heal or hurt,” the authors write. “Any form of negative rumination—for example, worrying about your financial future or health—will stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals.”

We must always interrupt and reframe any negative thoughts or feelings, as words “shape the reality we perceive.” It’s a really powerful discovery: “Human brains respond to positive and negative fantasies as if they are real.” Just seeing a list of positive words, research has found, can make an anxious person feel better, and people who use more positive words have greater control over their emotions.

“Meditating on positive thoughts and outcomes can be more powerful that any drug in the world, according to brain scans, especially when it comes to changing old habits, behaviours and beliefs.’

However, extremely positive words as amazing, excellent, fabulous, phenomenal often have the opposite effect—they can turn others off. They make us come across as unauthentic.


In the end, the best takeaway from the book is this—mind your internal and external dialogue.

“By changing the way you use language you can change your consciousness, and that, in turn, influences every thought, feeling, and behaviour in your life.”

Quite powerful, indeed.

And the best part: we have complete power over the words we use—hence, the lives we are shaping for ourselves.

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