When I was in high school I was convinced one day I’d have cancer. At the age of 22, when I was diagnosed with leukemia, a close friend (at the time) came over to visit. He remembered me having a “gut feeling” that I’d one day get cancer and we joked that I must have psychic powers. Once diagnosed, I knew I would be fine. Even during my darkest moments of wishing death would take me from the pain, deep down I knew I was bluffing and life would eventually be back to normal. There are many other instances (jobs, my daughter, houses lived in…), where when my gut spoke, I followed, and imagined became reality. It’s a crazy idea, I know, but the power of the mind has me bewildered and fascinated.
Positive thinking, law of attraction, mind over matter, or power of intention – their philosophies are all centered around the visceral effect of your thoughts. To increase performance levels athletes imagine themselves scoring goals, running the fastest, or throwing the perfect pitch. Public speakers rehearse their speeches to imaginary audiences, often without uttering a word. Researches at Ohio University found that mental imagery, without any additional physical therapy, resulted in increased muscle and strength plus a quicker recovery following a prolonged period of immobilization – imaginary exercises increased muscle. A Harvard study claims having a positive, optimistic outlook resulted in a “significantly reduced risk of dying from several major causes of death [in women] – including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection.” Thinking positively makes for better health. Scientifically, the roll of neurons is driving the support behind the idea of mind over matter. A UCLA-Caltech published study showed humans could “regulate activity of specific neurons in the brain…manipulating an image on a computer screen using only their thoughts.” Research at John Hopkins University is testing “brain-machine interface” to allow the mind to control individual movement of prosthetic fingers. The scientific evidence is building – you are what you think.
In my happy place sunroom I have a sign, possibly from the dollar bin at Target that says, “Think happy. Be happy.” I’m a true believer in you are what you think. In a 2013 Ted Talk, Kelly McGonigal, “a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University” sited a study that found our perception of stress is more powerful than the stress itself. According to McGonigal, “for every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, that increased the risk of dying by 30 percent,” it’s only true for people who believe stress is harmful. And if you are a caregiver, “People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying… Caring created resilience.” It seems that our perception, or how we understand something or identify it, is what controls its manifestation in our body. If you think it, it will emanate.
The Growth Mindset
In 2006, Carol Dweck published, Mindset : the new psychology of success, which showed how certain mindsets affected a person’s life or even a whole culture. To have a growth mindset, you must believe in the will to change. The idea that we control our own destiny, have the ability to improve our own selves and can work for our passion until it becomes our reality, to not become discouraged. We’re learning that praise has an effect on mindset. Praise effort to create a growth mindset. Praise ability and you’ll create a fixed mindset (no growth). Effort is what we actively do. Ability is what we’re born with, or at least that’s the perception. When praising effort, we encourage more effort and the idea that the harder you try the better you’ll become.
If our minds are truly this powerful, it’s important to seriously contemplate all that we think, say and do – which feels like an obsolete concept sometimes. Consider what you think, what you listen to, what you watch for entertainment, and the conversations you have throughout the day. How do you speak internally? Are these motivations supporting positivity and a growth mindset? Do they inspire you to follow your best path? While I didn’t set out to write a self-help piece when I started thinking about this blog post (it had actually started as a piece about my teenage angst until my friend shared Kelly McGonigal’s interview), I found myself paying more attention to the energy behind conversations in my daily life, articles or books I read, as well as the choice of words I used when speaking to my daughter. Again, it’s not a new concept, but it’s something I realized I often take for granted and assume I have figured out.
What’s my point?
At the very least, focus on the positive and exude kindness. But maybe revisit something stressful and try looking at it differently. Commit real time to imagining yourself in your ultimate goal – be it head of whatever you do, or back to your best self after an unfortunate situation. I’m going to imagine myself a successful published writer, living somewhere in New England in a small cottage on a huge lakefront property, healthy and happy and surrounded by the people I love (I just need a lake and a published book). 😉 Best wishes to you and your thoughts.
Much love and happiness,
Ps. The featured image is Alyson Hickey’s, of Alyson Hickey Photography, fabulous work.
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