4 May 2014

Is mind over matter a sentiment that works or is it just wishful thinking? Personally, I’m a firm believer in the effectiveness of mind over matter and I’m not the only one. There are a number of scientific studies that look into how thoughts can affect the brain physiologically.

Consider the placebo effect. When you believe that what you are taking will make you feel better, it does – even if it’s not really medicine – simply through the power of your own belief. Is this not the same as mind over matter? This is what happens when athletes visualise getting that winning shot or beating a previous personal best – they mentally practice winning, and believe in what they are actively visualising in their mind.

I say all this because I’ve been testing the theory recently after a shoulder injury. Having followed doctor’s orders with a lot of rest (and a lot of online chess games) I decided I could do more. Whenever anyone asked me whether it was hurting, I would tell them that it was feeling better. By telling myself, and others, that it was getting less painful, I was able to dial down the discomfort. It’s really fascinating – the power of self-belief.

Back on the slopes after a shoulder injury

Back on the slopes after a shoulder injury

Coincidentally, I also got the opportunity recently to share this with one of my PR team, who decided to give up smoking. The advice I gave her was to tell people, if they ever offered her a cigarette, that she didn’t smoke, and not to even go into the process of explaining that she used to. I used the same method to quit the habit myself, years ago. I’m pleased to say that the employee in question hasn’t smoked for almost two weeks since.It’s a similar force at work when you’re setting yourself goals, whether personal or professional. That process of sitting down and visualising clearly what you want before writing these things down on paper is the first step towards achieving them. Telling yourself that you can and will get what you want, and focussing on that belief somehow helps your dreams to materialise in reality. Adding a time limit obviously helps to direct these goals, but if you cast doubt and negativity aside, you really do have the ability to achieve them.

Negativity and self-doubt really can cause much more damage than people realise. It’s actually bad for your health. I was reading an article in the New Scientist, which went into detail about a phenomenon called the “nocebo effect”, which – as you’d imagine – is pretty much the opposite of the placebo effect. It explains that “putting someone in a negative frame of mind has an adverse effect on their health or wellbeing. Tell people a medical procedure will be extremely painful, for example, and they will experience more pain than if you had kept [it] to yourself.” It’s no surprise when you consider that cortisol, secreted during times of stress, physically affects the body.

Another article from the same publication includes a fascinating story about an American man who’d had a run in with a “witch doctor” who apparently convinced him that he was going to die! Incredibly, the man’s health started to get worse and he was admitted to hospital, stumping all of the doctors until his wife told them about her husband’s encounter.

Amazingly, one of the doctors took a chance on a hunch and made up a story about how they’d tracked down the witch doctor and pressured him into confessing that he’d put a lizard into the man’s body. Whilst this sounds surreal, the man clearly believed the situation he was in so deeply, that when the doctor snuck a lizard into the hospital to make a show of “removing it” the man actually recovered.  It may sound like a myth, but was apparently corroborated by a number of medical professionals who were present to witness it.

There are hundreds of examples of the ways in which self-affirmation, belief and positive thinking can impact our health, our success and even our relationships. So, if you’ve never tried to change your situation using the power of your mind, why not give it a try? Affirm what you want to feel or achieve every day, not breaking the routine even once, and see what happens. I’d love to hear how you get on…

Back to Blog