One of my favorite books ever is a recent one written by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer (whose 1990 book, “Mindfulness” is responsible for injecting that word into our collective vocabulary).
If you have even the slightest curiosity about the power of the mind (and brain) to affect illness, immunity and even aging, I highly recommend Langer’s latest book. Let me explain.
Langer and her research team recruited 16 men in their late 70’s and early 80’s to participate in the study, described in depth in her book, CounterClockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. These guys were—well, let’s face it—not in the best shape. Many were infirm, most were pretty weak, a number of them walked hesitantly—their overall health was not what you would call “robust”.
She packed up the crew and took them to a cabin in the woods for a week.
Here’s the genius part: The cabin was a time capsule.
She literally retrofitted an old New Hampshire monastery to reflect life in 1959. Televisions (black and white only) were rigged to only show programs that were popular then (the Ed Sullivan Show, Danny Thomas, Jack Benny, What’s My Line, Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver). Posters on the wall reflected “current” events. Old newspapers and magazines were found from 1959 and left lying around the tables near the fireplaces.
She choose 1959 because this was a time when the men in the study were in the prime of their lives. When everything was possible. When they were at the height of their powers, and believed themselves capable of anything.
Langer gave the following instructions: “No one can discuss anything that happened after September 1959. It is your job to help each other do this”, adding that she wanted the participants to “let yourself be just who you were in 1959”.
Here’s what happened.
Almost immediately the men were all functioning independently. By the second day all participants took part in serving and clean-up at mealtime. Hearing, memory and grip strength improved. Join flexibility, finger length (fingers strengthened as arthritis waned), manual dexterity—all improved.
It gets better. Over 60% of the experimental group increased their IQ scores.
Langer showed “objective” observers—who knew nothing of the study—pics of the participants both before and after the week spent in the cabin. “These objective observers judged that all of the experimental participants looked noticeably younger at the end of the study”, Langer says.
By the end of the study, men who couldn’t move their own luggage without help were carrying their own bags to the bus for the return trip home.
Langer’s brilliant study shows what enormous impact our brains have upon our overall health. Our perceptions and beliefs—especially about ourselves and our capabilities—matter profoundly.
Langer’s whole thing is what she calls “a psychology of possibility”. Here’s what she says:
“The psychology of possibility first requires that we begin with the assumption that we do not know what we can do or become. Rather than starting from the status quo, it argues for a starting point of what we would like to be. From that beginning, we can ask how we might reach that goal or make progress toward it”.
Those—dear readers—are words to live by.
As important as it is to protect your brain with the right nutrients, foods and supplements (like Acetyl-L-Carnitine, GPC, Phosphadidyl Serine, Omega-3’s, Alpha Lipoic Acid), it’s equally important to protect it with positive thoughts and a positive outlook. What you think about- what you focus on, concentrate on and believe possible—has a profound effect on your physiology.
The old question of “mind vs. body” is obsolete. There is no division between the two except for the artificial one we invented. Our mind influences our body and our body influences our brain in a continual feedback loop.
One that has virtually endless possibilities.