How often have you heard it said: “It’s just mind over matter”? If this is true, then just how powerful are our minds? Could you really change how stressed you were or how well your body was simply by changing the way you think about things?
“Thinking Away the Pounds” and “Believe Yourself Healthy” are just two of the headlines that have heralded the publication of Assistant Professor Alia Crum’s studies. Her fascinating studies have found that the beliefs we hold about what we’re eating, how we’re exercising and even the stress we’re feeling can directly impact our bodies. In other words, the effect you expect, is often the effect you get.
How could this possibly work? Watch Alia’s Tedx Talk to find out how your beliefs can shape your wellbeing and your performance at work.
What you will learn
[3:13] Alia’s research was influenced by an interest in the placebo effect, a powerfully robust and consistent example of how the expectation of receiving medication or treatment can engage the healing properties of our bodies. Curious she wanted to know if this effect can also influence other parts of our lives.
[3:33] A mindset is a lens or way of viewing the world. You do this to simplify and categorize the vast amount of information you receive every day and the infinite possible interpretations of what this information means. They are a natural part of being human.
[5:07] Alia recruited 84 hotel housekeepers from seven different hotels across the US. Despite having a job that burnt up an extraordinary amount of calories they did not believe they exercised regularly. Four weeks after showing half of these housekeepers a fifteen minute presentation on how they should expect to benefit from the good regular exercise they did in their jobs, they had lost weight, had lower blood pressure, less body fat and they reported liking their job more.
[8:06] Next Alia and her associates had people try a ‘guilt free’ (zero fat, low sugar and low calorie) milkshake one week, and then back the next week to try a ‘decadent’ (high fat, high sugar and high calorie) milkshakes. At the same time she measured the changes in their blood levels of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone. This hormone drops in our body after a big meal. Ghrelin levels dropped when consuming the ‘decadent’ milkshakes much more than the ‘guilt-free’ milkshakes. However in reality the two milkshakes were exactly the same.
[12:50] Finally she’s found that while most people have the mindset that stress is bad. Overworked and stressed employees from a global financial firm during the 2008 global financial collapse were shown a short video presentation on either the positive or negative effects of stress. In the following weeks employees who viewed the positive presentation reported fewer health problems and had higher levels of engagement and performance at work.
[15:51] Other researchers are finding support for the power of mindsets. Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University suggests that changing your mindset about intelligence and talent can dramatically improve your academic and professional success. And Professor Becca Levy from Yale University has found that changing your mindset about ageing influences how you age and your longevity.
[17:31] Alia is not suggesting that medicine doesn’t work, or you don’t need to exercise or watch what you eat. But you also need to acknowledge the power of the mindset.
What Can You Try?
Become aware of your mindsets – What beliefs do you have about your physical, stress or your abilities? Are these mindsets serving you well or making life harder than it may need to be? When a mindset seems to be holding you back, know that you have a choice about the beliefs that you hold.
Develop new mindsets – this involves three steps:
- Challenge your mindset – change the way you’re thinking by looking for evidence that contradicts your existing beliefs. Look for facts, stories, experiences that challenge your existing ideas and create space that both your old beliefs and these new ideas could both reasonably be believed. Your goal is not necessarily to get rid of the old mindset, but to be flexible in your mindsets so you can choose the one that serves you best. For example, stress can be harmful for us but it can also enhance our performance. Both of these mindsets are true, but which one will serve you best.
- Embrace your new mindset – find small exercises you can begin to perform that help you to adopt and apply the new mindset so you can test it for yourself. For example, reframing the physical sensations of stress – racing heart, knotted stomach, sweaty palms – as simply your body’s way of letting you know something important to you is on the line. And then looking for why this is meaningful so you can tackle it with a challenge stress response that opens you up to learning and development.
- Share your new mindset – the best way to learn something is to teach it. Share your new mindset with others and explore the impact it’s having in your own life to cement these beliefs going forward.
- Read more about Ali’s research in Dr Kelly McGonigal’s best-selling book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good For You and How to Get Good At It
- Read my interview with Carol Dweck on mindsets Are Your Beliefs Undermining Your Success?
- Grab a copy of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset