Weird science and the power of the mind

The human brain is crazy powerful. We can convince ourselves of and do, quite literally, anything.

Thoughts, feelings, and emotions all (potentially) have the ability to influence outcomes beyond our wildest imaginations. The mind has an ability to take over in areas that we still don’t quite understand….but it’s fun trying to 🙂

For example, Placebo (Sugar pill aka pill that does nothing) is something that has always fascinated me. It has been found to be more effective than anti-depressants, can make you run faster, lift more weight, have better sex…you name it!

But here’s where things start to get really funky – like this experiment, that found that placebo was more effective than KNEE SURGERY. People only improved after these surgeries because they believed that they had a surgery that never really happened 😳

There’s also schools of people who believe that they have cured themselves of cancer through belief and positive thinking…I’m not going down that rabbit hole for now (google it if you’re curious) but once again…it’s crazy what belief can do to people.

But we’re just getting started.

Ever heard of the “Nocebo” effect? This is when people experience negative side effects because they anticipated and believed that they would happen. For example let’s say you’re trying a new supplement and I tell you that you might experience stomach pains, you will be more likely to experience stomach pains. 

The scariest example of this was a study of men taking a drug for their enlarged prostates. Half were told by the doctor that erectile dysfunction was a possible side effect and the other half were not. Of the group told about the side effect, 44% reported erectile dysfunction compared to only 15% of the group that had not been told.

One patient participating in a trial for antidepressant medication swallowed twenty-six of the placebo pills in a suicide attempt. Even though they were completely harmless, his blood pressure somehow dropped dangerously low.

We can get even funkier here though…so let’s do it. After all, the human mind is indeed a funky place.

What about another personal favorite, “The Milkshake Experiment.” In this one two groups were given the exact same ice cream milkshake…but one group was told it was “indulgent” while the other was told it was a normal shake. What happened?

“The mindset of indulgence produced a dramatically steeper decline in ghrelin after consuming the shake, whereas the mindset of sensibility produced a relatively flat ghrelin response. Participants’ satiety was consistent with what they believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional value of what they consumed.

CONCLUSIONS:

The effect of food consumption on ghrelin may be psychologically mediated, and mindset meaningfully affects physiological responses to food.”

What does this mean?

The group that thought believed the milkshake was fatty experienced the effects of a fatty milkshake in terms of the way the body responds to food.

This implies that how you think about your food (healthy, unhealthy, salty, fatty, might cause allergies, might cause stomach aches, etc) – can actually have an influence on how your body responds to that food.

This is something that fascinates me because I personally have a lot of food allergies – but I’m not willing to gamble on it juusssstt yet….

But if your mind can affect how your body absorbs food, what else can it do?

Another favorite example of mine is from the book The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, where he tells the story of how he breaks his hand while training for the Tai Chi World Championships. Unwilling to accept defeat, he continues to train while performing visualization exercises on his broken hand. He describes exercises where he performs curls with his right hand and visualizes the feeling passing over into his left, making it stronger.

As it turns out, when they finally remove his cast, his hand shockingly hasn’t atrophied at all and is ready for competition. He then went on to win that world championship.

Outlier? Perhaps. But there’s tons of similar stories like this floating around the sports world.

Then last but not least, we have Matthieu Ricard, a buddhist monk who is the “happiest man in the world”. Why do they call him this? Because he has unusually high levels of “gamma waves” as his brain frequency – waves associated with heightened focus, creativity, peak performance, etc.

How does he generate these gamma waves? By practicing loving kindness meditation, where he wishes all beings to be free from suffering and to share his peace and harmony.

Think about the implications of that for a second. Your brain operates at its highest level when meditating on love, compassion, gratitude, and harmony for the planet.

Hmmmmmm 🤔

So what can we learn from all of this?

Don’t take for granted the power of your mind. Your thoughts have influence. Your determination has influence. Your beliefs have influence – so pick your beliefs, and question them, wisely.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right.”

You are what you think. The things we believe to be true are what actually come true of us.

So if that’s the case, what about how we believe in ourselves? How we talk to ourselves? What we believe we’re capable of?

Where are your beliefs causing accidental placebo and nocebo effects in your life?

How can you convince yourself you’re capable of more, and go do it?

How can we all practice a little more loving kindness to make the world around us a better place?

It all starts and ends in the mind. We create our own realities based on the conversations we have with ourselves.


Also published on Medium.

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