It may come as a surprise, but it was only after Christopher ‘Superman’ Reeves fell from his horse in 1995, which denied him his super hero label in exchange for a wheelchair, that his magical powers came fully into play. With a broken neck and a detached spinal column, he was completely paralysed in an instance. The medical profession told him: ‘Sorry, you have to accept it.’ Not prone to destiny, this brave man pushed himself to follow demanding exercises of electric stimulation against the advice of his doctors who warned him of the potential consequences of his denial. But for Christopher Reeves, the impossible was not his fate. Five years later, Reeves regained movement in his hands, legs and torso. Of course, he was far from cured, but the scans showed that he had re-established brain connectivity, and changed science’s perception of the nervous system, opening new windows of hope for people with spinal column injuries.
All of this was the result positive mindset, believing in a future, and being conscious of how much energy and resources are needed to reach a goal! It’s the same for all of us: our mindset influences every dimension of our lives. For example, did you know that scientific research shows that we can add eight years to our lives by having a positive outlook on growing old? Eight years! Proof that the quality of our thoughts maintains our wellbeing and keeps us young!
I am what I believe
Some of our beliefs are of little importance. We can believe that chocolate is better than vanilla, that it’s impolite to ask someone their age or that you find brunettes more sexy. However strongly we remain fixed on our ideas, these beliefs have little or no consequance in the way we live our lives. Beliefs that become mindsets go beyond preferences, the things we’ve learned and intellectual opinions. They reflect our philosophy on life. ‘Our beliefs shape our reality, and that includes our challenge responses, our longterm health, our happiness and our success,’ explains American psychologist, Kelly Mcgonigal. More importantly, new scientific research shows that a short intervention that’s designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, our happiness and our success for years to come. This field of research is packed with remarkable discoveries that will make you think twice about your own beliefs. The root cause is our perception, the placebo effect or self-fulfilling prophecies!’ This is not a new-age concept like the law of attraction (which claims, ‘I ‘receive’ based on what I ‘think’.’ No, we’re talking here about the results of scientific research …
Kelly McGonigal demonstrates another example. « If we think of stress as our enemy, its physiological effects will be toxic to the point of making us sick and even leading to burn out. On the other hand, if every time we experience the physiological signs of stress (heart pounding faster, breaking out in a sweat …) we become aware of the signals and accept them as positive, we will profit from these positive effects and provide the body with more energy when facing challenges.’ If in the first seconds of noticing signs of stress we take on a positive mindset, we can transfer all the negative emotional effects into a physiological state that gives us more energy. And silence more easily our internal tyrants.
Physiology of thoughts
During a study on the emotional effects of a new ‘self-management’ programme, which consists of two techniques to eliminate negative thoughts, researchers discovered that positive emotion lowers stress levels, and thereby the deadly hormone, cortisol. On the other hand, it considerably raises the levels of DHEA (an endogenous steroid hormone similar to testosterone), and feeds a virtuous circle of positive emotions and behaviours that follow. We can therefore learn to manage a stressful situation, the chance to overcome it, and to grow. Simply by changing our mindset, we reinforce our strength and ability to face our anxieties … And no longer suffer from stress.
In the same vein, we’ll also see how in just a few days our thoughts can influence our resistance to failure (which is nothing more than a lever for success) and how changing our thoughts can increase our chances of success. In summary, once we trigger a mindset – whether it’s because of a memory, a situation you find yourself in, a remark made by someone, it sets off a train of thoughts, emotions and objectives that shape how we react. And this has a direct impact – positive or negative – on our happiness, health and even longevity.
Changing the world
Our mindset is frequently based on how we view the world. For example: imagine the world becomes less and less secure, that money brings happiness, that every thing happens for a reason and that people don’t change. All of these beliefs have the power to define how we interpret our experiences and make decisions. At a higher level, if we think as Steven Pinker does (whose research is based not on personal impressions but on data and statistics) that the world is evolving towards greater peace and harmony, comparing the mindset question with our humanist aspirations of the last century (via the charter for the rights of man, the creation of the International Criminal Courts, the condemnation of war crimes, etc.) makes a lot of sense. Our power to influence the whole planet would be for real!
- Mindset Science: How Our Attitudes Remake the World, Kelly McGonigal
- Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging Becca R. Levy and Martin D. Slade Yale University Suzanne R. Kunkel Miami University Stanislav V. Kasl Yale University
- The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol, R. McCraty, B. Barrios-Chopin, D. Rozman, M. Atkinson, Alan D. Watkins
- Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Dweck, C. S., 1999
- Changer d’état d’esprit : Une nouvelle psychologie de la réussite, Dweck, C. S., 2010
- La créativité – Psychologie de la découverte et de l’invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi