Your beliefs and expectations impact your results. The body cannot achieve what the mind cannot imagine. The first step to change your body is, therefore, change your mind.
Is nothing esoteric or mystical, it is totally scientific. This is not about having positive thoughts or trusting the law of attraction. It is about psychology and physiology, two sides of the same coin.
We have already discussed the importance of placebo and the subjectivity of pain. Today we review amazing studies on the power of your mind and practical lessons to master it.
Mind and physiology
Many disparage the placebo as a mere psychological trick, but it has a profound biological impact. The brain is the most sophisticated pharmacy, and we can regulate its functioning with thought.
In this study they offered the same shake (380 calories) to two groups, with only one difference: the label. In one case the label marked 620 calories, in the other only 140.
The group of superbeat they felt more satiated, and their ghrelin (one of the hormones that controls appetite) dropped three times more than in the so-called light shake group, despite drinking exactly the same amount.
In a later study, those who believed they were drinking a higher carbohydrate drink had a greater rise in blood glucose than those who thought it was a low carbohydrate drink, despite being the same drink.
According to another study, those who believed that their drink contained caffeine were less fatigued, even if it was a lie.
Labels not only convey information, they generate beliefs, which in turn modify our psychological and physiological response. Hormones don’t just depend on what you eat, they also depend on what you think you eat.
- Eat a good diet, but don’t obsess over perfection. Stress activates the sympathetic system, which interferes with digestion, for example.
- If you skip the diet for a social event that you enjoy, don’t torture yourself. A meal bad enjoyed with satisfaction it can make you better than a meal good tolerated with resignation. The feeling of guilt worsens the results, by subtracting energy and will (study).
Mind and aging
A Harvard study took a group of older men (between 70 and 80 years old) to a facility that replicated the atmosphere of two previous decades: decoration, music, photos and appliances, but not a single mirror. They were also treated as if they were 20 years younger, making them, for example, responsible for carrying their own luggage.
Within days, they felt younger and had improved strength, manual dexterity, posture, vision, and memory. His mind had temporarily returned to the past, rejuvenating the body in passing.
We cannot stop aging with the mind, but beliefs about ourselves determine how we feel and how we act. If you perceive yourself as an old man, you will act like an old man: worse posture, less movement, less social interaction… and this in turn will accelerate the decline (study).
- From a certain age, look for groups of younger people and participates in their same activities.
- Don’t do crazy things, but don’t use age as an excuse. Nature imposes enough real limitations to invent additional ones.
Mind and weight loss
Another classic Harvard study divided 84 hotel cleaners into two groups. One of them received information on how their work represented a good form of exercise, detailing the caloric expenditure of different cleaning activities. The other group did not receive this information, they acted as a control.
Four weeks later, the group that received information on physical activity associated with their work lost weight (1 kg), reduced their fat percentage and their blood pressure. There were no significant changes in the control group.
We do not know the exact causes of the results, and it is probably due to a combination of factors: more “intensity” when cleaning (knowing that it is a beneficial activity), more satisfaction at work and therefore a little more effort, less anxiety … however, the conclusion of the researchers is that the perception of exercise influences your benefit.
- See the world as your gym. Your environment offers many possibilities to integrate a little physical activity every day: walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, work your mobility while watching TV, hang from anywhere, brush your teeth in a squat position … Your health depends more of small consistent actions than of efforts herculians from Easter to bouquets.
Mind and performance
For decades, hundreds of athletes tried to run the mile in less than 4 minutes. Some argued that it was physiologically impossible, the body was not designed to run that fast.
Roger Bannister accepted the challenge. According to the experts of the time, he was not the best athlete, but he stood out for the control of his psychology (later he distinguished himself in the specialty of neurology). In his words: “Although physiology imposes limits on muscular effort, psychological and mental factors determine how close an athlete approaches those absolute limits.”.
In 1954, Bannister was the first man to go under 4 minutes (he completed the mile in 3:59). The previous record, 4:01, was over 9 years old, and it was assumed that the new brand would last for decades, but they were wrong. A few weeks later, John Landy downgraded it to 3:58. In the following years, many other athletes were running the mile under 4 minutes.
Has human physiology or training method suddenly changed? Obviously not. The main change was mental. Bannister proved that it was possible, and only when the mind accepts something can the body achieve it.
We have more current examples of how beliefs impact performance. Take for example the use of steroids or, rather, the belief in steroids.
This study, in trained athletes, promised to offer free steroids to the group that most improved, in 7 weeks, their strength gains in several movements: bench press, squat, military press and seated shoulder press.
The best 6 gained an average of 11 kg of force (adding all the exercises). As promised, they were rewarded with 10mg / day of Dianabol (an oral steroid), which was really an inert pill, a placebo.
How do you think the idea of taking steroids impacted his performance? Exceptionally. In the following four weeks they improved 45 kg in total, four times more than in previous weeks, where they had supposedly done their best.
It is not an isolated result. This other study offered its participants a fast-acting steroid (which was again a placebo) before seeking personal records in the squat, deadlift, and shoulder press. Immediately outperformed their best marks by 4-5% on average, something exceptional considering that the study was carried out in elite athletes.
The athletes were subsequently informed that they had been deluded. What happened? Their marks returned to the previous values.
Steroids, like drugs, work in part because you believe in them. Your body always tries to respond to the expectations of your mind.
- Hope to be successful In everything you do, avoid the defeatist mentality. A positive attitude always helps, but without disconnecting with reality (rational optimism).
- Use visualization techniques. Imagining a movement generates a brain response similar to actually performing it. Recreating a successful lift in your mind improves the likelihood of turning it into reality (study).
- If you are the best in your group, change groups. Our expectations are also modulated based on what we see around us. If the average is low, you will be far from your potential. Look for references, people who make you question what you think is possible to achieve.
Take control of your mind
In psychology the term locus of control is used to explain how people interpret what happens to them in life.
The ones that have external locus of control they perceive their results as the result of circumstances over which they have no power: decisions of others, family situation, chance … These people are easy to identify. They complain about everything and blame others: their family, politicians, the economic model … everything must change, except them. It is a victim mentality.
People with internal locus of control they interpret their situation as the result of their own actions and decisions. They value effort, skill, and personal responsibility.
Of course chance plays an important role in our lives, but health depends much more on behavior than luck. And behavior depends on beliefs.
Those who believe that chance is the main cause of the disease (external locus of control) have worse habits (study). Why strive if we are at the mercy of fate?
Always try to adopt an internal locus of control. Ignore everything that is out of your control but take 100% responsibility for what you can change. Your decisions are more important than your circumstances.
Interestingly, this locus of control is dependent on the domain. Some people have control over the professional and personal side of their lives but feel unable to improve their bodies. Others feel the opposite: they feel total power over their diet and training, while the rest of their life is adrift.
We are generally unaware of our beliefs. The first step is to analyze your thoughts, behaviors, and results. From there, differentiate between what you can change and what you can’t (as a good stoic would do). Ask yourself if your behaviors are aligned with your goals, if there is something else you could improve, if you are satisfied with your identity.
Break the chains
The real revolution begins in the mind. The longest journey does not begin with the first step, but with the idea of making the journey. Set yourself a clear goal and progress little by little. For many, the mind is their worst enemy, but you can transform it into your best ally.
As Bruce Lee said: «If you put limitations on what you do, physically or otherwise, they will extend to your work and your life. There are no limits, only phases to overcome«.
It is not about ignoring genes or real physiological barriers, but about avoiding the mind being the limiting factor. It’s about breaking down artificial barriers and breaking imaginary chains. Only then can you get closer to your true potential in all areas of your life.