Hey! I hope you’re having a great day!
I have kind of a deep subject to discuss today, but it is one that holds so many people back from getting their body where they want it to be. Let me start with a few questions.
Have you ever said anything negative about your body?
Have you ever mentally or verbally labeled a part of your body as “bad?”
Do these thoughts, beliefs and words about yourself, your health and your body really affect how your body feels and functions?
According to this article in Psychology Today, the answer is yes.
A few passages from the article state-
“If you vocalize your negativity, or even slightly frown when you say “no,” more stress chemicals will be released, not only in your brain, but in the listener’s brain as well…. Any form of negative rumination—for example, worrying about your financial future or health—will stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals.”
Wow. The article is worth reading in full. Click the blue words to see it.
The link between the mind and the body cannot be overstated. In fact, the most evidenced example of this link is with the phenomenon of the placebo effect.
The placebo effect is quite amazing. It is where a person can actually have positive effects that mimic the desired effects of the studied treatment even though they received no treatment at all.
The placebo effect is essentially the effect of a persons belief on the efficacy of a course of treatment, most often studied in medical contexts. The placebo effect on average can account for 35-38% of the positive results seen in a medical study. That means that up to 38 out of 100 people can experience this phenomenon no matter who they are.
This effect has been seen numerous times in pharmaceutical studies. In fact, researchers will often judge the effectiveness of a drug by its ability to beat the placebo in a double blind study (a study where one group gets a sugar pill and one gets the real thing but neither group knows which they got).
Isn’t it interesting that simply believing that you are taking the drug can cause changes like lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, immune system changes and other results that our conscious mind has very little control over.
I remember a woman in her 80’s who I worked with a few years ago who told me the story of how her young grandchild managed to open her bottle of blood pressure pills and was found eating them like pieces of candy. After the woman rushed her to the emergency room, she discovered that the pills her doctor prescribed were actually sugar pills even though they had effectively managed her blood pressure for many months.
The mind is powerful!
This is not only a phenomenon with drug studies either. I’ve also read reports of the placebo effect showing up in surgical studies. One report showed that placebo arthroscopic surgeries where the patient is anesthetized, cut open and then sown up with no other procedure being performed can actually be as effective as the real thing in resolving chronic pain, even though the patient knew in advance that he/she had a 50/50 chance of getting the placebo surgery. Incredible!
Although the mind can be a powerful asset to someone for achieving positive health changes, the problem is that most people don’t take advantage of the power of their mind and instead let it work against them.
Often they may do this by speaking negatively about their body, which cements a particular belief in their mind, which then becomes expressed in their biology. This can often be the thing that holds people back from ultimately getting better.
So how do I see this play out day after day in the real world?
What I do appeals to many different types of people. No matter the age, gender or background of a person, many people want to improve their body in a way that helps them heal from or become less limited by various musculoskeletal ailments. In the same week, or even the same day I might work with a 44 year old stay at home mom, a 65 year old tennis player, an 87 year old golfer and a 27 year old professional athlete.
The “problems” that drove them to come see me could range from some sort of pain, to limited flexibility, to low physical tolerance for some activity or it could be driven by a desire to prevent things from getting worse. Needless to say, I have a lot of variety in my work weeks and I work with a lot of different types of people with a lot of different personalities.
One thing that I always find fascinating to discover is how people think and choose to speak about these problems. I’ve found in working with hundreds of people over the past 10 years that how people think and speak about their body, their health, any problems that occur and fundamentally about themselves as people has as much to do with their ability to get better as anything else.
One way this really becomes obvious is when you see that someone has mentally become their problem or problems.
What do I mean?
Well, you can often hear it when they speak about their various problems and listen to the words and phrases they use. Things like:
“I’m messed up”
“I’m breaking down”
“I need to be fixed”
“I’m always in pain”
Have you ever heard anyone speak like this about themselves? Have you ever spoken like this about yourself?
So what’s the big deal? Well if you’ll notice the subtle implications of such phrases you will see that the person making them has actually said (and mentally determined) that they are their problem and their problem is them.
You see when statements or thoughts are made that begin with “I am” what follows is a statement of identity. If you are your problem than its going to be very difficult to ever really believe that it can change because after all, with this mindset it is a part of you right?
Lets look at the next level up which is to make the same statements but instead of it being your complete identity, its just the identity of a certain part of your body.
“My neck is all messed up”
“My back is bad”
“My hip just isn’t normal”
“My legs are weak”
In this example, this person has a slightly better chance of improving because they have not made their problem a part of their complete identity, however because they believe this about a certain part of their body a few things will happen.
1. They will be very skeptical of anything that could possibly help them overcome this problem because they will have mentally decided that they are too far gone.
2. They will attempt new things to try and help themselves but always be looking for a reason why it isn’t working.
The human mind is a funny thing. Study after study has shown that our minds are constantly searching for anything and everything we can find to reinforce what we already believe to be true, even if it is false. This is why you can often have a logical debate with someone about a subject and have them completely reject all reasonable argument on the basis of one or two minor pieces of evidence to support their position. I see it ALL the time.
So lets look at the next level up in terms of thinking. This level is all about the “feel” statements.
“I feel pain in my back”
“I feel weakness in my arms”
“I feel a little sick”
These statements are better because there is no identity statement involved it is simply a statement of how you are perceiving yourself at the moment. However, there is also a flaw with this because it is not an empowering statement at all. In other words it doesn’t leave you feeling like you will win because it is just a neutral statement.
The highest level of thinking is with the empowering statement. Now these may not be statements that you 100% believe every time you say them but research has shown that what we say has a powerful effect on our body regardless.
“I’m fighting a flu”
“I’m working through some back pain”
“I’m in the process of recovery”
These statements are stating facts, but in an empowering way. This is critical for making improvements.
If you’ve read this entire article, congratulations. You’ve learned something that few people ever learn. Begin this change by monitoring how you speak about your body to others and even to yourself. Watch for the identity statements or dis-empowering statements and make a conscious effort to change your words and phrases to empowering ones. It very well could be the thing that turns the tides for you.
To your health!
Chris Vercelli MATm, RTS, CPT
Founder: Non-Fiction Fitness