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We Get What We Expect to Get ~ Part 1

Belief Creates the Actual Fact in Nearly Everything

Why it works

Why it works

Wishing on a star, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, crossing your fingers, or knocking on wood, all have one thing in common—the power of suggestion. The magic you imagine in the bones and fur of the rabbit’s foot makes you feel lucky and hopeful, which invites into your mind the anticipation that an outcome you desire could actually happen. The scientific evidence suggests that your anticipation mobilizes vast inner resources and directs those resources toward fulfilling your desire. Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Maryanne Garry of Victoria University of Wellington teamed up to review the most recent and intriguing effects of the power of suggestion on cognition and behavior.[1] The evidence shows that once you anticipate that a desired outcome could happen, you set in motion a chain of thoughts and actions that work together to actually make it happen. “The effects of suggestion,” Dr. Garry states, “are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think. If we can harness the power of suggestion,” Garry concludes, “we can improve people’s lives.”[2] Learning to tap this power moves into the higher stages of human potential, and the good news is that tapping this potential couldn’t be simpler (I’ll show you one approach at the end of the article).

The power of suggestion appears to be at the center of why some people succeed at school, business, or athletics while others fail, and why some people’s illness or pain resolves and others’ gets worse. Believing you are limited or blocked in some way drives the limitation. The great martial artist Bruce Lee said, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must go beyond them.[3] Our very thoughts are capable of extending mental and physical limits we tend to accept. It appears that the limits we perceive are not necessarily set by nature, but by our own mental attitude.

Most of what we know about the power of suggestions comes from the placebo effect, which describes real psychological and physiological changes that occur when the mind has been convinced to expect a therapeutic effect from a substance that is inert. In itself, the placebo does nothing; it’s the mind that generates the beneficial effect. While much of the research on the placebo effect has focused on alleviating pain, there is growing evidence that the placebo effect is multi-dimensional.  One such study relates to prospective memory. Prospective memory is how the brain remembers details or events that are to occur in the future. It gets us to appointments on time, helps us pay our bills when they are due, enables us to follow instructions, anticipates the next steps in a plan, and reminds us to take medication on time. Chronic stress debilitates prospective memory and researchers wanted to see if it was possible to enhance memory with a placebo.[4] They convinced subjects that a placebo they’d been given was a powerful “smart drug” that improved cognitive function and memory. In truth, the so-called smart drug was nothing more than a vitamin C drink. One group received the placebo and one group was given nothing at all. Then the researchers put both groups through a high-effort prospective memory task. Prospective memory improved in the group that had ingested the placebo, while the group that didn’t receive the placebo showed no improvement.

Perhaps nothing has turned our limited view of human potential on its head more than the research of Ellen Langer of Harvard University. Her research validates what William James, the father of American psychology, concluded about the power of belief more than a hundred years ago. James concluded that we can change anything if we believe we can; that belief creates the actual fact.[5] Langer’s most famous study showed this holds true even with the aging process. Our mental attitude can turn back the hands of Time, reversing the effects of aging. In 1979, Langer conducted an experiment with men in their late seventies, early eighties, who were languishing in nursing homes.[6] She took the men out of the nursing homes and to a retreat center where the men were asked to mentally put themselves back in time twenty years, to 1959. They wore clothes that were fashionable in 1959, ate the food they ate then, carried photo IDs of how they looked, read newspapers and magazines, and watched films, television programs, and discussed sporting events, all from that year. Their assignment was not merely to reminisce about bygone days,” Langer said, “but to make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years before.”

The elders did just that. “They put their mind in an earlier time,” Langer said, “and their bodies went along for the ride.”[7]  The results were astonishing. Langer’s time travelers showed greater improvements in blood pressure, joint flexibility and manual dexterity, and incredibly, their arthritis began to retreat. These were men who previously couldn’t bend over far enough to tie their own shoes, but their prowess improved so much that at one point they engaged in a touch-football game. Their IQs even improved and when they returned to real time, their families were astounded at how much younger they looked. The results defied belief. “It sounded like Lourdes,” Langer said.[8]  The mind can become Lourdes, or it can become a bed on a geriatric ward. Langer’s study shows that even aging is nothing but a mindset.

… Continue on to Part 2 of this article

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[1] R. B. Michael, M. Garry, and I. Kirsch, Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior, Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, no. 3 (2012): 151–56.
[2] The Power of Suggestion: What We Expect Influences Our Behavior, for Better or Worse, News, Association for Psychological Science, June 6, 2012
[3] Robert Pagliarini, Meet Bruce Lee, Personal Growth Guru, CBS/MoneyWatch, August 27, 2012,  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/meet-bruce-lee-personal-growth-guru/
[4] Sophie Parker et al., A Sham Drug Improves a Demanding Prospective Memory Task, Memory, 19, no. 6 (August 2011): 606–12.
[5] William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume 2, Macmillan, 1891, pgs. 288-297
[6] Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (New York: Random House, 2009), 5–12. [
7] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/what-if-age-is-nothing-but-a-mind-set.html?_r=0
[8] Ibid

The End of Stress

See if you can remember a time that perhaps lasted only a minute, when nothing came to interrupt your peace of mind. Perhaps you were on a beach or walking in a groove of trees, and suddenly you felt safe, whole, and loving, and for that moment all was well and your future was not in doubt. If you can’t remember such a moment, imagine it. Experience how quiet and at ease your mind would become, how expansive you would feel, and how clear and present you would be.

Now picture what it would be like to have that moment extend until it became your day. This might give you a hint of what it would be like to be free of the fearful illusions that a brain chronically under stress generates. Without these illusions, there would be no fear, no stress, no doubt, and no need to attack or defend.

“Who you are,” states Eckhart Tolle, “is the very sense of being, or presence, that is there when you become conscious of the present moment. You and what we call the present moment are one.” In the quiet of the present moment, the false image of yourself fades. The image of a threatening world fades. The judgments you project onto people and events fade. Your fear of failure fades and what takes its place is the happiness you can experience right here, right now, when you are not afraid of anything. Merton-large-2 copy

Peace is powerfully positive and yet some people equate it with complacency. To the contrary, inner peace is the mental state that drives the emotional intelligence that predicts success at every level of life. The poet W.B. Yeats said, “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” Growing up, the person who fit Yeats’ description in my life was my Irish godmother. She was wise with a face that was lit from within and a quality of presence that was kind and calming. Our home was full of the pandemonium that my siblings and I could make, but when Genevieve came to visit we all quieted down and behaved ourselves. We loved being in her presence. Her way of being had a way of inspiring us to want to do something good with our lives.

Thomas Merton wrote, “All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear.” Which is to say, what matters is the quality of your inner experience as you face the outer world. One way to bring a little more peace to a stressful day is to take an occasional time-out to give peace the chance to change your day. It’s simple and only takes a minute. Here’s how.

  • Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking or doing, and allow your mind and body to relax.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals, no one to please, nothing to change or fix.
  • Take a slow, deep breath and as you do, let your mind and heart open wide and allow peace to emerge as your experience, all by itself.

Peace in the Midst of War

Recently, during a podcast interview, I was asked a question I’d never been asked before or even considered to ask myself.  The question was, During my long career in mental health, what was my best day?  The day came to me in a flash, full blown, surprising me so much that I had to pause for a moment to adjust to the intense feeling that washed over me.

“This isn’t what the interviewer is looking for,” I thought to myself and I tried to quickly come up with something else, but this memory wouldn’t be pushed aside for something less. It was like it wanted to be remembered out loud. So I launched into it.

My best day in my career, I said, was on the fourth day of a group I was co-facilitating with my colleague Louise Franklin, 20 years before, with victims of the Bosnian War, in a room inside a bullet riddled building in Osijek, Croatia, on the border with Serbia, with genocidal Serbian forces just across the Drava River.

For most of the Croatian men and women, this group was the first time they had been given the space to really talk about the horrible things that had happened to them, working through the trauma with principles that could empower a new attitude for relating to what they had been through and were sure to face again in their war-torn country.  Each day, the group opened up a little more, psychologically and spiritually, and then on the fourth day the group reached a kind of heroic shift in consciousness where we found a place of peace inside that transcended what was happening outside. It was a place of power and dignity, where the outside did not prevail … did not have the last word … could no longer refute or diminish the peace we felt as a result of the One Self our sharing and caring had created. It was a miraculous moment of discovering that we had achieved and could even sustain a higher state of mind, which is love, as we lived through whatever egregiousness the world had done to us and would continue to do. The realization of this truth placed smiles on faces that hadn’t smiled in a long time.

That was my best day at work.

No. 2: Correct your mind and the rest of life will fall into place

Lao Tse, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, said: “Correct your mind and the rest of life will fall into place.”

The “rest of life” means the health, wealth, and love that eludes most people. So, what’s the correction you need to make?

According to Lao Tse, it’s the shift from fear to inner peace, and 2,500 years later neuroscience has proven the ancient sage was right.

Research has established that the mental shift from stress and fear to inner peace resets your brain state to the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts success in your endeavors.

People who have mastered the shift from fear to peace make few if any mistakes. They tend to stay out of trouble, instead of chronically struggling to get out of trouble.

As a result, their peaceful brains mobilize the intelligence (that stress hormones retard) to reach greater and greater heights.

“Seek peace,” Jesus said, “and all things shall be given to you.”

So, how do you make the inner shift to peace when the world around you seems to vibrate like Grand Central Station at rush hour?

Here’s a prescription from Lee Ufan, the great modern artist:

“Agitated, busy people. Stop and stand still for a moment. Look at the sky. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. If you do this, you will change and the world will come to life.”

You can begin simply by taking a one-minute timeout for peace.

  • Simply stop what you’re doing, resisting the compulsion to keep working, and step away from the busy-ness of the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking and allow your mind and body to relax.
  • Take a deep breath and allow yourself to relax even more.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals, no one to please, nothing to change or fix. Just you and the freedom to simply be yourself for a moment.
  • Take a slow, easy breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide.
  • Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.

Do this two or three time a day for a week and see if your life begins to fall into place.

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No. 3: Your Essential Worthiness is a Fact (meaning what you are is good enough)

Research over the last half century – beginning with Carl Rogers and Aaron Beck, and more recently with Yale’s David Rand – has revealed two essential facts about human beings that are enormously positive, which means they reveal something enormously positive about you personally.

Fact #1: The essence of your being is love, which means your basic nature, when functioning freely, is constructive and trustworthy. Love, in this sense, is not a romantic emotional state, but rather an exquisitely rational, coherent, and positive intelligence, guiding your life forward with subtle and ordered complexity toward the goals you are endeavoring to achieve.”[1]

Your essentially loving nature establishes your worth and belonging as a human being, meaning you are inherently golden exactly as you are right now, have been in the past, and are in the process of becoming. It’s the truth and science backs it up. The fact that your worth as a human being is inherent means it is always true. There are no conditions you need to meet, no prerequisites to qualify you, no hoops to jump through to earn it. Your worth is not earned; it’s given. Your successes and failures in life neither increase or decrease your worth. Whether you live in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue or under a freeway, you are worthy. Whether you are a tea-tootler or an alcoholic on a bar stool, at core you are golden. Whether you are the chief of police or a behind bars, you belong.

The research of Brene Brown found that there was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of self-worth and belonging from the people who struggle for it. The one and only variable is that people with a strong sense of self-worth believe they are worthy. They accept it as fact (which it is). Your unqualified acceptance of yourself as worthy is fundamentally all it takes to experience it.

Fact #2: There is one central motivating force in your basic nature that drives you to fulfill your potentialities. It is called the formative tendency, which directs you to express and activate all your talent and competences to enhance your life and reach your complete development as a person. A simple way of identifying the formative tendency in you is to make a list of qualities you experience when you are at your best, functioning at “the top of your game.” Simply list 10 words or short phrases that describe your experience when you’re in the flow, in the zone, running on all cylinders, making things happenThis will help you identify the experience of the directional force emanating from your essential nature.

The code for your essential nature is embedded in the very neurocircuitry of your brain, unwrapping to express the creative, curious, explorative, playful, constructive, peaceful, loving, joyful, compassionate, sharing, and cooperative forces within that move you forward toward self-actualization.

In short, what lives in you as you is not only powerful, it is beautiful. What you are is good enough, and all you have to do is to be it openly. So, if all this is true, and it is, then why do you struggle with shame and self-doubt?

Although you are by your very nature intrinsically worthy and forward moving, your inherent core of worth is so overlaid with layer after layer of negative thoughts, fears, and doubts as to feel nonexistent. Thus, your challenge in life is to remove the layers of fear and negative thinking so your intrinsic worth can emerge naturally. How do you accomplish that?

A Simple Practice to Accentuate Your Self-Worth

You can begin simply, by waking up each morning ahead of the morning rush to spend a few minutes to starting the day on a positive note that asserts your worth. Here’s how:

Follow your breathing and gradually relax into a feeling of peace and freedom. Feel your mind expand as you relax.

In this spacious state of mind, remind yourself that the essence of your being is inherently worthy, meaning you’re inherently golden, exactly as you are and are becoming, right here, right now. Remind yourself that your worth as a human being has no prerequisites. It’s simply true, in and of itself.

Next, take a moment to frame your day in a positive light. Begin by feeling appreciation for the gift of another day of life; another day to share with the people you love; another day to pursue your dreams.

Set your intention to have a great day, achieving meaningful results in all your endeavors. Equally, set the intention to succeed at sustaining a peaceful and positive attitude on the inside, regardless of what happens on the outside.

Research shows that people who believe in their intrinsic worth aren’t thwarted by shame-based thinking and self-doubt that says, I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, etc. The research also shows that people who start the day mindfully experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, and are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, all of which predicts successful outcomes. They also sleep better that night. All this for devoting 5 minutes in the morning to a simple practice.

[1] Rogers, Carl. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (pp. 194-195). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1960.

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