In this third instalment of my series on New Year’s Resolutions, I’m looking at the importance of believing you can heal, in order to be able to generate healing. (Read Part 1:Do What Loves You and Part 2: Being Willing To Change)
Many people will doubt the power of the mind to affect the physiology of the body. And our western medical system supports them in this belief.
Consequently many people with chronic conditions believe they can not heal.
Yet we know that the placebo effect (when patients are given fake treatment and still show improvement or healing) and the nocebo effect (when people experience something inert but believe it will make them sick or have a negative outcome, including death and they are proven right ) are reliable in their efficacy across all disciplines of medicine.
The mind has power over the body. Our beliefs have power over the body.
Tell someone they’ll be healed and there’s a greater chance it will happen. Tell someone they wont be, and that will be more likely.
There are many nuances to this idea, not least of which is the authority and power in the person telling the patient they will or wont be healed. In our culture, we give a lot of authority and power to our doctors, so when they tell us something like this, there’s a good chance we believe them.
In her book Mind Over Medicine, Dr Lissa Rankin MD goes into great detail about her study of placebo and nocebo effects and how they’ve been reported in mainstream medical literature countless times. She also studies documented and statistically significant health benefits for individuals and communities living with different cultural norms than most westerners. It’s a fascinating read that will change the way you understand your body, your health and your life.
How We Think Affects Our Health
For the most part, placebos and nocebos are understood to represent the power of the mind to change what happens in the body, proving the body has the power to make itself well or sick, depending on what the believes and expects. There are even cases when patients have died from substance that scientifically can not kill them, because they believed it would.
The brain is powerful! What we believe and what we think have a really powerful effect on our physiology.
For those of us with chronic pain, this is the first key element in coming to generating healing.
If we have spent too many years being told our illnesses are incurable, that there’s nothing that can help and that life will just get more painful and less happy because of them, we’re going to feeling hopeless and powerless.
The overwhelming evidence that, up to 50% of patients, or more, are reported to have responded to fake treatment by exhibiting physiological symptoms that matched what they were told they would experience (ie the treatment they received had no inherent power to produce those symptoms). This should give us great encouragement.
Because positive belief in the potential to heal is within our control! We can do something about that, right now, right here, without anything else having to change.
We can change what we believe.
How To Start Believing You Can Heal
The place to start when changing beliefs is to become conscious of what you’re believing. This involves beginning to “watch” your thinking.
What are you saying to yourself about your body and your pain?
How much unquestioned acceptance do you give your doctors when they say there’s no cure? (Do you ask if anyone has ever experienced remission? Do you research that yourself?)
What are you saying to yourself, or others, about their bodies, pain and health?
EXERCISE: Begin a practice of carrying a note book with you and writing down every time you notice a thought that carries a hopeless, powerless connotation regarding your health.
Next, notice what the body does when you say or believe the thoughts you’re writing down.
The body responds to lies by triggering the stress response – that’s why lie detectors work. Lying releases brain chemicals that trigger the stress response, which affects the body in various physiological ways.
As you’re thinking about the belief or thought you’ve written down, how does your body feel? What goes on within it?
EXERCISE: Write down your body’s response to each thought you’ve written in your notebook.
Conversely, when we hear or speak or think something true, the body relaxes. Sometimes the truth is sad or it is not what we would like it to be, and we will respond with strong emotion. This doesn’t always feel nice or happy. But there’s a centred calmness, even in unwanted truths.
So, when we encounter a thought that builds tension in the body (a lie), we can counter that with trying out statements that represent the opposite of the thought (something more true).
For instance, when we believe “This dumb knee I’ve got, never worked properly, it’s a waste of time” we probably feel a bit depressed, gut sinks, things feel heavy, maybe we’re angry so there’s tension in arm and leg muscles, perhaps our heart rate speeds up.
But then, if we say the words “My knee is great. It hurts because there’s something wrong and that’s exactly what it is supposed to do. It’s here to help me and it does that well”, our brain might cynically mock or start offering evidence to the contrary – but note, in the moments before the brain dives in with its critique, how does your body respond to the positive statement?
EXERCISE: For each thought, once you’ve noted the body’s response to it, write and repeat an opposite, positive statement about that same thing, as in my example above. Don’t say anything overtly false (ie “I have the most healthy knee in the world with no problems”), but find a statement that tells a positive story about your current situation. In fact, try a few different ones, perhaps thoughts like “My knee is good to me”, “My knee loves me”, “I am lucky to have a knee that does what it should, telling me something’s wrong”. Note how your body responds to this – the physiological changes you feel happening in your body as you say or think the positive thoughts.
My guess is that the positive thoughts created a much nicer feeling state in your body, with more relaxed sensations, than the original negative thoughts. (I’d love to hear from you on how you found this – write your experience in the comments below)
Turning an Exercise into a Lifestyle Choice
Once you’ve spent some time practicing the exercise series above, and you’re more convinced that your thoughts are creating physiological reactions in your body, more negative in response to negative thoughts, more positive in response to positive thoughts, it’s time to incorporate this into your wider approach to life.
EXERCISE: Begin incorporating a morning practice, each day. Think a positive thought about your body and your health, without waiting for negative thought to arise. Find positive thoughts that really illicit a strong response in your body. And repeat them to yourself for a few minutes. Try to include some reference to loving the body and its healing, such as “My body is supporting me every day, keeping me alive. I love my body and I know it can heal.” or “I struggle to love my body but still it supports me. I choose to believe it wants to heal and I am grateful to it for that.”
Doing this each morning, even for just a minute or two, will have a powerful effect on how you feel about your pain, your body and your life.
Want to Know More about How to Heal?
I’ll be doing a Facebook Live Webinar on January 23rd on just this topic. Check it out here.