‘More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it,’ says Proverbs 24:3, in the Common English Bible (CEB). The Contemporary English Version (CEV), is more precise: ‘Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.’ Changing their thoughts turned back the body-clocks of a group of men in their 80s who were part of Harvard University’s famous ‘Counter Clock-wise’ Study.
The man who introduced the National Health Service, the Welsh Parliamentarian Aneurin Bevan, understood the power of thoughts. Knowing how negative thinking dominated the Welsh valleys after years of poverty and grinding work in the mines, he said his greatest fear was that when new horizons opened and possibilities presented themselves, ‘his people would be impoverished by their ‘paucity of ambition.’ There have been various ‘task forces’ in the valleys over the years working to change both circumstances and expectations. They’ve had some success, but there are still negative mind-sets affecting lives in the South Wales valleys.
Mind-sets are formed by consistent thinking that embeds ‘circuits’ of neurones in our brains. They can be positive or negative. They are described by Christian cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Caroline Leaf in her book, ’Who Switched Off my Brain’. She describes how these circuits are formed and work, and how to ‘detox your thought life and live a life of physical, mental, and emotional wholeness.’
I’m currently preparing a workshop on dealing with anxiety and depression (by Zoom September 12th, 2:30 pm), and seeing again how different our lives would be if we actually did take control of our thoughts. Often a feeling can be so strong that it distorts the facts, and misleads us. Unhampered by fear or depression or dark expectations, we could make bolder decisions and take challenging roads to more fulfilling choices.
Although we know about the ‘mind-body’ connection, I think very few of really know how powerfully it works. An experiment by an eminent Harvard social psychologist (that was so startling there was talk about it being made into a film) proved that changing the way we think about ourselves can turn back our physiological clock, taking years off us.
The study was conducted by Harvard’s Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a social psychologist with a particular interest in the psychology of ageing, in particular how our thoughts influence our bodies. One of her pressing questions was, ‘could we change our physical health by changing our minds?’ (If you’ve read my book, ‘ What’s Age Got To Do With It’ you’ll have more detail about the study.)
It involved Dr Langer and her team taking groups of men in their 80s on a week-long retreat in a house that had been retrofitted and taken back in every way to 1955. Every item in the house belonged to that period of time. All the men were interviewed beforehand and took baseline physical and psychological tests. They were thoroughly briefed and prepared.
Those in the ‘experimental group’ were to live in the house as though they were living in 1959. They were not to bring any books, newspapers, or family pictures that were older than 1959. They were literally to go back in time, to turn their minds back and live in that year, not discussing anything after 1959. The team carefully studied what life was like in 1959 – the politics and social issues, the TV shows – everything they would have encountered in that year that would effectively take participants back to it. (It was a time when an IBM computer filled a whole room, and panty hose had just been introduced.) The researchers and participants met daily, and discussed events that were ‘then’ happening and watched films of the era.
The people in the control group came separately another week, just to enjoy the week and reminisce about 1959.
After each retreat the team tested the participants and found that the experimental group came out of the experience with several physical improvements. Their hearing and their memory, even the strength of their grip significantly improved. Fingers lengthened in the experimental group as their arthritis diminished and they were able to move them with greater manual dexterity. There were improvements in height, weight, gait, posture and scores in intelligence tests. On many measures the participants got measurably younger.
Finally, independent observers who were unaware of the experiment were asked to examine the photographs taken before, and after the week’s retreat. ‘Those objective observers judged that all those experimental participants looked noticeably younger at the end of the study.’
Dr Langer said, ‘Over time I have come to believe less and less that biology is destiny. It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us, but rather our mind-sets about our physical limits… We must ask ourselves if any of the limits we perceive as real do exist.’
Mind-sets are formed by consistent thinking that embed ‘circuits’ of neurones in our brains. They can be positive or negative. ’Who Switched Off my Brain’ is a book describing the pathology of thinking, how these circuits work and how to ‘detox your thought life and live a life of physical, mental, and emotional wholeness.’ It was written by Dr Caroline Leaf, a Christian American cognitive neuroscientist.
Healthy thinking equals better mental health, one that researchers find differentiates ‘superagers’ from others in published studies. Superagers are older people, 80 years and more, who have memory functions equal to those 30 years younger, and are also physically healthier.
The Proverbs were written thousands of years ago, by Israel’s King Solomon, ‘the wisest man who ever lived’, says one commentary. Guarding our thoughts means choosing which ones to dwell on and which to reject. And Philippians 4:8 shows how to do it: ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
Click here for the link to the Zoom Meeting, ‘Proven ways of overcoming anxiety and depression’ on Tuesday, 12th September at 2:30