The power of thought

We’ve long understood the significance of mindset in helping us reach goals. Athletes, for instance, use visualization techniques to foster self-belief before they compete. The first vital step to achieving something is believing you can achieve it.

Consider the story of the 4-minute mile, a remarkable example of the power of mindset (and of psychological barriers) on what we can or can’t achieve.

The 4-minute mile

For decades people believed running a mile in under 4 minutes was impossible, proven true by the fact that nobody could do it.

Then, Sir Roger Bannister shattered that belief, achieving the once-unthinkable feat by running a mile in 3 minutes 59 seconds. In the next year, four more individuals accomplished the same “impossible” feat, and in the 49 years that followed, over a thousand runners conquered the challenge.

The notion of the four-minute mile being impossible was never actually true.

Rather, it was an entrenched belief due to people being repeatedly told that it couldn’t be done. This collective belief created a mental barrier and in essence, it was the power of their own minds that prevented them from achieving something they were capable of.

But can your mindset actually change your physiology? Can it change how your body functions? That was a question American Psychologist Alia Crum of Stanford University wanted to investigate and she did so with the now now famous milkshake experiment!

The milkshake experiment

In this experiment participants were given the exact same milkshake on 2 separate occasions. The first time, they were told it was a rich, indulgent milkshake. On the second occasion they were told it was a low-calorie milkshake.

Before and after consuming each milkshake a blood test was conducted to measure the participants’ ghrelin levels. Ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, is produced by our stomach and small intestine and stimulates our appetite.

The results were astonishing!

When participants believed they were consuming a rich and indulgent milkshake, their ghrelin levels significantly decreased. Conversely, when they believed it was a low-calorie shake, their ghrelin levels remained unchanged.

In essence, when participants believed they were consuming a low-calorie shake, their bodies maintained steady hunger hormone levels, compelling them to eat more as they believed they hadn’t had enough calories. Conversely, when they drank the same milkshake but believed it was indulgent, their bodies radically reduced hunger!

And this is not the only study showing that what we believe can change our actual physiology… I’ll tell you later in the week about another study in which Alia shows that just by believing you are more active, you can decrease weight, blood pressure and body fat!!

The power of thought– Conclusion

The key take-away here is to be conscious that your beliefs can have an actual impact on your physiology… Not just your psychology!

And these physiological impacts can have negative consequences. But the contrary is also true! Positive beliefs and believing we can do something can have very positive outcomes as well.

It’s not easy to change our beliefs, but it all starts with scrutinizing the ones we have and questioning whether they’re real. Just like the 4-minute mile, our beliefs may not be founded in truth and may be holding us back from reaching goals within our grasp.

Over the next few days, we’ll be doing exactly that! We’ll go through a few of the beliefs so many of us have about sleep, and see how true they really are.

Crum, A.J., Corbin, W.R., Brownell, K.D. and Salovey, P., 2011. Mind over milkshakes: mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response. Health Psychology30(4), p.424.