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Mind over Matter: Think Yourself Healthy


by Mark Hyman, MD
9-time NY Times Best-Selling Author and Leader in Functional Medicine

We all have heard of the mind-body effect that says suggestions, desires, beliefs, expectations and fears influence what people experience. We all know that thoughts and feelings affect our health. And, we all know that stress is bad for us. I used to think this was soft science. But a few recent discoveries of how your thoughts literally shape who you are have made me think differently. Read on…

THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS CAN:

  1. Influence gene expression and epigenetics, literally turning on or off genes that make you sick or make you well.
  2. Affect the length of your telomeres–the little caps on the ends of your chromosomes that shorten as you age. Good thoughts and feelings lengthen them, stressful or negative ones shorten them.
  3. Alter your immune system, turning off or on inflammation.
  4. Change your microbiome, the world of bacteria in your gut that control your risk of weight gain, diabetes, aging, depression, heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. Good thoughts and feelings grow good bugs and bad thoughts and feelings grow disease producing bugs.

How many of you are controlled by your thoughts and feelings?
How many of you fall victim to that inner dialogue that runs 24/7 in your head?
How many of you have the tools to transform your thoughts, your life and your health.

What we THINK in our heads actually creates the world we live in. If we think that we’re going to have a bad day, chances are, we’ll have a bad day. It’s easier to recognize this cause and effect dynamic in certain areas of our lives over others. For example, you might be willing to own that if you have repetitive negative thoughts about your mother-in-law (and don’t deal with them) then that relationship won’t be so great.

Yet, there are some areas in our lives that feel harder for us to own. One area, in particular, is our health. This somehow seems more fixed, more genetic, more “real” – not just a belief or thought. But the life coaching field and the science community understand that our health is impacted by our thoughts as much as any other area. Even more important than changing our habits, we must learn to change our thoughts.

You know things can change. I’m sure you’ve had an experience where you changed a feeling from sad to happy. Maybe you waited for a circumstance to change your feeling or better yet, maybe you actually did something to pick yourself up. If you can transform your sadness into happiness or your fear into excitement, then why can’t you also transform your illness into vitality? I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m just saying it’s possible (and very, very helpful). I, myself, have trouble changing my thoughts and feelings in certain areas and that’s where my HG coach, Lauren Handel Zander, comes in. She taught me “mind over matter” with many personal dilemmas, and I want to pass the inspiration and information on to you.

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What if I told you that your mind is more powerful than your disease? This might not be easy to hear. If you feel yourself tensing up or feeling resistant to this concept…just breathe…trust me, you WANT me to be right. It gives YOU power.

We’re going with the premise that negative thoughts make you sad and positive thoughts make you happy. But what if your thoughts also made you healthy or sick? You have the power to reverse the trend you’re in. Dare to ask yourself the question, “How am I making myself sick?”

I’m not saying that terrible things that are out of your control don’t happen. What I am saying is that some of your aches, pains, diagnosis, chronic fatigue, insomnia, obesity, last week’s cold, today’s fever, could possibly be due to your thoughts (especially those thoughts that convince you to eat sugar!). And not only your thoughts, but also how you are acting and being, or even what you might be avoiding.

Lauren told me this in regard to how we manifest our reality and it really hit home: “Your inner dialogue is constantly sourcing the right and wrong actions in order to prove your point of view. We call this manifesting.”

Your negative inner dialogue about health will lead to more sickness and prolonged sickness.

So how do you find out if your thoughts might be the source of your illness?

Begin by listening.

The average human has about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day! That’s a lot of thoughts that we may or may not know we’re having.

HERE’S HOW TO THINK YOURSELF WELL

Step One: Tune into your thoughts.
What’s your inner dialogue? Does it sound something like, “I feel strong. My energy is high. I think I’ll go for some exercise,” or is this closer to reality, “I’m always so tired. I feel weak. I don’t feel like doing anything today?” Once you’re tuned in and become aware of your thinking patterns, you’re more able to catch your negative thinking and see how it affects your energy.

Step Two: Catch the negative thoughts.
What is the “flavor” of your negative thoughts? Is there a theme to them? Do they sound like your mother, or a victim? Are they angry or hopeless?

Step Three: Identify the bad theories in your negative thinking.
Lauren told me that different clients have different bad theories lurking under their negative inner dialogue. One thinks that she’s too old to change her life. Another believes that she’s too tired to be able to make any progress in her career. Another thinks her illness is what gets her the attention or time off she needs. They are all wrong.

What theories are you selling yourself about your health on a regular basis?

Lauren recommends that after identifying these bad theories, we must immediately set out to disprove them. A coach can help you uncover all of your bad theories and guide you on how to debunk them. Sometimes it takes simple logic, sometimes you have to go back in history and unravel gritty stuff from your childhood or even patterns in your lineage that you may not even know about.

The fact is that if you’ve been living in a “sick world,” then you’ve been gathering evidence to prove that world true, and you may have been gathering that evidence for a long time, some of it you may have even inherited. Regardless of where it came from, you’ve been unknowingly swimming in it and even protecting it.

This is akin to rooting for the wrong team. Any time you wish, if your ego will allow it, you can start rooting for a different team. How about some new, better theories instead of your old, crusty, negative ones? You invented the bad ones (or agreed to them), now you can invent some good ones.

It’s time to find new theories to replace the old ones.

Once you start believing that, for example – new chapters of life can begin at any age, the more I exercise the more energetic I will feel or I can give more to my relationships and get more from them if I am well, you will seek to prove those theories true, rather than discredit them using the old negative thoughts.

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR THINKING – Creating an Inner Dialogue of Healing

Lauren recommended some great ways to do that:

  1. Write down, read and think about your new theory every day. At the end of the day, make a list of all the ways you supported your new theory to prove to yourself that you support it.
  2. Research your community and the internet for stories of people who prove your new theory.
  3. Find and interview people who have proven your new theory true and ask them how they did it.
  4. Take actions that are consistent with the new theory, like seeking out new friends, exercising regularly or starting a meditation practice.

Caveat: Sometimes we get sick because our body is trying to alert us that there is something wrong in our lives. It’s not just in our heads. Your heart knows and when you’re not listening, it sets off alarms in your body to wake you up. It may feel painful but it’s a good thing. I’ve been through it myself. If you are in a job you hate, an abusive relationship, if you feel like you need to hide or lie about areas of your life or you just aren’t taking care of yourself the way you know you should, your illness is trying to get you to deal. In this case, Lauren recommends this theory: “My illness is trying to teach me or show me something.” And your action step is: Figure out your lesson as fast as you can!

Talk to someone. It could be a trusted friend, clergy person, counselor or life coach. My top pick is the HG life coaches because they will help you tackle your illness on all levels, as well as what may be behind the illness. You can see for yourself. It’s helped save me from myself and the inner dialogue that stood in the way of my happiness and success.

Come join me and my HG Coach, Lauren Handel Zander at Soho House in NYC on June 16th for an intimate conversation about getting Honestly Healthy. Or come to Lauren’s Honestly Healthy 1-hour teletalk  where she’ll help get you into action and start taking the steps needed to design your health.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD