Mind, Matter, Messages and Mantras…

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about some of the things I say to encourage myself when I need a cheeky little pep talk. One of the phrases I use most often is, “it’s mind over matter”. If you were tiny, and sat up in my head, you would often hear this when I’m out huffing and puffing, climbing hills, steady like a snail, on my road bike, or, when I think I’d prefer to skip the burpees in a boxing class. If I am finding something difficult or challenging (usually sport apparently), I can often hear myself thinking, or sometimes saying out loud, the mantra of ‘it’s mind over matter’ to egg myself on.

But is ‘mind over matter’ actually a thing? Or just a handy mantra I choose to use as distraction technique at times when I’d like to give up?

For the geeks out there, turns out there have been some interesting biofeedback experiments that offer evidence for ‘mind over matter’…

In the mid 1930’s, Slater, a scientific researcher, conducted an experiment in which he gave his participants glasses that made everything look upside-down (makes me feel gooey just thinking about it!). The participants wore these glasses continually and after 2-3 weeks, their vision flipped back and they began to be able to see things the right way up, whilst still wearing the ‘upside-down glasses’. When they eventually removed the glasses, everything was the now up-side down again for another 2-3 weeks, until vision returned to normal. Several similar experiments have been conducted since showing that people’s brains are able to make some unthinkable adjustments to survive. 

Another super interesting study I found was this; in 1959, Dr Stewart Wolf carried out a study on a group of pregnant women suffering from nausea and vomiting. In the first step, Wolf gave half of the women a traditional anti-sickness medicine and the other half were given a placebo to take. Both groups of women had significantly reduced nausea and vomiting. In the next step of the experiment, Wolf gave the placebo group a medicine that he said was a new, strong and very effective anti-sickness medicine. It was actually a powerful and potent drug to induce vomiting. Despite this, the group continued to have reduced nausea and vomiting. The pregnant ladies trusted the authority of the doctor and what he was telling them about the medicine…

Reading these studies and reflecting on it, highlighted two really valuable lessons to me:

  1. If you believe in something, really believe in something, then you can make it happen.  
  2. The absolute importance of walking to the beat of your own drum. What shocked me from the second study was the trust us humans can have in authority – the fact that a vomit inducing drug and a placebo can actually reduce sickness because the doctor said so. 

As a society, we are constantly bombarded with messages from authority; your BMI, your ideal weight, the amount of fruit and veggies you need to get in, the exercise you need to do. On top of these messages from authority, there is a whole other load of pressure, that can certainly begin to feel authoritative in our lives – this is the pressure that we receive externally, from social media, for example; the clothes we should wear, the shredded abs, the keto diet, the celery juice diet, the paleo, the arrrrghhhhhhhh…the list is endless. 

The point is this – walk to the beat of your own drum and be curious about the messages you receive from external sources. Work on knowing and trusting yourself and your instincts – trust that you’re on the right path in your own journey. 

So not only will I keep the mantra of ‘mind over matter’ in my toolbox for when I feel under physical pressure, but I’m going to add ‘mind over messages’ for whenever I start to feel pressure coming at me from society about who or what I should be.