How Do I Change My Beliefs?: Harnessing the Placebo Effect

What if what you believed about yourself came true… because you believed it? What if the most effective and long-lasting cure for anything was… your thoughts?

Wow. You are powerful. Recent studies at Harvard’s Program of Placebo Studies and elsewhere are proving it.  Here are the facts, as reported in last week’s Wall Street Journal:

  • A study of hotel-room attendants who were told they were getting a good workout at their jobs showed a significant decrease in weight, blood pressure and body fat after 4 weeks. Attendants NOT told they were getting a good workout showed no changes.
  • A study of appetite satisfaction levels (as measured by a stomach peptide called Grehlin) showed participants felt physiologically satisfied NOT according to how many calories they ate but how many calories they were TOLD they ate.
  • In treating mild depression 30-45% of patients respond to a placebo and only an additional 5% responded to anti-depressants. For severe depression only an additional 16% responded to medication.
  • In treating Parkinson’s disease, fertility, asthma and hot-flashes placebos such as sugar pills, sham surgery and sham acupuncture, were found to be as or more effective than the “real” medication.
  • In a study of irritable bowel syndrome patients, placebo-group participants were TOLD they were being given a sugar pill that might help their symptoms via “mind-body self healing processes” and they still reported significant reduction in symptoms and feelings of relief.

Is this empowering or what?!  It makes me want to believe my hair is getting thicker and stronger, that the cellulite on my derrier is disappearing, that I’ll never have another migraine… or that my vision is improving rapidly (oh, wait! It IS. Read the blog).

Okay, that was empowering for about 2 minutes. Now, I want to know… How do I change my beliefs?

Changing Your Beliefs

Much of the time, we change our beliefs haphazardly. Someone says something that Boom! changes everything, or we travel to a new place or have a new experience that alters our thinking. But how do we intentionally CHOOSE a belief that we want to have… and come to believe it?

Here’s a story from my own life…

Everyone who knows me knows that I am happily married to the man of my dreams. But it wasn’t always this way. About 8 years ago I was “Aunt Stephanie”… the one who went to every occasion by herself, and had… for years.  I was 35 years old and ready to change that. Here’s what I did that worked:

Ask for Change.  A quote from my own faith perspective says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (The Bible: Matthew 7:7)  I can’t tell you how this works, but whenever I open myself to “ask” in stillness and earnestness I am led to the change that I seek.

Become Aware Of Your Belief. I knew there was something wrong with my attitude about relationships but I couldn’t put my finger on it. With some active listening time (journaling, walking, stillness, meditation, time in nature) I realized that I had become accustomed to my solo identity. It wasn’t that I believed I wasn’t capable of having a long-term relationship again, it just never felt like it was coming anytime soon. And so it had been for 6 long years.

Choose a New Belief. This is the easy part. You don’t have to believe it yet, just articulate the new belief you seek.

Reinforce Your New Belief. Change your physical environment, journal about your dream in the present tense, speak about it, day-dream about it, create a vision-board, an affirmation, a mantra, read about it, watch TV or music that reinforces it.  

It took me 5 months to meet Anthony once I decided to really work on it. For me, this meant taking down all the pictures of beautiful and natural but solitary women in my home and replacing them with pictures of couples and figurines in twosomes… each of which represented what I really wanted in a partnership. Looking back at my journals I can see how I FILLED them with stream-of-consciousness writing in the present tense about my dream man and our life together. I also noticed couples everywhere, noting the qualities I was looking for. Each time I saw the little pictures around my home or did one of these things, the idea of being part of a couple became more and more real to me. About 3 months later, I not only believed it would happen but was actively telling my friends that I knew it was coming soon. And it did.

So, join the Harvard Placebo team and experiment harnassing the power of your mind. What do YOU believe?

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