Mindset and Perception: Keys to Successful Habit Change and Better Health
There is an aspect to creating healthier habits I wanted to really highlight here because it affects your success more than you may realize. Your mindset and perceptions, what you say to yourself about what you do, how you perceive it and what you believe about it have a huge impact on whether you stay the course or default to your old habits.
Most of us think our genes run everything, but that’s been proven to be false. For instance, when people were told they have genes that predispose them to respond poorly to exercise, their bodies actually start to respond accordingly, even when they don’t have those genes. When exercising on a treadmill, those people got tired more quickly than they did before and actually experienced decreased oxygen uptake and lung capacity. Just from being told they were not going to be effective exercisers — and believing that! Our mindset is so much more impactful than we realize.
Here’s another powerful example of this principle. Researchers recruited 84 hotel maids and divided them into two groups. At the start of the study, none of them knew that they were already meeting or exceeding the U.S. guidelines for exercise simply by doing their work each day. Sixty-seven percent of the maids told the researchers that they “didn’t get any exercise.”
Group #1 was told that just by doing their job, they burned a lot of calories and got more than enough exercise. Group #2 was not told this. Thirty days later researchers found that those maids in Group #1 lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their body fat percentage, and reduced systolic blood pressure by 10 points. All this was accomplished without doing any additional “exercise” besides their work or changing their diet at all. The other group did not experience any of these positive results.
In another study, researchers hypothesized that by putting people in a psychologically better setting, one they would associate with a better, younger version of themselves, their bodies might follow along. So, they recreated the world of 1959 for a group of elderly subjects and asked subjects to live as though it were twenty years earlier.
Eight men in their 70’s were taken to a converted monastery where they were instructed to behave as if it were actually 1959, while the control group lived in a similar environment but didn’t act as if it were decades ago. Nothing, no mirrors, no modern-day clothing, no photos except portraits of their much younger selves, spoiled the illusion that they were actually 22 years younger.
A week later 63% of the men who lived as if it was 1959 had better intelligence test scores at the end of the experiment than they did at the beginning, compared to 44% in the control group. In fact, on the last day of the experiment, men who had seemed frail just days before ended up playing an impromptu touch football game on the front lawn. Four independent volunteers, who knew nothing about the study, looked at before and after photos of the men in the experimental group and perceived those in the “after” photos as an average of two years younger than those in the “before.”
So how you perceive what you’re doing, the words you use to talk about it, how you assign meaning to what you’re doing, and the intention behind it all matter. Speaking positive confessions over yourself, practicing intentionally perceiving your efforts as being effective will help you be consistent and successful in your efforts to improve your health.