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“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor E. Frankl


Do Our Beliefs Influence Our Health and Well-Being?

When it comes to health and well-being, most of us are taught to think primarily about our physical bodies. We’re told to “Eat ‘right’, exercise, and reduce stress.” And there’s substantial research supporting this. Unfortunately, we aren’t told how to do all this and juggle our busy everyday lives. So, we often end up overwhelmed and self-medicating, or doctor-hopping – both of which typically treat our symptoms while ignoring our deeper issues.

Let’s explore this for a moment. Symptomology has its roots in the 16th century with Descartes’ Dualism argument that mind and body are separate entities and don’t influence one another. Consciousness was virtually written out of the equation by most experts as impossible to measure and thus too nebulous to even consider. This essentially reduced us to machine parts without any conscious ability to override our instinctive responses to stimuli. Fortunately, this paradigm is now shifting, and we’re beginning to look at health more holistically.

Contemporary science views the mind and body as an integrated system. Research shows that what happens in our minds directly impacts our bodies and vice versa. It doesn’t deny that external factors can affect health, but recognizes that internal issues are equally important.

For example, there is now compelling evidence that our beliefs and expectations - what we think and feel - may actually have more of an impact on our well-being than many of our modern-day potions, pills and procedures.

Case in point: You’ve probably heard of the Placebo Effect. It’s now accepted in mainstream science that positive expectations often produce health benefits. Also well-established is the Nocebo Effect, wherein our health is adversely affected by negative expectations.

There is a wealth of convincing research on emotions, including that from the Harvard School of Public Health, showing that negative emotions increase systemic inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, contributes to a variety of chronic conditions such obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis - all of which have a huge impact on our health. And our economy.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is significant research from prestigious labs, including UNC and Duke, that positive emotions – optimism, enthusiasm, hopefulness, and the sense of engagement, meaning and connection – all reduce the risk of disease and increase our quality of life.

It may then seem that the key well-being is to think happy thoughts and feel only our positive emotions, but neuroscientists caution this is not true, and can actually be dangerous. All our emotions, they assert, are important, even the uncomfortable ones, including grief and anger, because they play an essential role in learning and memory.

The literature is rife with examples showing that beliefs and expectations often become self-fulfilling prophesies, especially when they are fueled by intense emotions. Perhaps you even know of one or two examples in your own life.

Taken together, these studies clearly show that our thoughts, feelings, expectations and beliefs affect our health and well-being. But to what extent?

Are you ready to take a quantum leap into a world of magic and mystery? Then fasten your seat belts and hold onto your hats as we enter a domain where solid matter doesn’t stay solid and fluid waves can change into solid particles in the twinkling of an observer’s eye.

Poof! It’s now 1998. We’re in a lab in Israel. What has now become known as the Observer Effect is born, revolutionizing the absolutes of classical physics by showing that atoms can behave like waves and particles and that our observations determine which they will become.

Jump to 2005. Bruce Lipton, renowned Cell Biologist, writes the book The Biology of Belief, in which he shows how Epigenetics is transforming the link between mind and matter and describes how all the cells in our bodies are affected by our thoughts.

Now, we leap to 2002 and a conversation with eminent Princeton physicist John Wheeler. Wheeler, a colleague of Einstein and Bohr, states that the boundary between an objective "world out there" and our own “subjective consciousness” - that seemed so clearly defined by classical physics - breaks down at the quantum level of atoms.

To Wheeler, we are not simply observers on a cosmic stage; we are co-creators living in a what he terms a “participatory universe.”

Moving on to 2006: Seth Lloyd, pioneer in the field of digital physics and designer of the first feasible quantum computer, states unequivocally that the Universe is a giant quantum computer and “As (it’s) computation proceeds, reality unfolds.”

Another surge and we’re up to 2008: Greg Braden, computer systems designer in aerospace and defense, likens our brains to computers and our beliefs to the instructions of the computer’s program. For him, and other cutting-edge leaders, we are the programmers of our experiences and therefore our lives. Believe it or not?

Returning to 2017 and we’re back to reality, sort of. But we’ve brought back some new data with us: We now know that a stimulus doesn’t have to mindlessly produce a habitual response. We have a large pre-frontal cortex, which is the seat of our conscious behaviors, and when we pause and allow it to work, we have a choice how to respond to stimuli. This is what distinguishes us from machines. We still need to exercise, eat well and reduce stress, but the key to our overall health and well-being, may be to finally acknowledge this internal interplay and learn to express our thoughts and feelings in safe and healthy ways, rather than suppressing and projecting them onto the external world, and then acting out with destructive behaviors.

And while this hasn’t yet reached prime time, ancient seers, indigenous cultures, and leading- edge scientists from the diverse fields of quantum physics, neuroscience, epigenetics, computer science and artificial intelligence, say we are, in all likelihood, living in an interactive universe. And our beliefs, like computer programs, are creating our experiences.

What do you think? Might this be the key to achieving well-being and all the things we most value and want to accomplish in life?


Posted Date: August 12, 2017


To read previous Food for Thought, please visit the Archives.

For more information, please contact me at 919-612-8151 or kay@wakingupwell.com.

Reviewed/Updated: August 12, 2017