The Situationist

The Situation of Time and Mind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 23, 2009

ClockSituationist friend, Ellen Langer takes a mindful view of our mental powers in her fascinating book, “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.”  Here are some excerpts from Melora North’s review in Wicked Local.

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[Ellen Langer]  has taken on an awesome challenge to introduce readers of all ages to new concepts that may indeed change their lives and turn back time.

“Way back when we did research on elderly people,” she says. “We wanted to find out how a change in mind can change people. If you put the mind in a different place the results are dramatic, the mind and body come back together. Where you put the mind, you put the body.”

One of the studies Langer conducted with five of her grad students was to assemble a group of elderly, reasonably healthy men who would live for one week in a world where the clock was turned back 20 years to 1959. They lived in an environment where the television only played programs from that time, the radio shouting out tunes and news broadcasts from the same era. Photographs, newspapers and magazines, political discussions, everything was a replica of 1959 in their controlled world. The men were directed to let themselves “be just who you were in 1959. We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this, you will also feel as well as you did in 1959,” says Langer in her book.

Langer and her team were right; the mind does indeed have wondrous control over the body. During the week the men became more independent, motivated and engaging. At the conclusion of the week each man had gained an average of three pounds, their memories and hearing had improved and the strength of their grips increased — the participants actually got “younger.”

“This book is very important,” says Langer. “Especially with all the baby boomers. The mindsets we form when we’re younger lock us into our health when we get older. If you believe you can’t control your life and health then you can’t.”

Sharing her insights, research and experience, Langer introduces the reader to ideas that can trip up the mind, thus enabling it to actually heal the body. For instance, she conducted eye tests in which she reversed the eye chart. The results were astounding, patients could actually see better because they had more optimistic expectations.

Another example is the power of words. A simple concept, she found that those with cancer who consider themselves cured enjoy healthier lives while those who say they are in remission have higher depression scores.

For those of you out there struggling with your weight, there is good news, and again, it is all about words. One of Langer’s studies took on a group of hotel chambermaids who have highly physical jobs. Vacuuming, lugging garbage, all these exercises burn calories and test stamina. The maids had a mindset that they were just doing their jobs, not getting exercise. Ha! Once they were informed their work was exercise, the brain set in to shape a different mental image and the women actually began to lose weight, an added benefit being the lowering of their blood pressure.

In this book Langer shares her research on the power of placebos and whether patients actually need traditional medications. She tells how best to work with your doctor explaining that we are in charge of our own vessel and cannot assume that our annual check-ups and yearly blood work will tell the whole story of our physical being.

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To read the entire review, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Health and Aging,” “Time and the Situation of Marshmallows,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

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One Response to “The Situation of Time and Mind”

  1. [...] The Situationist posts The Situation of Time and Mind.  A great take on how the mind can influence one’s perception of reality in astounding way.  Reading this, though, we found a nit … “Way back when we did research on elderly people,” she says. “We wanted to find out how a change in mind can change people. If you put the mind in a different place the results are dramatic, the mind and body come back together. Where you put the mind, you put the body.” [...]

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