Is Social Media Damaging Your Work Environment?

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When most of us think of an unhealthy work environment, we visualize “sick building syndrome,” difficult staff members, or the classic “boss from hell.”

After attending a conference populated by a number of staffing agency directors, I recently received an insight into the latest unhealthy work issue that is getting the attention of a lot of organizations: obsessive social media use while on the clock.

Resulting Social Issues

It is becoming such a concern that more and more companies are having their computer networks re-tooled to block Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites on office computers.

How much of a problem is it that a significant number of younger-generation workers, who were raised on personal electronics, cannot stop checking their Facebook and text messages while they are on the job and being paid to spend their time attending to the tasks at hand?

That employees are noticing and becoming concerned that this trend is affecting their productivity and even their bottom line. This says something important about the current immediate communication impulse and what is being called “the narcissistic tendency” we are developing as a culture.

Staying Focused On The Job

The focus and integrity to attend to the job we are expected to be doing and the ability or willingness to not pay attention to ourselves when we are getting paid to be working seems to be lacking today more than ever before.

Cellphones, emails, text messages, social networking and other electronic forms of communication have begun to hold our attention prisoner–even when we are on the job. Not only is this unfair to the individual or organization paying our salary, but it also sends up a red flag. We are growing more and more self-absorbed.

Can someone be healthy when overly concerned about the moment-to-moment activities of life? There are (most commonly in humor columns) reported Facebook posts by individuals who record practically every minor act and event of their day, posting them publicly for all their friends and fans to read.

Infalated Narcissism

Is it true that we are becoming a narcissistic society, so unable to pull ourselves away from the details of our lives that we no longer put in an honest day’s work?

Health is made up of many things. Being productive, making a contribution, working hard and enjoying what you do are all part of a healthy lifestyle. If social networking and electronic communication are pulling you further away from a balanced and healthy work life, it may be time to unplug and unlink.

Finding fulfillment and feeling commited to what we do in our work as well as how we do the work are important parts of being a productive, contributory, healthy, happy individual. Not only is excessive electronic communication often overly self-centered, but it can also distract from other essential aspects of a balanced life. That’s something to consider.

For a free download of the bestselling, award-winning book Changing Behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.

12 Steps For Handling Difficult Relationships During The Holidays

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Thanksgiving is just over a week away, and the December holidays are on the horizon. Some say: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Or is it? For many of us, the holiday visits back home to family members are something to be dreaded. While we look forward to the pleasure of celebrating these festive times, there is also the memory of past conflicts and the very real possibility of new confrontations that we find ourselves anxious to avoid. We can tell ourselves that this is the year we will not get stressed out or upset with visits to or from our families. This is what we strive for yet, most often, not how things turn out.

Difficult Family Dynamics

According to Dr. Jeffrey Fine, Ph.D., director of the American Foundation for Conscious Parenting, our families can be “a breeding ground for repressed resentments and hostilities left over from childhood.” We might anticipate that once we have grown up and moved away to create our own lives and families these feelings would diminish, but, as many of us experience, unfortunately they do not.

One potential solution to transforming the holidays from stressful to joyful is the application of identified communication skills that have been researched and shown to facilitate changing difficult relationships. Behavioral Engagement is a 12-step set of communication skills that has been the subject of hospital pilot studies over a 2-year period.

The outcomes of these pilots showed the participants experienced a significant improvement in their relational outlook and attitude after interacting with the communication skills model. Originally developed to enhance relationships between doctors, nurses and patients, the model was also applied and studied with business and family relationships.

James Prochaska, Ph.D., renowned researcher on behavior change and author of Change for Good — the Six Stages of Transtheoretical Change says of Behavioral Engagement: “The process of Behavioral Engagement has the potential to transform relationships that are suffering or struggling to ones that are thriving!”

Generally, one of the most recommended approaches to staving off holiday conflicts is to “try and accept family members or friends as they are.” Unfortunately, this good intention can be easily sidelined without specific communications skills that can help keep us on track.

Easy 12-Step Model

The 12-Step Model of Behavioral Engagement offers specific, easy-to-learn communication skills that have been proven effective in changing conflicted relationships into compatible relationships based on the understanding that we all want to be valued, respected and listened to. The steps are based on physical, psychological, hormonal and neurological aspects of human relationships and communication. They start with the understanding that while we cannot change others’ behavior we can change our own behavior in how we relate to others, which can result in a transformative outcome for all participants.

We can do so by using specific, simple communication skills and following the steps that have been shown to be effective in creating greater receptivity and generating more positive emotions in relationships that have previously been conflicted or stressful.

If you have experienced or are anticipating challenging relationships during the holidays, you may wish to apply these easy steps and see if they can assist you in having happier and even healthier holidays.

Step One: Be physically comfortable when communicating. This removes discomfort that can distract from the conversation. Distractions reduce your attention, focus on the person you are speaking with, and decrease the conversational rapport and receptivity.

Step Two: Understand what you want. Our intentions are powerful behavior motivators. Understanding what we want from an exchange or a relationship can assist us in communicating more clearly our thoughts and feelings, inviting greater understanding and intimacy. Example: “I really want to understand what you are upset about.”

Step Three: Centered body posture. Uncross arms and legs and present open, receptive body language. To send the message that you are respecting the conversation and giving the other person your fully attention, do not play with your watch, glasses, hair or continually look away from the person you are speaking with. Committing to being focused is an important element in communication and sends the message that you care. We can all feel when someone values being with or speaking to us.

Step Four : Sustained, soft eye contact has been shown to stimulate oxytocin, which opens emotional centers of the brain and enhances trust and feelings of love and intimacy.

Step Five : Respectful inquiry. Asking rather than telling or directing and using “I” statements rather than “you” statements creates a safe, non-judgmental environment for the other person to communicate openly.

Step Six: Responsiveness. Using appropriate responses, such as facial expressions, smiling, head nodding and so forth, indicates you are listening and understanding what the other is saying without interrupting or interjecting. This acknowledges the value you have for their communication.

Step Seven: Pauses between responses. Instead of immediately speaking as soon as the other person is finished, allowing for appropriate pauses when someone has shared a thought or feeling with you creates for them the experience that they are being respectfully listened to, and that you are truly present to them.

Step Eight: Non-judgment. By not allowing yourself to focus on your unspoken mental and emotional judgments you eliminate the unconscious communication that is sent through subtle and gross body language. Unconscious, non-verbal body language is something most of us pick up on and they can make or break the communication.

Step Nine: Leave the ego at the door. Eliminate the push-pull or power struggle of previous relationship interactions by letting go of taking control of the communication and allow for equity between you and the other individual.

Step Ten: Re-centering when you start to lose focus. Mentally repeating simple words you identify as prompts to get you back to the focus of the conversation is a quick and effective way to get yourself re-centered in the exchange. Example: “Back to focus” or “Get centered.”

Step Eleven: Collaborative mindset. Working toward having a win-win outcome eliminates conflict and improves the quality of the relationship in both the short term and the long term.

Step Twelve: Sacredness of relationship. Sacredness means “worthy of respect.” When we are aware of appropriate verbal and behavioral boundaries within our communications, we hold the other person in high esteem and create fulfilling, lasting relationships.

When dealing with family holiday conflicts it can be helpful for us to try simple, proven communications skills but also to reflect on the wisdom of the question: “Would you rather be loved than be right?” Often times when we elect love over being in control or being right relationships shift for the better.

What Is Success for America?

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Most Americans want to be successful in our lives. But when you look closely at what determines personal fulfillment and success, you’ll be intrigued and surprised.

American Express conducted a study called “The Life Twist Study,” published in early 2013. It examined what American’s believe are the most important and valuable aspects of their lives. The study, based on a survey of more than 2,000 Americans, shows that only one in four Americans still believe that wealth determines success.

An impressive 73 percent, close to three of four people questioned, did not identify wealth as the most important success criteria. This is a revealing statistic if one considers the May 2013 Economist magazine article citing that “Money can indeed buy happiness.” It appears now that more of us are identifying happiness and success in ways that do not target wealth or income as a focus or goal.

The Importance Behind This Data

The outcomes of the study are a bit of a surprise, given our uniquely American obsession with material wealth and accumulation. The top five items identified as most important for an individual’s success include:

  • 85 percent of respondents said health was most essential.
  • 83 percent stated that having a good relationship or marriage is critical.
  • 81 percent said that having good financial management (which is not wealth per se) is extremely important.
  • 81 percent believed in the importance of a good life-work balance.
  • 79 percent (more than three of four subjects) specified that having a job or career you love is essential.

Where Americans Agree

The most agreed-upon element for success, in which 94 percent of the participants agreed, was that being open to change (flexibility and adaptability) is a key component for personal success.

Another interesting finding stated by the author of “The Life Twist Study”:

“Dozens of the survey’s findings reflect a new American notion of success, but perhaps none more starkly than the sentiment that Americans ranked ‘having a lot of money’ 20th on a list of 22 possible contributors to having a successful life. This sentiment mirrors the steadily rising trend… that Americans are increasingly placing greater priority on living a fulfilling life —  in which being wealthy is not the most significant factor.”

Shifting Attitudes

The study offers the most likely cause for the significant change from previous studies on this subject: Our downward economy and high levels of unemployment are having more than just financial impacts. They are contributing to changes in attitudes regarding wealth and success.

The study also reports that 43 percent of Americans say they have experienced a financial setback. However, more than 50 percent of the surveyed stated that their experiences have helped them identify what is really important in their life. In addition, 42 percent of the participants say that going through adversity has opened them up to new experiences.

Transforming Our Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills

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All of us, from time to time, identify things about how we behave that we would like to change. Changing our behavior is very difficult because it is the result of the many learned responses we develop as soon as we come into the world. There is research today suggesting that conditioning that can begin even in the womb.

How we learn to adapt to our environment, what outside events or stimulation feels safe or threatening, how we view the world we live in, what our beliefs and values are, and so forth all play a role in how we learn to behave towards ourselves and others. These factors also influence how we learn to communicate.

The variations of how each of us learns to adapt in the world around are most noticeable when we are in relationships with others. What behaviors each of us bring to a relationship determines how well, or not, we are able to work together, live together or love together.

An example of how our conditioning impacts our relationships is seen in how couples relate to each other and get along before and after having children together. It is often, after the children come along, that the couple begins to have conflicts which stem from how each of the individuals was raised, what values they have, or what they believe is best for raising a healthy or successful child.

While it is inevitable that we do have conflicts with others because we are uniquely different and uniquely conditioned individuals, there are easy to learn, proven communication skills that we can all apply to any of our relationships to make them more fulfilling and positive for both ourselves and others.

A basic and simple skill that we can all apply to our very next encounter to improve our communications with others is putting aside the ongoing conversation in our mind, our concerns of the moment, or what we want to say next, and focusing completely on the individual in front of us and what they are  sharing with us. Being fully present to another person shows them that you value and respect them and that you are sincerely interested in what they are feeling, thinking and communicating with you.

We all want to be valued and in our fast paced, electronic-communication world having another person look at us directly while we speak, respond to us with smiles, head nodding or other gestures that let us know they are listening, without their speaking or interrupting us is a wonderfully validating experience that uplifts both ourselves and the person who is generous enough to give such affirming attention.

If you would like more information on how to make your relationships more rewarding and successful through easy-to-learn, proven communication skills, you can download a free chapter from my book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with East to Learn, Proven Communication Skills by going to www.changingbehavior.org

Eat Less, Think Better

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If you want to boost your brainpower, put down your fork. According to a research study published in National Academy of Sciences Journal, there is a link between “energy metabolism and brain adaptation that is potentially relevant to accelerated brain aging by over-nutrition and diabetes.”

Dangerous Overeating

This means that overeating can result in more rapid aging and an accelerated loss of brain functioning. It can also lead to mature-onset diabetes that accelerates oxidative stress on our brains. On the other hand, the research, conducted in Italy, demonstrates that eating less turns on a molecule in the body that keeps the brain from aging as quickly.

The team of Italian researchers at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome discovered that this molecule, called CREB1, is triggered by low-calorie diets in the brains of lab animals. CREB1 apparently activates specific genes that are linked to brain functioning and a longer life span.

Obesity And Brain Harm

There have been numerous studies demonstrating that obesity is bad for the brain and actually slows its functioning. This can lead to early brain aging that can be fertile ground for the diseases to which older brains often succumb, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome.

In comparison, caloric restriction keeps the brain from aging and keeps the mind young.

“Our findings identify for the first time an important mediator of the effects of diet on the brain,” says researcher Giovambattista Pani. “This discovery has important implications to develop future therapies to keep our brain young and prevent brain degeneration and the aging process. In addition, our study sheds light on the correlation among metabolic diseases as diabetes and obesity and the decline in cognitive activities.”

With this important information coming to light, it makes sense for all of us to consider reducing our caloric intake each day. This will not only assist with weight control, but will also help reduce aging and prevent type 2 diabetes.

 

Our Love Affair with Pets

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In an economy that has been reeling in double digit unemployment and unending home foreclosures, the last thing you would expect is that last year we spent a collective 50 billion dollars on our pets. Even more surprising is the fact that this figure represents an 8 billion dollar increase in the last 3 years, during one of the worst US economic downturns.

Pet Care Costs

It is easy to imagine that this information must be a mistake as this represents more money now being spent on pets in the United State than the gross national product for all but 64 countries around the world. A staggering 25 billion of those dollars was spent on pet health care and medicines. These are out of pocket dollars for services not covered by insurance. Maybe the healthcare reformers could learn a thing or two from this data.

Over the last 5 years, pets have grown in popularity, and so has the value we place on them. The 2011 American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey reported that an astounding 62% of all American households have a pet living with them. Americans have come to view and treat their pets in human terms, providing them with everything from designer clothes and jewelry, gourmet pet foods, corrective dental braces and even plastic surgery to improve a pet’s self-esteem.

Pets With Human Responsibilities 

While the pet product industry is doing a brisk business, the majority of pets today share beds or sleeping quarters in their households and are treated as beloved family members. It can even fall to the family pet to hold a family together through difficult times. The shared custody of pets after divorce is now commonplace.

But what fuels our passion to treat our animal friends as humans?  What does it suggest about what may be missing in our human relationships that we are ever increasingly treating our animal companions better than our extended family members or even our partners or spouses?

One of my students recently shared that she had given her mother a puppy for her birthday last year. The student did so because she knew her mother and father’s relationship was emotionally distant and, as a result, the mother was away from the home a great deal. She hoped the puppy would keep her around more often and that would help the relational rift of the parents.

At first, the mother didn’t want the pet and looked to place it elsewhere. In a very short time, the pet became the center of the mother’s life. She home cooked or prepared all of the dog’s meals, and she took it for acupuncture treatments every two weeks for a minor leg injury. The dog has a groomer, trainer, nutritionist and is currently interviewing for a doggie play group. The mother was around the home more often but now placed her whole focus and most of her time on caring for the pet.

What about this woman’s relationship with the husband? The student reported that her mother and father are civil to one another but there is no warmth or affection between them, unlike the unconditional and extravagant love the mother lavishes on the pet. Is it safer to love a pet rather than deal with the disappointment, conflicts and hard work of achieving a loving relationship with those closest to us?

Missing Relationships

Am I suggesting that loving our pets is wrong? Absolutely not–my family is blessed with not only a fabulous Maltese canine but also a yard full of llamas, sheep, horses and goats. Our pets are important to us. Pets enhance psychological and physical well being. They love us, heal us and help us live longer.

Numerous studies demonstrate the healing power of pets. A Perdue University study demonstrated that when seniors face traumas or other adversity, the affection received from their pets and the bond between them helps prevent depression and loneliness. Animals provide emotional support, which is an essential component for health and healing. There is a long list of health benefits from the companionship of animals.

But are we going overboard? The American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA) estimates that this year millions of pet owners will purchase a Valentine's gift for their pet, spending an average of $17 for the gift. Consumers will also spend an average of $6.30 on friends, $4.97 on classmates and teachers, and $3.41 on co-workers. What does this tell us? Maybe that we feel emotionally safer to love our pets or that perhaps it is less work and less vulnerable to love our pets than to develop close relationships with most of the humans we interact with on a daily basis.

Our pets love us unconditionally. They listen to us, don’t complain or express disappointment in who we are. They provide companionship without the politics or agenda of most human relationships.  They accept our love and affection the way we to give it and best of all–they happily return it. This is a wonderful thing, if it does not become a substitute for intimate human relationships. Emotional intimacy with others of our breed is critical to good health.

Emotional And Spiritual Intimacy 

We are complex beings who require physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy with others. Social networking has become the way we communicate and “do” relationships. These days it is often over e-mail and text messages that we are starting relationships or ending them, sharing major life events–even proposing marriage. The intimate contact with other human beings from even 10 years ago, before the dominance of the internet and cell phones, is being replaced in large part by our pets.

To achieve balance and wholeness in our lives, we need to keep an eye on how we allow technology, and the maddening pace of modern life, to cut us off from one another, create fear and competition that robs us of the beauty and fulfillment of intimate and loving human relationships.

Our pets can be an essential part of the fabric of our lives, but in the end our challenge and our hope is to develop human relationships within which we can share, exchange, empower and enoble one another to make our lives and the lives of others more rewarding and fulfilling. 

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Forgive For Your Own Good

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We read and hear that forgiving is something we need to do for others, and that when we forgive others it allows us to let go of feelings of anger and resentment. There are now numerous studies that show when we forgive others, the biochemistry of letting go of the negative feelings we have carried around with us has the power to transform our own health and sense of inner peace.

In the daily news, we see the most unthinkable and unimaginable events occurring. We see people who harm and kill others, parents who violate and abuse their own children, and even children that murder their own parents. For most of us it is difficult to forgive even benign insults and events in our relationships (such as a rejection or slight), let alone something of horrible tragedy. The thought that a victim of such cruel violence could let go of a grievance against another person who has perpetrated such acts seems impossible.

The Danger Of Holding A Grudge

However, what science is now demonstrating is that the simple act of “holding a grudge” against another person can create chronic long term stress with accompanying feelings of anger and frustration. This chronic emotional and physical response to a perceived hurt or insult can lead us to become sick and even develop ongoing, chronic disease states such as hypertension, asthma or digestive problems.

The use of the term “perceived insults” or wounding is intentional. This is because while there are people in the world who do unimaginably horrible things to others, much of what we experience in our lives is a perceived hurt of rejection that causes us not to forgive another.

What Is Forgiveness?

In 2000, as a result of a lecture arranged at a hospital I worked at, I had the privilege to meet Fred Luskin, PhD, founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, and hear him present his work and research on the subject of forgiveness. Dr. Luskin is the author of the book Forgive for Good, and a world renowned researcher on the subject of forgiveness. His scientific studies demonstrate the healing power and health benefits from the process of forgiving others for either actual or perceived transgressions against ourselves, or to those we love.

Dr. Luskin was the lead researcher on a study in Ireland, which included individuals from both sides of Northern Ireland’s civil war. These individuals had all lost a loved one due to the country's civil conflict. In his groundbreaking book, Forgive for Good, he outlines what forgiveness is—and, what it is not:

“Forgiveness is for you and not the offender”
“Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you”
“Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel”

“Forgiveness is a trainable skill – just like learning to throw a ball”
“Forgiveness is a choice”

“Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness or poor behavior”
“Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful has happened”

“Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender”
“Forgiveness does not mean giving up your feelings”

So then what does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means being willing to find new ways to experience “justice” and to choose not to be victimized by other’s choices or actions. It can also mean experiencing an event from a different perspective, which allows us to reclaim our life even from the depths of our suffering, loss or despair.

The Benefits

Forgiveness has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, increase self-confidence, enhance relationships, decrease stress and physical symptoms of illness, decrease heart disease and increase immune function. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves that helps us live more peace-filled, healthier lives. There are many excellent books on the subject to assist with and facilitate the process of forgiving what seems to be the unforgiveable.

The Nourishment Of Our Relationships

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We don’t often think of relationships as nutritious, but indeed they are. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, made a statement about the power of love and relationships and their importance to our happiness: “We are never so helplessly unhappy as when we lose love.”

A Little Knowledge

Freud knew something from his experience about the human condition because of his many years treating patients who experienced difficult, unfulfilling and loveless relationships. We often forget that those who love us and those we love fulfill our basic human need to be known, valued and wanted. All healthy human beings want to be valued and want to experience being cared for and treated respectfully. We want to receive affection from those we care about.

As an older adult who, like Freud, has seen the ravages of love’s loss, I have come to appreciate and cherish those in my life who fulfill my need to be valued and wanted, my need to be loved.

Perfect Memories

It is important for each of us to remember that no one is perfect and that if we expect perfection in love, we will surely be disappointed. One of the gifts of age and experience is the relief of realizing that each act of love we give from our imperfect self to another and the love given to us by imperfect others is the most important wealth we possess.

At the end of the day, when all else is stilled and the distractions of work, ambition, success and achievement are put aside, those we “go home to” and the nourishment they provide us are our real treasures.

May we take a moment each day to appreciate how profound a blessing the gift of relationship is in our lives. For a free download on enhancing your relationship through communication skills, visit http://www.changingbehavior.org/.

 

The Science of Heartbreak

science of heartbreakLike most healthcare practitioners, I often hear clients discuss their fear of loving or trusting another person after they have been terribly disappointed or hurt in a romantic relationship.

Being deeply hurt or emotionally wounded through deception, rejection or infidelity cuts to the quick of the human heart. Many of us would like to be able to just “put it behind us” and move on with our lives, but the research of a remarkable scientist now explains why it is so painful and difficult to bounce back quickly from a broken heart. The research also throws light on how difficult and sometimes desperate we can feel during that experience.

Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist, is a research professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the Internet dating site Chemistry.com (a division of Match.com). She has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of human love, sexuality, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love.

Brain Issues

Fisher’s research on heartbreak identifies areas of the brain, the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area, whose involvement in romantic love proves this deep-seated drive to be far more powerful and urgent than we may have previously believed. Fisher says that romantic love is “really a drive that is deeply primordial and primitive.” She explains that romantic love experiences “are way below the emotional center and in fact are not emotions at all, but rather a powerful drive and need that is shared by all human beings.”

Through thousands of imaging studies both in the U.S. and in China, Fisher and her research team has established just how important it is for human beings to be in relationships where they experience reward for their feelings and efforts toward the significant other. There are additional studies that show that the same portion of the brain, the anterior insula, is both the location of physical pain, as well as heartache. In a previous article I discussed a study that showed how Tylenol influences this part of the brain and can reduce the discomfort of heartache as well as a headache.

If you want to understand more about this fascinating subject and how to help yourself overcome the heartache of lost love, visit www.helenfisher.com, where a book list on her research is available. You can also download a free excerpt from the Amazon #1 bestselling, multi-award winning book Changing Behavior, by going tohttp://www.changingbehavior.org/

The Science of How What We Believe Becomes Our Reality – Part I

thoughts become things"Mind is the Master Power that molds and makes, and we are mind. And ever more we take the tool of thought, and shaping what we will, bring forth a thousand joys, or a thousand ills. We think in secret, and it comes to pass, environment, is but our looking glass."    James Allen

At some point we have all heard the adage "Thoughts are things," which serves as the central tenet of such popular New Age philosophies like the Law of Attraction, featured in best-selling books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. And while many skeptics have been quick to dismiss the idea of "As a man thinketh, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7) as nothing more than a pop psychology platitude, the ongoing findings of medical science are telling a different story.

In an article from the January – February 2013 edition of Harvard Magazine Cara Feinberg profiles the pioneering work of Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. In the article, Feinberg chronicles the exciting findings made by Dr. Kaptchuck and his team in conducting a "clinical drug trial" charting the effects of prescription medication vs. acupuncture in relieving the pain of the trial participants:

"Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk's first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist.

In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn't get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients' pain ballooned to nightmarish levels.

"The side effects were simply amazing," Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce (emphasis added)." Even more startling, "…most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers.

But Kaptchuk's study didn't prove it, either – the pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the "acupuncture" needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn't aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes (emphasis added)."

Although Dr. Kaptchuk doesn't contend that patients can simply "think themselves better" his study – along with many others conducted on the placebo effect – does prove a very important, and critically under looked, fact in health care: "patients' perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients' health."

Beliefs are powerful things and what we tell ourselves and others tell us can make us better or worse. We all have "our narrative" and we tell it over and over again both to ourselves and to others. We believe it, we expect it and we project it. When we change our beliefs and our story, we change the outcomes.

One of the better known studies which demonstrates how changing our narratives can change our outcomes (and our lives) is the 1980s breast cancer support group study that was written up in the journal Advances. All of the women had breast cancer that had metastasize before the study began.

Their prognosis was poor but they became a group who listened to each other's stories, supported each other, cared about one another and helped each other manage their symptoms and disease. They also helped each other change their story. It is not surprising that the women in this support group lived on average 18 months longer than breast cancer patients with the same degree of metastasis.

This article has previously appeared on Huffington Post