What if you changed the way you thought about work and you lost weight, gained muscle-mass, and lowered your blood pressure? Amazing right?! A now famous study, conducted by Ellen Langer and Alia Crum, highlights this amazing mind-body connection.
In their study, hotel staff was informed the work they did vacuuming floors, scrubbing bathrooms, changing sheets and making beds was good exercise. Their level of effort was characterized as being similar to what people accomplish in a workout at a gym. After only four weeks of knowing that their work was good exercise, things had radically changed: on average they had lost two pounds, showed a significant reduction in percentage of body fat, gained muscle-mass, and showed a significant drop in blood-pressure. The control group, staff at another hotel, did not experience any of these physical changes in the same time period.
Thoughts and Words are Powerful:
What created this remarkable improvement in the physiological health of the hotel staff was a helpful shift in mindset. The staff changed how they thought about what they did all day. Work became more than just cleaning hotel rooms, it was also exercise. This example underscores this truth: The thoughts we think and the words we use to describe our situations are vitally important and impact our well-being.
Life certainly has its sweet moments, yet, it also offers us challenges. How do you describe what is going on for you? Take work for example, do you describe your boss as an arrogant prick/controlling bitch? Is raising teenagers a constant struggle? Is your divorce a bitter fight? Are you or someone you love battling cancer? Consider what is going on in Washington, DC; no matter what side you are on, the other side feels as if there is a war being waged, good against evil.
Even though negative characterizations of people and life events can feel good in the moment, they don’t fully support us in meeting the challenge of the situation. Ultimately, they damage our well-being and limit our ability to thrive.
Victimized and Fighting the Enemy:
Consider some of the words or positions taken when a tough situation is encountered:
FIGHT: Fighting sounds powerful: we stand and fight, we fight back, or we fight against. It is all about defending our position.
Hidden underneath a fighting stance is fear. Fear is expressed in four ways: fight, flight, freeze or faint. Feeling fear is useful. It activates urgency in survival situations like instantly slamming on the brakes, or leaping to protect your child, without needing to pause for a thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons.
However, a major downside to fighting is it keeps us in the fear-adrenaline cycle and ultimately exhausts our emotional and energetic resources. Over the long haul, perceiving life events as one “fight” after another is damaging to our well-being.
ENEMY: Fighting or battling requires us to have an opponent. The fear-adrenaline cycle sets us up so somebody or something is the enemy we must fight against.
This fear-based “us” versus “them” mentality makes it nearly impossible to locate any common ground. Name-calling heightens fear and diminishes the humanity of the other side, like when our soon-to-be ex-spouse is the spawn of Satan or politicians are the swamp monsters.
Fear-based characterizations create two roles for people to play, and both positions avoid creative responsibility and true choice.
VICTIM: This role veils the true extent of our personal power. We are actively in the victim position when we feel overwhelmed and powerless, at the mercy of the whims or decisions of our opponents. When we feel victimized we “forget” we can choose a new way of thinking or a different course of action.
VILLAIN: This role emerges when we believe our perspective is best, when we seek control of a situation by placing blame, judging or getting righteous. When there is only one “right” way to think about things, we diminish creativity by focusing on a single convenient answer. We limit our ability to choose a new fresh way of thinking about ourselves, others, or life events.
Teachers Challenge us to Engage:
We diminish our ability to act mindfully and powerfully when we use words which invite disempowering thoughts and an entrenched mindset.
What if instead of spending our time feeling victimized or viewing life events as battles to be fought, we could choose a new set of words? Words, that by their very nature and definition carry more zest and possibilities, ones that help us engage more effectively and stay committed to the challenges ahead?
ENGAGE: This is a friendlier word. Instead of fighting, it offers us a way to approach other people or situations. To engage someone in a conversation or a project is about attracting and garnering their attention and interest. It promises a meaningful, sustaining way of getting involved by occupying the attention or efforts of those who wish to be part of the solution.
To be fully engaged at work or home is to choose to involve or commit oneself to something. This decisive act usually comes from a more thoughtful place inside of ourselves where we’ve taken time to weigh pros and cons.
TEACHER: What if instead of “the enemy” we were able to see others as “teachers”? Instead of simplifying someone into the role of wrong-minded opponent, what if they offered us genuine opportunities to learn?
This style of engagement clearly defines our own values. It helps us decide what to pursue as we honor our truth. For example, interactions with your ex-husband may point you to what you need and want in your next relationship. An ugly rant on Facebook teaches us racism is alive and well in America. If we value equality, we get to decide how we’ll become involved in our community to ensure a generous spirit resides.
CHALLENGER: This word too invokes a more thoughtful, approach-minded way to interact with people and situations. A Challenger detaches from rigid personal beliefs and judgments, not because he or she doesn’t have a backbone, but rather, because of the desire stay away from playing the Villain.
Challengers seek to change patterns that no longer serve them or the situation. When we choose to challenge our own belief system and those of others, we’re able to bring forth something new to be learned or experienced. Calling, writing, emailing your politicians are indeed ways Challengers choose to make an impact.
CREATORS: When Victims choose to get curious and take responsibility for what happens in their life, they become empowered to create the life they want. A Creator is vision-focused and passion-motivated. The quickest way to step into the magical, creative slipstream is to focus on what you want.
Creators focus on possibility, not lack and scarcity. For example, what type of relationship do you want with your teenager? How would you like to show up when you interact with your boss? What is one new thing you can do to bring about what you want?
What will you choose?
Will you wear yourself out in the fight? Will you choose to thrive even during challenging times? Are you willing to approach people and life events with an empowered spirit? Will your mindset be one of curiosity, learning, of possibilities? Will you choose where and how you will make a meaningful impact?