At the risk of sounding like a new age hippie, I’m getting more and more influenced by the whole “mind-body connection” thing. I touched on this in an earlier post, Weekend Observations: I Think Therefore My Body Is, and serendipitously came across it only a few days later. I just finished reading “The Mindfulness Chronicles,” an article I found by chance in Harvard Magazine (a nice diversion along with Allure, Vogue and Elle during endless conference calls, hee, hee). The piece reviews the life and theories of Ellen Langer, a professor, you guessed it, at Harvard University. The reason for all the attention is that her life will be played by Jennifer Aniston on the big screen, but I digress.
The reason Langer is so cool is that she developed a scientific basis for the idea that your mind can alter your body, or as she puts it: “wherever you put the mind, the body will follow…its not our physical state that limits us….it is our mindset about our own limits, our perceptions, the draws the line in the sand.” While we’ve been hearing for decades that our mind can affect our stress levels and overall happiness, Langer’s research scientifically proves that changing our mental state can actually change the physiology of our bodies.
Among the many examples the article points to, one seemed very relevant to me. She conducted a study among two groups of hotel workers (e.g., maids) who said they never exercised. She told one group that their manual labor — cleaning rooms, pushing around carts, etc., was exercise, just like going to the gym. The other group, she left alone. Turns out the first group showed statistically significant physical changes, e.g., they lost an average of 2 lbs each, lowered their blood pressure by 10 points and reduced their hip-to-waist ratios, and none reported changing their eating or exercise habits!
So, let’s say I take Langer’s theory to heart, and I walk around NYC thinking I look like a hottie, will I become more of one? OK, seriously, if I’m more “mindful” of my day-to-day activities e.g., while moving from meeting to meeting or while schmearing Retin A on my cheeks, and more deliberately view them as forms of exercise and beautification, will my body transform into a healthier, more beautiful version of me as a result?
I decided to put Langer’s theory to test. I’m going to be more mindful of my running around the office but keep my diet the same and see if I lose those annoying few pounds I’ve been trying to shed while my son’s jelly beans keep egging me on.