“It was autumn, the springtime of death. Rain spattered the rotting leaves, and a wild wind wailed. Death was singing in the shower. Death was happy to be alive."

Tom Robbins

 

 

It is the end of October, the air is crisp and nature is putting on its annual color-carnival. Most people are missing the show. There is an air of gloominess covering Stockholm. To be expected, seeing as how summer is over and winter is approaching fast, carrying with it that familiar desire to cover oneself in layers of wool and never leave the house. Determined, however, to embrace this new season with undeserved enthusiasm, I poured myself a cup of tea and made my place on the couch alongside my iPad and the latest edition of New York Times.

 

There I came across an interesting article written by Bruce Grierson entitled “What if age is nothing but a mind-set?”. The piece was referring to the work of Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, who has spent the last 40 years studying the impact of thought, emotion and mindlessness on our physical health and well-being. In one of her most famous studies, The Counter Clockwise experiment, she gathered a group of older gentlemen and placed them in a house in the countryside. The environment had been meticulously designed to resemble what life was like in that time; including what was on TV and what news were reported. The participants’ only instruction was to imagine and act as if they were twenty years younger. Several experiments were administered, before and after the study in order to measure any changes during the period. The results were astounding. Merely imagining themselves to be younger improved their vision as well as their posture, hearing, intelligence and memory. How is this possible? “Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow”, says Langer.

 

If this is true, and our minds really do have the power to influence our health, then we should be extremely wary of what we carry around up there. Be it stories from the past, worries about the future or feelings of recent indignation. Of course, we need to plan for the future and learn how to live with uncertainty. But excessively worrying about the outcome seems like a giant waste of time (and suffering). Worrying is, like John Rogers puts it: “holding thoughts in your mind that you want less of”. So what are we doing to ourselves?

 

Personally, I am a great worrier. Not even thirty years old and already concerned about retirement savings. Being a pre-crastinator is often a good thing, but pouring too much energy into dealing with imagined futures cannot be an effective use of time. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”, says author Annie Dillard. Therefore we should take care of our minds and treat it to the occasional inventory. We should continuously question the validity of our own thoughts for the simple reason that, as Langer points out: "it is not our physical state that limits us,” but our mindset about our own limits, our perceptions, that draws the lines in the sand.”

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