“There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence.”
— Deepak Chopra
Do you remember how we use to use the phrase, “It’s all in your head?” It was used by doctors who couldn’t find the physical cause of an illness to say, “You’re not really sick.” It was used by guilty spouses when their partner became suspicious to say “What you’re feeling/seeing/suspecting is all just your craziness.” It was used by parents to scold children into not being afraid of the witch under the bed or by bosses to ignore people who said they were being harassed or discriminated against.
Whenever someone said, “It’s all in your head,” they meant it as a dismissive put down. But the thing is, it all really is in your head. From the world you see around you, to the health of your body, it starts in the mind. And because it’s “all in your head,” you have enormous power to change it.
Don’t get me wrong. Certain things are plain fact, no matter what your mind says. A concrete driveway is a concrete driveway even if you want it to be a swimming pool. No matter how many times you visualize it as a swimming pool, no matter how many people you tell that it’s a swimming pool, even if you rename it “George’s Swimming Pool,” I’d still highly recommend you don’t go diving into it headfirst.
Though that concrete driveway is a fact (and will not turn into a swimming pool), still people will see it differently. Some people will think it’s attractive. Some will think it’s ugly. Some people will hate it for detracting from nature and others will love it for how it smooths their way into the garage. And some people will think, “Meh. It’s a driveway. Who cares?”
What about facts in your personal life? I always like the example of Spud Webb who is 5’6”-5’7”— yet he had a successful career in the NBA! How many kids would take the fact of being short and interpret it as “so I’ll never play pro basketball?” Mr. Webb did not change the fact of his height but he certainly chose a different interpretation of what it meant.
It’s all in your head. We aren’t affected in life by the facts nearly as much as our interpretation and perception of the facts.
And facts may be all around you that you simply don’t see. A friend told me a story of when she first started playing golf many years ago. Her pro, a guy who had played golf for over fifty years, invited her to play in a Pro-Am with him. He was shocked when he tried to register her and was told by several events that they didn’t accept women. He finally found one that would. But he was stunned when they got to the event and he noticed how few women were in the field. He had played in hundreds of Pro Ams, but he had never seen that women were not present until that moment.
Not only do we not see things that are there, we also see things that aren’t there. With most of us, we see things that aren’t there especially in the absence of information. We fill in the blanks with stories that are “all in our heads.” For example, one student told me that whenever there’s a delay in getting feedback from his clients on a project he just turned in, he’s certain that they don’t like it. He’s always wrong about that, but he re-creates that same story every time.
What about when a friend doesn’t return your phone call or your child is an hour late coming home? The fact is that your friend didn’t call and your child is not home yet. Anything else you tell yourself about the situation is pure speculation, filling in the blanks with a story you’ve made up in your head. Unfortunately, many people focus more on the stories they’ve created than the facts.
How you perceive and interpret facts begins in the mind. The conclusions you draw and the meanings you give facts begin in the mind. Whether you can even see certain facts, begins in the mind. Whether you see “facts” that aren’t there begins in the mind.
I’m saying “begins in the mind” because it doesn’t stop there. Your thoughts affect your emotions and insert themselves into your nervous system. They become embedded in your unconscious— even if your conscious mind disagrees.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a Harvard study that measures unconscious associations using the Implicit Association Test (IAT). For instance, you might associate female with weakness or male with strength unconsciously, even if you don’t think that way consciously. Gladwell (whose father is white and whose mother is black) took an IAT on associations with different racial groups. He was horrified when the test revealed that his unconscious association with Caucasian-European was “good” and his association with African American was “bad.” (If you want to try one of the tests yourself, go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.)
What begins in your head also shows up in your physical body. Decades ago, most physicians saw the body as a separate entity, a machine that operated on its own. But the mind-body connection is indisputable today. Doctors now know that thoughts and emotions are connected to many health challenges, from heart conditions to diabetes.
It might all just be in your head, but what’s in your head is extremely powerful.
Knowing that, what do we do about it?
That’s too big an issue to fully cover here. But these are just few of the strategies we teach in our Empower Your Life workshop:
- Be aware of what’s in your head. Ask yourself, “Does this serve me or not?”
- Question your assumptions and “truths,” especially if they prevent you from living the life you want to live.
- Clear out old conscious and unconscious emotional baggage, interpretations and perceptions.
- Be in control of what you put in your head.
“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. Download his free special report, Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know to Achieve Your Goals. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.