I really like Derren Brown. I’m not a massive fan of magic and funnily enough I’ve never seen him on the telly but I’ve read a couple of his books and I love his observation of human behaviour. Recently he was interviewed on Desert Island Discs (yes, I'm in my 40s!) and he explained a little of how magic works. He said that it’s not all about sleight of hand but rather the fact that we choose what to pay attention to that allows the illusion to take place.
He suggests that magic mirrors how we face the world in general:
“We have this infinite data source coming at us…. and we edit and delete... We make up a story of what’s going on and we mistake this story for the truth.”
I love this. It’s so true and we are so good at it we often don’t even realise we are doing it.
This tendency towards selective attention is illustrated beautifully by this experiment by Chabris and Simons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo. If you have a spare couple of minutes do have a go because it’s fun but quite shocking at the same time. And tell me what happens!
Story-telling is of course relevant to our health too. What we believe about our health has a very powerful effect on our bodies. You might have a story that you are strong and resilient or that you are weak and fragile. Wherever these beliefs come from they will strongly influence your health.
Am I suggesting that you can think yourself out of a serious illness? No, I’m not saying that, but I strongly feel that our beliefs play a big role in recovery from a number of illnesses and particularly pain.
Countless experiments have found that placebo (inactive) medicines cause very real improvements in pain. Speaker and author Dr David Hamilton left his pharmaceutical career as an organic chemist because he was blown away by the powerful effects of placebo. Often, in experiments, he would see this inert medicine giving as much benefit as the active drug being tested. His fascinating book ‘How your mind can heal your body’ explains more about the physical effects that can result from changing thoughts and beliefs.
But today, I’m talking about a more subtle effect of beliefs and story. The little thoughts that go around our heads, everyday, stopping us from doing things we’d like to do:
“Oh, I can’t do that”
“the last time I did that it hurt so I’d better not do it again”
“I’m old and weak so I’d better be careful”
“I can’t _____ because it hurts my _____”
Sounds familiar? You might protest that you've tried these things and they do indeed hurt. Yes, it’s true and that pain is very real….
But perhaps there is another way?
Pick something you would like to do (but perhaps have been avoiding for fear of pain) and begin with a very small and easy version of it e.g. if it's running, start with a slow run-walk for a few minutes.
Approach it with an open mind. Try to cultivate a sense of really looking forward this activity and see it as time for yourself. If that familiar voice is telling you ‘No’ then thank it for its’ opinion but just firmly put it to one side. Replace it with a more positive message. Just something simple like: “C’mon, let’s do this”.
If you really give it a go, I promise your story will change. It may take time, and perseverance, but you will see that you have the power to change the narrative and your health.