Until I was 27 years old, I thought that socks came in left and right versions. I can’t remember how I discovered that this isn’t the case, I think it was because I said something about my sock being uncomfortable because it was on the wrong foot and everyone laughed as they thought it was a joke! However, because I believed it was true, it was true for me. I could feel the difference if I put the left one on my right foot and visa versa, swopping them over made it far more comfortable. So, now I’m less ignorant about the universal fit of socks but I’ve lost the ability to make my feet feel better just by changing my socks over. I think it’s easy to see how I could have grown up with this false belief, shoes come in left and right, so why not socks?
From socks to serious
There is some really fascinating research about the effect of our thoughts on our personal outcomes. For instance, one study asked people to answer general knowledge questions. One group were told that the answer would be briefly flashed across the screen before they answered, although it would be so quick that only their unconscious mind would be able to retain and register the information. The other group were told that there would be flashes in between each question which were inconsequential. In fact, both groups had the same flash of meaningless random letters briefly displayed. The results showed that those who thought they had seen the answer and therefore had the knowledge, did much better and got more answers right.
I wonder how many people go into exams believing they are not going to do well do worse than they would if they simply reminded themselves that they have stored all the knowledge they need in their brain and all they need to do is release it? (Hypnosis can work really well with this sort of performance anxiety. I helped a young student doctor get through his exams by getting him to visualise a ‘tap of knowledge’ that he could turn on to release words. The exam became less about thinking and more about writing down the information as it flowed out of the tap, sometimes adjusting the flow rate).
I wonder how many people do this ‘hack’ of make-believe? I have a clock in the house that is about 8 minutes fast and when I have to be somewhere I always use this one. Now, I know that it’s not the real time but my brain still reacts as though it is. If I need to leave at half past and I see it’s twenty five past I will rush to get ready even though I know that really I’ve got another 13 minutes. I’ve discovered it works with other things, like getting into a cold swimming pool. I know it’s going to feel cold but if choose to believe that the water is particularly warm today, it seems to work (to the extent that I think it really is much warmer today – but I’ve checked and it is precisely regulated to be the same).
‘Act as if’
This is the principle of ‘Act as if’, which is essentially the same , pretending to believe something that isn’t true …. yet. That’s the other thing, it’s not true when you choose to pretend it is, but then because you behave as it is, it becomes true. A classic example of how we create our own reality, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The skill is doing this only for things that bring about a positive affect and not those that make us feel worse. Practice makes perfect, so be careful what you practice.
There’s no such thing as time
Now, this is might sound really strange and it’s difficult to explain but sometime ago I decided not to believe in time. Essentially, it means that I believe time is just a big illusion and doesn’t exist. I know there are lots of theories of time (didn’t Einstein mention it in passing?) but they are far too intellectual and complicated for me to comprehend. Rather than explain my theory (I’m not sure I even have one) I’ll describe how it works and I believe serves me well. When I think about the rest of my life, I can’t know how long that will be (for all I know I might not even get to the end of this post) but I do know that it can’t be measured in time, nor can the past.
The effect is that I feel I can’t ever be cheated out of time, the past lasted longer and shorter than I remember and I can stretch time anytime I live in the present moment (a bit of mindfulness). I can shrink time too. This was so helpful when I was working as cabin crew on long-haul flights at night and I sometimes had 4 hours to spend on my own in the First Class cabin whilst the passengers were asleep. I just used to think, I’ll shrink this down to about an hour and somehow that seemed to be the case. Sounds weird but it works, for me anyway.
Iain has told me he does a similar thing, which I understand but haven’t managed to do myself. He thinks ahead to a place where he wants or expects to be in the near future and then sort of anchors it in his mind. Then later, when he is in that exact situation as he has imagined it, it feels like he has travelled through time and space. He says that one minute he feels like he was ‘there’ and now he is ‘here’. If you combine this with my ‘time not existing’ belief, then it’s absolutely true!
Not Izzard again?!
Yes, it seems to be ‘quote Eddie Izzard week’, however there are so many gems of wisdom and self-reflection in his audio book that they come to mind. He said “Belief is a key ingredient in trying to things that are difficult. I had to beleive I could be a street performer before I could become one”.
Our beliefs whether they are true or not, whether we truly believe them or not, matter greatly. We may be limited by our cognitive and physical abilities but what we choose to believe creates not just our reality but our future. This must surely be a factor in those people who achieve great feats of accomplishments that the majority of people would think were impossible.
Please note: I am an early riser and frequently wake up with thoughts and questions on my mind. I write them down and record them in these short unedited, un-researched, unscientific bits of writing. They are written in a half asleep hypnopompic state and should not be regarded as anything more than what they are – random thoughts and musings. For sensible subjects and writing please visit Positive Psychology Learning website