Visualise illness becoming wellness (and the science of why it works)

I’m often asked what the ‘right’ visualisation is for certain conditions. The truth is, there’s not ‘the’ right visualisation, just the one that’s right for you. So long as what you’re imagining is wellness, then you’re doing it right.

And before I go further, visualisation isn’t a substitute for healthy lifestyle or taking recommended medication. It’s something that we do in addition to these things, like how you don’t meditate instead of sleeping, but in addition to it.

There’s loads of ways to visualise wellness. Some people imaging cleaning diseased cells, picturing them in their mind’s eye becoming clean and healthy. Some people imagine their immune system destroying cancer cells. Some people focus on changing a disease colour into a colour that represent health for them. Some people create a symbol that represents how they feel. For example, one man suffering from depression and feeling ‘broken’, pictured his brokenness as broken mirror. He then visualised making it whole again.

In each case, a person begins with their awareness of what their condition is and then turns it into what they imagine wellness to be. Illness into wellness is the main strategy.

In time, people’s minds tend to go all the way to wellness and from then on they don’t even turn illness into wellness, but instead just ‘see’ wellness in their mind.

And they key is also repetition. Repetitively visualising wellness or illness into wellness. Most people do it for 10 minutes or so a day, some longer and some shorter, but that’s about a ballpark.

It seems to me that visualisation works because the brain doesn’t distinguish all that much between real and imaginary. When you picture something happening, much of the time the brain mobilises its natural resources as much as it can to deliver what you imagine. This is the basis behind the placebo effect. Believing a drug (when it’s a placebo) will relieve pain actually mobilises the brain’s natural resources to reduce pain. Here, the brain produces its own painkillers, known as endogenous opiates.

Through this process, or something similar, scientific studies have shown that visualisation has helped stroke patients regain movement, elite athletes and sportspeople to enhance their performances in specific areas, novices to learn new sporting skills. It’s helped people to increase physical strength when they imagine lifting objects, it’s supported the immune systems of women receiving treatment for breast cancer, and it’s even tricked people’s brains into thinking that they have eaten real food when they just imagined it. And right out of sci-fi, it’s even helped people turn lights on and off in their homes and pilots fly planes … with their minds.

Yes, you read that correctly. When you visualise somewhere in your body, this activates the region of the brain that processes that part. For example, if you visualise moving a finger, the finger region of your brain lights up. Researchers have connected the brain to a BCI – Brain Computer Interface – which effectively reads where your mental activity goes by noting which areas get activated. They can connect the other end to lights in the home or even to the navigation controls of an airplane, so that when a person focuses on their right hand, the BCI reads it as an instruction to veer the plane to the right, or turn on the light, depending on what the BCI is hooked up to.

It works because the brain isn’t distinguishing real from imaginary. This is the basis for using visualisation practices in our lives, whether to assist our healing or even to shape our lives.

It’s been said that if you imagine something and then believe it, you can achieve it. This is why I’ve included the science of how it works. 

It helps you to believe in yourself. Happy visualising.

Channel Kindness

What does channel kindness mean to you? There’s a few ways you can think of it, I suppose. You can be a channel for kindness. That is, whatever you say, say it with kindness and whatever you do, do it with kindness. In other words, let kindness be like a gentle wind that helps nudge your course as you go through life.

That’s mostly how I think of it.

Channelling kindness is good for mental health. Lots of research shows that it boosts happiness and can even protect against depression. It can also neutralise fear. Kindness is the opposite of stress in terms of how it feels and the physiological effects of it. But it can be an antidote to fear. Have you ever noticed that in the moment of an experience of love or deep compassion, that you don’t feel fear? It’s why parents can sometimes do extraordinary acts to protect their children, moving past things and people that would ordinarily scare them. Kindness has similar effects.

There’s a biological basis for it. Kindness creates the kindness hormone, which also happens to be the love hormone, oxytocin. It’s produced because of how kindness feels. One of the things the kindness hormone does is that it turns down activity in the fear centres of the brain, like the way you can reduce the light by turning down a dimmer switch. With the feelings that accompany the experience of kindness, the kindness hormone flows into fear centres of the brain and simply reduces activity there.

Channelling kindness also means to be kind to yourself as well, channelling it for the sake of your own wellbeing. Not instead of others, of course, but as well as others. Most of us miss the ‘as well as’ part. We give so freely of ourselves at times, but often forget that we need topping up too. Like a phone that’s run out of battery and can no longer function, we’re a bit like that. Too much doing and giving can leave us low in energy, which can degrade our mental health and affect the quality of our day to day life.

And so even though being kind to others is good for our mental health, too much can be detrimental. This can be seen from a study that examined the quantity of time people spent volunteering. At low levels, once or twice a week for a short time, volunteering had a positive effect on mental health, but once a person got to around the 16-20 hours a week (approximately – it varies from person to person so this was an average) of giving their time freely, there were no longer health gains, but overall the effect became negative. Why was this?

There’s a few reasons. One is that beyond this threshold, it didn’t feel so much as giving their time to help others, but began to feel like a job and something that was expected of them. I have experience of this. Some friends and I founded a charity about 20 years ago. What began as a heartfelt mission to help others, eventually became stressful as the number of hours we volunteered exceeded normal full-time hours. With those demands of time, I personally sometimes lost the sense of purpose that initially fuelled me as the needs of the job became all consuming.

Another reason is that many had other full time jobs that earned them their wage, so they were trying to squeeze time to volunteer into an already busy schedule, such that volunteering a large number of hours became physically and mentally tiring. 

Another reason, one that is relevant to those who have to care for people due to health situations, is that it can be stressful – the concern for your loved one and fear for their situation, plus the emotional demands of caring while also maintaining a household.

The moral of the story is that always be kind when and where you can, but if you notice that it is taking a toll on you, then step back and do what you need to do to recharge your physical and emotional batteries. Plug yourself into a charger, so to speak. Take some time in nature, if you can. The human nervous system is adapted to green spaces so trees, grass, and flowers, have a calming effect. Or treat yourself to something nice or by doing something you enjoy or that matters to you.

So channel kindness towards others and also channel it towards yourself.

Channel Kindness is also the title of a new book by Lady Gaga and young reporters from the digital arm of her charity, Born This Way Foundation, a charity all about helping young people be kind, create more kindness, and that supports their mental health. The digital arm is called, ‘Channel Kindness’, as in ‘Channel 1’ or ‘Channel 2’, but also as a suggestion that we try to channel kindness in our lives.

I told Lady Gaga’s team I’d mention the book. It’s packed with inspiring stories of kindness and community from young people. It’s a really heartwarming and inspiring read. I’ve done some work with Born This Way Foundation. I met with Cynthia, Lady Gaga’s Mum, who co-founded Born This Way Foundation with her daughter, and we went with some of the team to a high school in Long Island that they were involved with. The kids had bought Christmas presents for the children of women staying in a local temporary homeless shelter. Over the following week, they would discuss the impact of their kindness, write about it, and learn how and why kindness is important in the world and the difference it can make in the lives of others.

I said I’d tell people about the book because I truly love the work they are doing with young people around kindness and mental health.

For me, kindness is the ingredient we need to use more in the world right now. It’s why I write and speak about it so much. Just like you might sprinkle some herbs over a meal, channel kindness and sprinkle some of it everywhere you go. 

7 ways to develop your self love

1) Know it’s OK to not be OK

It’s OK to not be OK, or have a bad day, or to fail at something. It happens to everyone. Failing at something doesn’t mean you’re a failure, only that you didn’t manage to do something you intended. If you realise that it’s OK to fail or to not be OK, that’s a success!! Well done!

2) Love thy selfie

Say, “I love you” or “I am enough” every time you see your reflection in a mirror. Say it when you brush your teeth, do your makeup, dry your hair, and even when you catch your reflection in a shop window. Repetition like this will eventually wire the idea into your brain.

3) Strike a “Power” Pose

You smile when you’re happy and frown when you’re stressed because the brain’s emotional circuitry is connected to your muscles. But it’s a 2-way street. Your feelings show up as smiles, frowns and muscle tensions, but how you choose to hold and move your body feeds back to the brain and creates the way you want to feel.

So find a way of holding and moving your body that says, “I’ve got this” or “I have an inner sense of worthiness and value” or something similar, and do it as often as you can remember to.

4) Visualise your highest self

Your brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. Frequently imagine yourself as your best self – with confidence and self love – speaking and interacting with people in the way you’d like. Don’t just imagine the end result though, but give important mental attention to the way you’re holding and moving your body as you create the result. 

5) Celebrate your uniqueness

Don’t try to be like everyone else. Be like yourself, however you are. Conforming to an idea of what you think people want only feeds the thought that, ‘I am not enough as I am’. Make a decision to celebrate what it is about you that makes you You. As they say, ‘Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken’.

6) Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself with the same kindness and care that you show others. Treat yourself, take some time for yourself, practice saying ‘No’ (or at least, ‘Not yet!’) instead of always saying yes. Let your hair down once in a while. You deserve it.

7) Stretch out of your comfort zone

The greatest gains in self love often lie just at the edge of our comfort zones. Knowing this actually makes it a little easier to stretch yourself because you know what the self love reward can be. Try not to be afraid of rejection or failure. Whatever the outcome, you stretched, and that’s a declaration of self love.

20 ways to self love

Do you feel you need to work on your self love? Here’s 20 simple and powerful practices that can help you develop a healthy sense of self love.

1) Strike a power pose

Your body language not only shows how youre feeling in any moment, research shows that it also creates how you feel. Its circular! So make regular adjustments to your body language throughout the day so that your body is saying, Ive got this! or even, I have an inner sense of worthiness and value. Making this a daily practice will soon train your muscles and your nervous system for self love.

2) Visualise your best self

In many ways, your brain doesnt distinguish real from imaginary. If you imagine yourself in your best light your brain will process it as real and cause changes in your self-belief and confidence. So visualise yourself in a variety of situations, acting as your best self would act, and seeing the results you want. The key is to do this often. Its the repetition that wires the brain.

3) Use Positive self-talk

Negative self-talk can bring us down and eat away at our self love. So catch yourself as often as you can in the act of negative self-talk and say something positive about yourself instead. It might be regarding your appearance or something about your nature, or it might even be a reminder of something good you once did. It’s a good idea to create a stock of positive things to draw upon, which makes it much easier to change a negative into a positive.

4) Shrink it down

The mind responds to internal images and these images can affect how we feel about ourselves. When we feel afraid or something seems too challenging for us, it seems bigin our minds. It’s like the thought or feeling is ‘in your face’. Negative feelings like this can erode self love. A simple trick, and it does trick the mind, is to take the image or feeling and imagine shrinking it down to almost nothing. It even helps to take your thumb and forefinger and slowly join them together as if making something smaller.

5) Love thy selfie

Say, I love youor I am enoughevery time you see your reflection in a mirror. Say it when you brush your teeth, do your makeup, dry your hair, and even when you catch your reflection in a shop window.

6) Choose gratitude

One of the practices that erodes our self love is when we focus predominantly on our faults or what weve done wrong. A practice of gratitude has the opposite effect, lifting us up instead of pulling us down. Start a gratitude practice that focuses on your good points. Start with 2 or 3 things on day 1 and then add 2 or 3 new things every day until youve practiced for at least 3 weeks and your list has several items on it.

7) Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

Whatever your self love practice, practice it every day. Repetition is how to wire brain networks for self love. This is how to learn the habit of self love.

8) Celebrate your uniqueness

Dont try to be like everyone else. Conforming sends a signal that says, who I am is not enough so Im trying to be like someone else instead. Make a choice to celebrate whats unique and special about you. Let the world see your uniqueness and individuality and learn to be proud of it.

9) Be authentic

Be your Self. Live your own life. Dont be concerned about being liked or accepted. Be concerned with being yourself. Being authentic is a massive statement of self-love. It’s like declaring that “I am enough just as I am.” Speak your mind, and do it with compassion where you can.

10) Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself in ways that show that you matter. Take some time out, have a hot bath, take a walk in the park, treat yourself to something new that makes you feel good and declare that you are doing it because youre worth it.

11) Dont be afraid to show weakness or vulnerability

Be courageous enough to show your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Let yourself be seen. If you want people to like you, then let them see You! Everyone feels weak and vulnerable at times so the courage to not hide is a strength. And in having that courage, you inspire others to let themselves be seen too.

12) Be compassionate to yourself

Give yourself a hug a few times throughout the day. Remember that nobody is perfect. You cant succeed or win all the time. You cant even be happy all the time. We are all human, with our humanness showing as we stumble and fumble through life, trying to find our way. Everyone has worries and problems, even if they appear outwardly confident and self-assured. Remember that you are only human.

13) Dont compare your behind the sceneswith everyone elses highlight reel

We mostly see people at their best, or at least what we think is their best, but were all too aware of what we look like first thing in the morning, or how scared or vulnerable we feel at certain times, or how much we might lack confidence on the inside. As Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, says, we shouldn’t compare our ‘behind the scenes’ with everyone’s else’s ‘highlight reel’. Everyone has stuff going on.

14) Tend to your wants and needs

Learn to look after your own needs. Many of us get into the habit of looking out for everyone but ourselves. A mark of self love is to care for your own needs too. You can do both! Self love doesnt say to love yourself instead of others, before others, or even after others. In fact, it doesnt say anything about others at all. It simply says, love yourself and you can do that while you go about your business of living our life, being kind to, and loving others.

15) Have courage to ask that your needs be met

We all have needs that have to be met, whether these are at work, in our relationships, or in life in general. When we are lacking a healthy self love we become fearful of asking that our needs be met. Practice having the courage to ask. It might mean risking rejection sometimes, but its better knowing that you had the courage to ask than living in fear of rejection. Who knows what might happen

16) Design some self love affirmations

You dont always have to repeat, “I love myself. I love myself. I love myself!” hundreds of times. Design an affirmation that fits where you are in your life right now and how you want to feel. You can even design one thats a stepping stone to where you want to get to.

17) Pull silly smiles

Practice pulling huge silly smiles at random times in the day. Make sure you also do it in the morning, preferably shortly after you get up and also late at night before you go to sleep. Smiling like this sends signals to the emotional centres of your brain and increases positive emotion, especially because youre doing it on purpose.

18) Push out your comfort zone

Self love often lies at the edge of your comfort zone. Push yourself as much as you can with the intent not only to succeed in what you apply yourself to, but in the knowing that the attempt itself is a declaration of self love.

19) Dont take it personally.

Try not to take things too personally, especially seeming criticism or when things dont go to plan. Things only seem personal when were lacking in self love. When things are not working, it’s not a flaw in who you are. Set an intent to be more resilient and your self love will grow as a consequence.

20) Act As If.

Just for today, act as if you had a healthy self love. In varying situations and interactions throughout the day, ask yourself, “How would I be or what would I do right now if I had a healthy self love?” Then do it! If it works out today, try it again tomorrow.

Empathy Matters

elderly woman smiling with her caregiverEmpathy is the ability to understand and relate to other people and animals.

Empathy is being able to see the world or a situation from someone else’s perspective and also appreciate how they might feel.

Empathy can even be in walking in someone else’s shoes, so to speak.

It is the precursor to compassion and kindness. In the book, ‘Self Compassion’, Kristen Neff defines empathy as ‘I feel with you’.

Empathy then evolves into compassion, which we can think of as, ‘I feel for you’. The difference between empathy and compassion being that compassion is a move towards wishing the person freedom from their suffering.

To be honest, the difference is mostly academic and I don’t think, in most people’s everyday experience, it actually matters whether we call that sympathetic feeling (yes, we can think of sympathy in the same way) empathy or compassion. But if you wanted to recognise a difference then you may see it in brain activation.

Empathy (I feel with you) activates the insula of the brain (the empathy centre). Compassion activates the insula too, but it also activates the left side of the prefrontal cortex, a region associated with positive emotion and also conscious decision making. In other words, considering brain activation, you can think of compassion as experiencing someone’s pain with them (empathy), with the addition of a conscious wishing that they be free of their suffering (I feel for you instead of I feel with you).

But, as I said, the difference is mostly academic and I don’t feel it matters whether a person refers to the feeling of feeling another’s pain as empathy, compassion, or sympathy. The intent is the same.

Mostly, the word empathy conjures up the idea of empathising with others. But it helps a lot when someone empathises with us, when they share our pain. It even helps us physiologically.

In a study of over 700 patients who attended their doctor’s surgery for onset symptoms of cold, some received a normal consultation and others received an ‘enhanced’ consultation, where the doctor emphasised empathy. The patient filled out a CARE (Consultation and Relational Empathy) questionnaire so that researchers could asses empathy levels and they had their symptoms tracked for the study.

Those who received the empathy-enhanced visit (and scored the doctor a 10/10 for empathy) had lower severity of cold, recovered faster than everyone else, and also had significantly higher immune responses. Empathy mattered … a lot!

We can interpret this as the patient feeling listened to and reassured by the doctor. This activates part of the placebo mechanism, which helps them recover faster. And note that I wrote ‘placebo mechanism’ and not ‘placebo effect’. This is intentional, lest we assume that the placebo effect is all in our heads. As I’ve written in my books and in other blogs, belief or expectation produces physical changes in the brain. Brain chemistry changes in response to a person’s beliefs or expectations. The mechanism (the biological process that occurs) differs depending on the medical condition and the treatment given.

Another factor is that when a patient is shown empathy, it reduces their stress levels, which often accompany uncertainty regarding their symptoms, and this reduction in stress also leads to an increased immune response.

The bottom line in the study is that empathy was related to a better immune response and a faster recovery in the patients.

I think of empathy as a currency. In our ever-more interconnected world, the ability to understand, empathise, and relate to others is becoming increasingly more important.

Dollars, yuan, or Euros are not the currencies of the future. Empathy is the currency we all need to be investing in.



P. Rakel, et al, ‘Perception of empathy in the therapeutic encounter: effects on the common cold’, Patient Education and Counselling 2011, 85, 390-97 (Link to study, DOI: 10.1016/j.pec.2011.01.009)

How your mind can heal your body

Yay! It’s book launch day. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ My book, ‘HOW YOUR MIND CAN HEAL YOUR BODY’ is officially on sale now from everywhere that sells books. 😀 It’s the 10-year anniversary edition.

The book was first published 10 years ago and usually, when I write a book, I kind of just put it out there and don’t give it that much thought, so I never imagined I’d ever be writing a new edition, but my publisher (Hay House) asked me if I could update it. So I did.

I was only supposed to add wee bits and pieces but so much has happened in the world of the mind-body connection in 10 years, so I ended up adding 4 new chapters and sprinkling new stuff all throughout. Oops. 😁

These cover things like how to use visualisation to enhance your immune system and I even share studies where this has been done in randomised controlled trials of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Typically, half do visualisation in addition to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, while the other half don’t. The visualisation group had a higher clinical response to treatment, which might be assumed to be the result of the extra impact of the immune system, as the researchers noted that the immune systems showed high levels of cytotoxicity even during treatment.

New chapters also deal with how visualisation works and how to actually do it and also include the application to sports, including how to enhance performance whether elite or beginner, or even learn a new skill, and even rehabilitation from stroke. I’ve also included several new stories from people who used visualisation as part of their recoveries from injury, illness or disease – including cancer, heart conditions, psoriasis, post-polio syndrome, and many more.

If you’re new to the book altogether, the first part discusses the placebo effect, sharing multiple examples in different settings, but also explaining how it works. Chapters also cover positive attitude, meditation, and how the brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary.

There’s also an A-Z list of visualisations for a large number of medical conditions.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find links on the ‘Books’ tab of my website, or just try anywhere that sells books, including Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, Waterstones.

It’s available as paperback, kindle, ebook, and audiobook. 😀

Here’s some quick links.

Amazon UK:
Amazon USA:
Amazon Canada:
Amazon Australia:

The Science of High Performance in Sport

tennis player abstract

Whether you’re playing tennis, golf or even running the 100 metres, there are certain things you can do that can help you to achieve high performance.

Here’s 7 of the most important ones:


How good do you want to be? One of the most important things to know is that practice lays down neural pathways in the brain. Whether it’s a cross-court winner in tennis, an approach shot at golf or even the start in a 100 metres sprint, practice is key to laying down these pathways that make you improve at these movements.

Practice creates habits in the brain and therefore the muscles, which not only helps you improve but also means that your body will know what to do in those all-important moments when you only have a split second to think.

Mental practice

Almost every elite athlete does mental practice. Neuroscience research shows that the brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. In one piece of research, the brains of volunteers carrying out repetitive movements over 5 days were compared with volunteers imagining the same movements. Amazingly, the new brain pathways were identical in both groups.

So, to harness this fact, visualise yourself doing your sport, but see yourself doing everything just right. Due to the feedback between the brain and the muscles, this ensures that your muscles also learn to work in the way you’re imagining.

You can also use mental practice to play shots you find especially difficult, thus speeding up the learning on the court, green, or track. One important thing to keep in mind with mental practice is that you’re not just necessarily imagining the winning result, but the physical movements you’re doing in creating that result.

Repetition is key

The 3 rules of physical and mental practice are: Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

High performance requires well defined neural pathways in the brain that connect with the muscles. The only way to build such neural pathways is repetition of the movements. And remember, the brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. Use mental practice as well as physical practice.

In one-to-one competitive sports, if someone repeatedly beats you with the same shot or manoeuvre, practice countering it repetitively – both on the field and in your mental practice. Repetition wires neural pathways and thus habits into the brain.

Doing it once or twice is unlikely to get your breakthrough, but doing it a few hundred times might make a real difference. Many people don’t get the breakthroughs they seek because they don’t realise how much repetition is required. It’s all about your mind and body learning what to do, and this occurs through repetitively laying down neural pathways in the brain.


Stay focused, especially at the higher levels of your sport. Loss of focus for even a moment can turn a game of tennis, leave you 2 or 3 shots to catch up in golf or mean the difference between a gold medal and fourth in a race. Focus is as much a key to building a habit of winning as is training your body.

A simple focus exercise when practicing is to give every shot your 100% attention. Keep your eye on the ball at all times. This is not just something you do in competition, but essential in practice so that mental focus becomes a habit.

Mindfulness practice also helps because it develops the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the front part of the brain, above your eyes, that controls concentration.


If a tennis ball is flying at you at over 200kph, tension will only slow your reaction time. Similarly, tension before an important golf shot will chop away some smoothness from the shot, introducing an error of a few to several metres. Tension in a race tightens muscles and slows speed of movement.

Practice being highly alert and focused, yet relaxed at the same time. Many people think these are things you do at different times – alert one moment and relaxed in another – but it is important that you learn to do them at the same time. Focused doesn’t mean grimacing and holding your eyes and muscles rigid.

Relaxing helps your trained neural pathways take over. If you’ve practiced enough then your wired habit should do the rest – i.e., your body knows what to do. A good tip is to practice conscious breaths several times a day in a variety of different conditions and contexts. It will help you stay relaxed, yet focused, regardless of what is happening around you.

Body language

How you hold and move your body affects your focus and how you feel. There’s what’s called a ‘bi-directional relationship’ between your brain and muscles. It’s why you smile when you’re happy and tense your muscles when you worry. People mostly think it just goes that one way – from the brain to the muscles – but it goes the other way too, from the muscles to the brain.

To harness this, practice holding and moving your body in a way that conveys self-belief and quiet confidence. Do it on the court, green or track, but also practice it all throughout the day as you go about your life. You’re looking to create a body language habit and wire it into the brain, and this requires repetition while you practice, compete, and throughout your daily life.

Will to win

A will to win can be that edge that makes the difference in the latter stages of any game, when one or two points or one or two centimetres make all the difference. A will to win helps maintain high focus but it also activates trained neural pathways that ensure that your body does what it needs to do to win.

Winning becomes a habit when you have a well-developed will to win.


About the author

david-headshotDr David Hamilton is author of 9 books, including ‘The 5 Side Effects of Kindness’, ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’, and ‘I Heart Me’. He is a former athletics coach and also a former scientist within the pharmaceutical industry. He left the latter to study the placebo effect and teach people how to harness the mind-body connection for health, wellness, and high performance in sport.




Placebo School logoCheck out my online course – Placebo School. It’s all about understanding and harnessing the mind-body connection.

Drugs Work Better if You Know You’re Getting Them

whisperImagine the scenario: There’s 2 patients. One is connected to a morphine drip while he’s reading a book and the other is being given a morphine injection by the doctor. They’re both given morphine at the exact same time. One is aware of it but the other isn’t.

You’d think they’d both need the same amount of the drug, wouldn’t you? Well, it turns out that how much they actually need depends on whether they know about the morphine or not.

On average, people receiving morphine for pain need about 12mg to get the painkilling effect. But that’s only if they don’t know they’re getting it. If it’s administered in full view, they don’t need nearly so much to get the same effect.

The same kind of thing has been shown with diazepam. People sometimes get diazepam for anxiety after an operation. It turns out that the diazepam only works if the patients know they’re receiving it. If they don’t know they’re getting it then it doesn’t work. Weird isn’t it?

The reason is that it’s all in your mind!

Chemistry will play itself out in exactly the same way a hundred times out of a hundred in a test tube. But once you put human consciousness in the test tube, in other words the test tube is technically the human body, the chemistry is swayed left or right, so to speak, depending on what’s going on in your mind, depending on what you believe.

It’s true. What we believe shifts chemistry in our brains and bodies. If a person is given a placebo instead of morphine, but believes that it’s morphine and therefore believes in the pain killing effect, their brain produces a natural version of morphine to carry out the job of giving them what they are expecting to happen, i.e. a reduction in pain. The natural versions are known as endogenous opiates.

So when a person is receiving morphine from the doctor, who is administering it in plain sight, their belief in what morphine does produces endogenous opiates. So because the endogenous opiates are there to provide part of the pain killing effect, the patient doesn’t actually need as much morphine.

Imagine what it could mean for medicine if we could harness the placebo effect like this.

Don’t forget the wisdom of the elderly

Senior man reading bookI often meet elderly people as I walk my dog, Oscar, in the morning. There was one truly lovely gentleman I met recently. He was getting out of his car and his son was helping him to the house.

Oscar wanted to say hello, as he does to almost everyone. I often have to hold him back because being a Labrador he does like to jump up on people. But the man was keen for Oscar to approach. Oscar loved him. His tail was wagging so fast!

We chatted about dogs and how much love they bring into a household. I told him how Oscar has changed my life and he smiled. He told me that he always had dogs – Labradors – but not nowadays. As we bid farewell, he took my hand in his and held it so sincerely as he wished me a happy life.

I felt deeply moved by his sincerity. I felt emotional walking away. I could have happily chatted for hours. Some people have that kind of effect on you.

In society, we tend to view elderly people as frail and always needing care. It made me wonder how we often forget that elderly people have had a lifetime of experiences that they can share with us, and a lifetime’s worth of wisdom that they can impart to us that can make our lives happier and more fulfilling.

There was one day, more than a decade ago, when I was chatting with an elderly gentleman named Jack. He was a regular in the bar that I tended in the west end of Glasgow, in Scotland. I worked there part-time while a few friends and I were setting up a new charity.

He would always come into the bar around 11am. He was in his late seventies and had fought in World War II. I had served him several times but never shared a conversation. I don’t remember how we got onto the subject but he told me a story that had changed his life decades earlier.

It was during the war and he had been separated from his company and found himself in a deserted town of bombed buildings. He hadn’t been there long when a company of German soldiers arrived. He hid inside one of the buildings because he knew he’d be killed if they found him. He was terrified, he told me, especially because the soldiers began to search the buildings. He said he was even scared to breathe because he could hear them so close.

He was shaking. He had never been so scared in his life. As he heard a soldier approach and enter the room where he was hiding – Jack was standing behind the door – he clutched his gun, but he couldn’t think straight.

Jack was too terrified to move or even speak, let alone raise his gun. If he had done so anyway, to defend himself, he would have certainly been killed by the other soldiers.

He approached me with his gun raised,” Jack told me. “He looked me in the eyes. He could see my fear. I couldn’t handle the terror any more… My body gave way. I wet myself, standing right there in front of him.”

Then the most unexpected thing happened,” Jack said.

He stared at me for a moment, squinted his eyes a little, then he gave me a compassionate smile and a gentle nod, turned his back, and walked away, signalling to the other soldiers that the building was clear.”

I’ve never forgotten that,” Jack told me. “It happened back in 1944 but it’s the thing I most remember about the war.

Jack told me that it made him a better person and he spent the rest of his life always taking opportunities life presented to him to help others. He was impressed that my friends and I were setting up a charity and wished me well. He reminded me that it’s the little things that count.

Yes, I think elderly people have a lot of wisdom; a lifetime’s worth. It’s our loss if we don’t allow them to share it with us.


Notes: The story of Jack in the war is reproduced from my book, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You‘, by David R Hamilton PhD

The Invisible Landscape

forest with overgrown train track running through

Go for a stroll along a path in the park and it will guide you around the landscape – around water, trees, and flower gardens. Your route is set by the outline the path takes as it meanders through the park.

We walk along invisible paths too; we just don’t know they’re there. Instead of our eyes following the outline of a path in the park, these invisible paths are connected to our minds and they gently (and sometimes forcefully) guide us to the left, to the right, to stop, to go backwards, and even to go round in a circle at times.

They are paths along a landscape of consciousness.

I don’t personally take the mainstream scientific view that consciousness is a side-effect of brain chemistry. I believe that consciousness is something fundamental to reality itself.

Looking inside the cells of our bodies reveals proteins, enzymes, hormones, DNA, and small organelles. Looking inside, say, a piece of DNA reveals atoms, which are approximately 0.00000001cm wide. But inside atoms, it’s a very different reality. Most people know of protons, neutrons and electrons and we get the idea that they are jammed together into a little ball. Actually, if a proton was the size of a tennis ball, an electron would be the size of a particle of dust and it would be approximately 1 kilometer away.

A proton lives around the 0.0000000000001 cm scale (10-15 metres – that’s 10 to the power of minus 15). The Large Hadron Collider at CERN can probe sizes a little smaller, but then there’s a major jump to the fabric of reality, known as the Planck scale, which sits at 10-35 metres.

No one knows for sure what’s actually there, but my instinct is that the fabric is consciousness itself. I’m led to that conclusion in two ways. The first is purely intuitively. That might not stand up to scientific reasoning, but then again, if you are trying to measure consciousness, then like it or not, your best tool is your own intuition.

The other way is more rational as it’s my interpretation of the general outcome of hundreds of experiments that demonstrate the correlations between the minds and brains of people separated by distances.

Take, for instance, the experiments where one member of a couple is placed inside an MRI scanner or connected to an EEG device. The other person is in another room and then, after a short time, the scientists startle him, perhaps by shining a light in his eyes. At that moment, the MRI or EEG detects a flash in the other partner’s brain.

If we remain wedded to the idea that consciousness is inside the head, a side-effect of brain chemistry, then we have to dismiss research like this as somehow flawed. There is a lot of it around so that would be a lot of quality scientists that we would have to cast aside as inferior or misguided researchers, which I’m not sure we can do.

What if, instead, we assumed the research is correct? We’re then led to the conclusion that consciousness is not inside the head after all, and can entertain the possibility that the brain is more like a sophisticated aerial that receives and processes consciousness. Damage to the aerial would affect a person’s mind, which is what we do in fact see in medical science.

So if it’s not inside the head, where is consciousness? I’d say it’s everywhere. The brain (aerial) gives us a way to focus it in our individual ways – me as David Hamilton, you as, well, you. Consciousness is a field that permeates all space, just as radio waves and your favorite TV programs are actually buzzing everywhere around you but are channeled through your radio, TV or computer. In effect, consciousness is smeared throughout the universe and emanates from the fabric of reality, where it is in its purest state.

But the fact that all reality emerges out of the fabric of reality leads us to an interesting thought that can explain the invisible paths in our lives. Looking around us we see physical structures and landscapes. There are structures from the largest (galaxies) to the smallest (atoms) scales. That these exist tells us that the fabric of reality has structure. And if the fabric of reality is pure consciousness then there are structures of consciousness in it, like a painted landscape.

Now we’re getting close to understanding the invisible paths in our lives. Just as we walk through physical landscapes, so there are landscapes of consciousness that we walk through as well. We just can’t see them. But they guide our journey through life – like intuitive whispers.

They take us to people who come into our lives for a ‘reason, a season, or a lifetime’. They also guide us to particular events that may or may not make sense to us at the time.

So maybe life isn’t so much the blank canvas (or landscape) that many of us assume. Perhaps there are deeper forces  – invisible paths of consciousness – at bay that govern the direction of our lives.

I have always believed in the idea of soul mates, that there are people who are important to us, who are meant to be in our lives. I am more convinced now than ever.

I was, myself, led to the idea of landscapes of consciousness while I was writing my book, ‘Is Your Life Mapped Out?: Unraveling the Mystery of Destiny vs Free Will’. I’m convinced, now, that I was guided along that particular path where I would receive those insights.

I often wonder if there is an ultimate path. I do believe that there is. It’s subtle, but its presence is seen everywhere. It is the path of love.

We are not forced to walk this path but, ohhhhh, it feels good when we do and so we walk it, then, out of choice.

Love is the path where destiny and free will meet. All of our choices are our own, but they are also inspired by the path.

You can get on the path at any moment. Just love those around you!

When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Theresa was asked how we could best promote world peace.

She said, “Go home and love your family.”

For me, that about says it all.


You can read more of this idea and other aspects of destiny and free will in my book, ‘Is Your Life Mapped Out? Unraveling the mystery of destiny vs free will’ (UK paperback) (US paperback) (UK Kindle) (US Kindle)