Mind Over Matter

mirror neuronsI’ve written a lot over the years on the subject of the mind-body connection. The origin of my interest actually goes back to when I was 11 years old and I was in the school library. A book fell of the shelf beside me. It was ‘The Magic Power of Your Mind’ by Walter Germaine.

At the time my mum was suffering from depression, which had begun a few years earlier as post natal (post partum) depression. I had an instinct that the book would help my mum so I took it home.

It really helped her. It didn’t cure her in a day or anything like that, but it taught her insights and strategies and gave her hope that she could chart a course through some of the difficult times. As a teenager, I often heard my mum say things like, “I can do it,” while pumping her fist, “It’s all in the mind,” “It’s mind over matter,” and “It’s the Thought that Counts,” which incidentally became the title of my first book. These were examples of my mum’s positive self-talk that she’d learned. Today we think of these as affirmations.

Growing up, a fascination with the subject and possibilities of mind over matter gradually developed in me. Later, after I completed my PhD in organic chemistry, I took a job in the pharmaceutical industry. It was there that my interest and understanding of the mind-body connection went up a notch. My job exposed me to the whole area of drug development where I learned a bit about the placebo effect. I quickly became more interested in the placebo effect and the whole mind-body connection than in developing drugs and often spent hours of my spare time pondering and reading up on the subject.

I left the industry after 4 years to write and speak full-time. Now, 8 books later, my interest hasn’t dropped a bit but in fact has grown considerably.

When I left the pharmaceutical industry in 1999, mind-body science was in its infancy, really. Now, there is a wealth of research showing beyond all doubt that your thoughts, beliefs and emotions cause physiological, biological, and even genetic changes all throughout your body. And when I say genetic changes, I’m not meaning that we change our genes or anything like that, but that our thinking changes the pattern of ‘on’ and ‘off’ of our genes. A gene might get switched on or off, for instance, as a consequence of what you’re focusing on.

Thinking of someone or something that causes you stress, for example, switches on stress genes, the consequences of which can lead to constriction of the arteries. Thinking of someone you love, on the other hand, activates completely different genes, the consequences of which can actually dilate your arteries.

Believing a drug will help you can cause it to work better. Believing it won’t help you often negates some (or all) of its potential effect. Paying more for a simple painkiller makes it work better than a cheaper version because of your belief that more expensive equates to better.

Imagining eating can reduce appetite by signaling the brain that you’re full, imagining moving your muscles repetitively actually causes structural changes in the circuits of the brain, making those muscles stronger. Paying attention to your breathing also causes structural changes in the brain in such a way that makes it easier to find peace amid chaos.

Imagining happy things alters brain chemistry that can make you feel better. Imagining things you’re afraid of activates fear centers of the brain.

Imagining moving your arm convinces your brain that you’re actually moving it, an insight from neuroscience that has reaped benefits for thousands of stroke patients, and athletes.

A pilot can even fly a plane with his mind if the navigational controls are interfaced with a device that reads his brain activation.

There is no doubt whatsoever that your mind affects your body. The skill in making it work for you, really, is learning to control what you focus on.

And that really comes down to training, in much the same way that you learn any skill through training.

So I thought I’d give you a little insight into the mind-body connection today, enough perhaps to give you some faith in yourself, that you really do have the capacity to bring about positive changes in your health by adjusting your focus.

14 thoughts on “Mind Over Matter

  1. Karon Clements

    Thank you again. I tell your stories over and over again to my patients. I then use EFT to help people change their attitude to emotions that are causing them grief. So inspiring.
    Thanking you


  2. Thank you David, inspiring words which come just at the right time for me x

  3. Ann Ayton

    A wonderful, lucid and sincere article David, even more than usual. Many thanks again for the commitment, support, energy and learning you give. Love it! Another yellow badge…

  4. Steve A. Kozma

    I too became interested in the placebo effect at about the same age you did. I did not know it by that name for many years later.
    (I have not read any of your books (yet).
    I notice that when we learned language, we became conditioned to/by language, we were conditioned to believe automatically.
    In other words, we automatically use thoughts per se as placebos.
    Have you studied “believing”? Our amygdalae are the source of emotions; what is the ‘source’ of believing? Surely not any organ?
    I hope you can help me on my quest of “understanding believing”.

  5. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Ann, and I’m smiling at the yellow badge. 🙂

  6. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Rita. I’m glad it’s been helpful to you. 🙂

  7. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Karen. Sounds like you’re using an excellent combo! 🙂

  8. Nisha Chelaka

    Hi David, such an interesting article and over the last several months I’m understanding more about the universe and our thoughts and feelings and how it directly affects our life. In terms health, what is the best book of yours that you would suggest I read first? I’m dealing with some foot problem and I’m trying to be positive and thinking that right thoughts, but finding it hard to fully believe it, which is why I’m still having the problem I guess. I have not read your books and would love to start off with one that you feel would help me get my attitude and thinking on the right track to heal my problem. Thank you so much.


  9. As a teenager, I was guided out of a depression by a happenstance shaft of sunlight on a book “The Art of Loving,” by Erich Fromm. Not quite as adamant a hint as having it drop off a shelf, but it was directly the result of a hushed prayer for guidance, and it was one hell of a bright shaft of sunlight. That book was so much more than solace; it was a gateway to sanity. A second book, “Psycho-cybernetics” came along soon after which helped to further align my raging hormonal youth.
    Now, at a more advanced age, I am happy to find Dr. Hamilton’s work and writing.

  10. I know how important this is with my work with clients.. Thanks for sharing.

  11. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Hi Nisha, I’d recommend ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’, which is all about the mind-body connection and ways to harness it for health. I hope you find it beneficial. 🙂

  12. I am interested in energy in the body. I hold a lot in my head and can feel it on my scalp. I try to move that energy down and balance it in my body and I am somewhat successful but not completely. I feel blocked energy in my throat and upper GI area.
    Anything you can share on this, would be helpful.
    Enjoy your affirmations greatly and will share that w my client base and friends.
    Hope that has your blessing.
    Simin Malek Realtor Los Gatos CA

  13. Chloe Deas

    I’ve been blown away by the concept of using your mind as a placebo, and having finally grasped some of the basic neuroscience behind it I am shocked and stunned at its efficacy. Why do you think, considering the amazing implications it has in freeing people from pain caused by habituated negative thinking or releasing people from chronic depression, just two examples-that this is not being reported in the mainstream media, being utilised by the NHS (saving thousands of people and lots of money)Surely teaching people how to use their minds to cure their ailments rather than prescribing costly medications/rehabilitation/even surgical intervention would be a revelation to the medical profession? It’s not ‘hippy’ ideology but backed up by hard science as you have shown. Why are we not shouting from the rooftops how amazing our minds are!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *