What's your worldview? Are you an optimist or a pessimist by nature? Do you always expect good things to happen or are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Our mental attitude affects how we interact with others and how we respond to events and the comings and goings in our daily lives. Remarkably, our mental attitude also affects our health and well-being. How we feel, not only mentally but also physically, is significantly impacted by what has been termed our "internal guidance mechanism".
Back in the 1960s a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz wrote Psycho-Cybernetics, a groundbreaking book that has been continuously in print for almost 50 years. Psycho-Cybernetics, one of the original self-help books, popularized the idea that the subconscious part of our mind is a goal-seeking mechanism. Maltz famously compared the subconscious to a guided missile, stating that the subconscious would do exactly what it is programmed to do. If you want to achieve a goal, Maltz proposed, visualize its successful completion. Visualize yourself driving that red sports car. Visualize the fun you and your family are having on your trip to Hawaii or Italy. Visualize living in your beautiful home. Provided that the instructions are clear, your subconscious will go to work to cause your goal to manifest in your life.
This wasn't mumbo-jumbo. Maltz was a scientist and made a very strong case for his theory, backed up by decades of interaction with his patients. Since then, of course, hundreds if not thousands of self-help gurus have sprung up, publishing books, giving seminars, and being interviewed in broadcast media. Maltz, Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, Emmet Fox, and Ernest Holmes were the originals, the pioneers who promulgated the concepts and precepts of taking charge of your own life.
In terms of health, for example, attitude is critically important.1,2,3 How do you respond, internally, if a nearby co-worker coughs or sneezes throughout the day? Have you noticed that if you think that you, too, are going to get sick, that in fact you do? But others, exposed to the same environment, do not. Is it possible that these others paid no attention to the ill co-worker, that they did not internalize the notion that they were being exposed to contagion? Such a scenario is not necessarily true, but it is possible. The conclusion could be that our thoughts matter. As Earl Nightingale, one of the pioneers of the personal development field, famously stated, "You become what you think about".
So what should we do? Think happy thoughts all day long? Not really. But it is important to remember that attitude counts. If we are more frequently seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, it is possible that we are going to have a more productive, more successful, more fulfilled day. And, unbeknownst to us, our subconscious mind will build on those successes and help to bring us more success, personal growth, happiness, and well-being.
1Matsunaga M, et al: Association between perceived happiness levels and peripheral circulating pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in middle-aged adults in Japan. Neuro Endocrinol Lett August 5, 2011 (Epub ahead of print)
2Layous K, et al: Delivering happiness: translating positive psychology intervention research for treating major and minor depressive disorders. J Altern Complement Med 17(8):675-683, 2011
3Sadler ME, et al: Subjective wellbeing and longevity: a co-twin control study. Twin Res Hum Genet 14(3):249-256, 2011