“Whatever happens, whether you succeed or you fail, people with high expectations always feel better, because how we feel — when we get dumped or we win employee of the month — depends on how we interpret that event.” — Tali Sharot
There’s a buzz in scientific communities this week since a woman who has been paralyzed and speechless for 15 years successfully picked up and drank from a coffee thermos — by thinking about doing so. Neurosurgeons implanted an aspirin-sized recording device in the woman’s motor cortex that records signals from neurons associated with the intention to move. As she imagined herself picking up her coffee and taking a sip, those signals were translated by a computer and conveyed to a free-standing robotic arm, which carried out her mental intention to bring the cup to her lips.
The day after hearing this story I watched a TED talk by neuroscientist Tali Sharot on the “optimism bias,” or the tendency we humans have to anticipate that the future will be much better than our present or our past. But here’s the thing: Despite it being irrational for us to think we have a 0% chance of getting divorced ourselves while 50% of people actually get divorced, or to estimate we personally have a 10% chance of getting cancer when the reality is our odds are more like 30%, research is showing that optimism – the anticipation associated with expecting great things in our future – increases well-being. As it turns out, having high expectations doesn’t set us up for disappointment (as is widely believed) but instead actually makes us feel better, because as we get in the habit of seeing everything as ripe with possibility for great outcomes, those positive outcomes really do start to manifest more and more in our lives. If we think a certain way enough, we begin to believe it. And when we believe something, we act on that belief. And as we continuously act on certain beliefs, and those belief-based actions become habits, certain types of outcomes accrue. That’s not luck or magic – it’s science.
These are but two examples of the ways in which science is increasingly corroborating what we’ve intuitively understood as we move through our lives: That we literally create our own realities through how we think, how we behave, and how we interpret experiences. Science is collecting evidence in spades these days to prove that what once might have been dismissed as “woo-woo New Age” thinking is actually scientifically-provable fact.
Then again, do we really need a scientist to tell us this stuff? I think most of this science boils down to basics we already really get on some level: Do more of what makes you and those around you feel good, and less of what causes or perpetuates pain in self and others.
Yes, sometimes “simple” can be “hard.” But if a woman who can’t move her arms can bring a coffee cup to her lips by intending to do so, what might we be able to accomplish in our own lives by focusing on the type of thoughts we have? And if each of us intended to train our minds to habitually trend toward thoughts that lead to more good than harm in action, how might our world be different?
What thought would you like to start with this week?
In Love and Support,