I was researching some documentation on the placebo effect the other day for a presentation and came across some research done by a Harvard psychologist on the power of the mind over ageing.

They carried out the experiment with a group of eight men who were currently living in a nursing home, having meals in the cafeteria, with recreation at scheduled times, surrounded by other old people, with little to no control over their autonomy. An environment that this particular group were not thriving in. Nobody expected very much from them anymore and they were becoming progressively frailer.

They took the group to a new environment, and as the eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire they shuffled forward, a few of them were arthritically stooped, a couple had canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around were designed to conjure an experience as if it were 1959.

The men were instructed to behave as if they were actually in 1959- to discuss current affairs of the day, they gave them clothing to wear that they would have been wearing back in the day, no mirrors, only photos of themselves in the 1950’s. They didn’t offer any physical help at all and left them to their own devices.

Your own expectations, and the expectations of others, are so powerful. And expectations of the declining cognitive and physical abilities that come with age are pervasive.

Ellen Langer, the psychologist’s theory, was that she wanted to prove that maybe if you could put people in a psychologically better setting — one they would associate with a better, younger version of themselves — their bodies might follow along. “Wherever you put the mind, you’re necessarily putting the body,” she explained.

Unbelievably just one week later the experimental group showed improvements in physical strength, manual dexterity, gait, posture, perception, memory, cognition, taste sensitivity, hearing, and vision.

Four independent volunteers, who knew nothing about the study, looked at before and after photos of the men in the experimental group and perceived those in the “after” photos as an average of two years younger than those in the “before.” And on the last day of the study the men, who had seemed so frail just days before ended up playing an impromptu touch football game on the front lawn.


So, what does this have to do with business?

Let’s examine what is going on.

Here’s the thing-

Thought is invisible and yet it runs our entire experience.

It is a bit like the ring and run away boy- it creates an experience and then disappears and says, “I didn’t do it”!

We need to make the invisible visible. We need to understand where our experience, in every area of our life, including business, comes from.

The experience in the nursing home wasn’t to do with Perry Como. It wasn’t to do with Ed Sullivan. What it was to do with was who the men “thought” they were in that moment and as a result, what the men “thought” they were capable of.

And this is true in business also- who we think we are and what we think we are capable of, we will ALWAYS live up to. But….those thoughts are often invisible.

So here is a top tip for you to make them visible-

If there is an area of your business or your life where you feel stuck, ask yourself this question-

“What would someone who…….”

“What would someone who was getting ten new clients a month think about who they are and what they are capable of”

“What would someone who found picking up the phone and making calls really easy, think about who they are and what they are capable of”

“What would someone who didn’t procrastinate and just got on with taking action think about who they are and what they are capable of”

Then look at where you are out of alignment with that and what opposite things you might currently be thinking instead.


That is what you are living the experience of.

That thinking.

Focus on the same old thinking, get the same old result.

I’m not suggesting you need to manipulate your thinking, or force yourself to think something different, or even “fake it until you make it”.

What I am suggesting is that you make thought visible and then realise that it is just thought creating an illusory limitation or a block.

Your thinking knows nothing about what you are capable of, it knows nothing about the response from the person on the other end of the phone, it knows nothing about the future or an outcome, it doesn’t even know anything about your personality….it is a passing phenomenon, thought believed in, that when put under examination can often be disproved.

So, remember the placebo effect when you are feeling that you are not the type of person who……..and consider what someone would think who was!

If any of this resonates with you and you would like to continue the conversation on the understanding of the mind and learn more then please email me on alisonclarke@actioncoach.co.uk, call me on 07713626673 or come over for a coffee on me and let’s have a chat.