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Rudolph Tanzi PHD

Acting for the Mind Improves the Body!

by Robert McEntee on April 2, 2013

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”                   Author Unknown

In my article I discussed valuable concepts such as “acting as if” and “supportive observer comments”.  Following I will summarize important studies by two researchers pertaining to these two techniques, in particular.

The first is by Dr. Amy Cuddy who cites evidence from her own research that our brain and body chemistry can be altered to help us become more assertive, confident, and passionate, simply through two minutes of standing in a more powerful position or stance! Dr. Cuddy overcame the debilitating neurological effects of a devastating auto accident by faking confidence until she actually became confident.  She transformed herself from an insecure, traumatized young woman, into an authentic, strong leader in her field.  It appears she is living proof that how we behave alters not only our feelings, but who we actually are.

I’ll post the link to her video below, however a key idea is that when we use closed or small body postures , we feel less significant than we do when employing large or open body positions.  This makes sense if you contrast a person who hangs their head in shame to one who raises their arms in the victory sign after, say, winning a race.

Although it may surprise you, this researcher’s findings are just part of a rapidly growing body of evidence, that in many areas, feeling often follows action.  We tend to assume it’s our genetic makeup and resulting personality that enables us to say be a public speaker who regularly addresses thousands, or on the other extreme, being a total recluse.  According to Dr. Cuddy’s work, and many other studies, is that more often, it’s the other way around: we act first; then we feel.  Earlier studies were centered more around feelings of love and attraction than general confidence, yet arrived at this same conclusion.

Modern research on love and attraction suggests that we’re not passive creatures, at the mercy of dwindling hormones or fading looks.  By acting as if we’re in love, and doing the things such a person does for their partner, we stir passion inside ourselves.  Similar to how assuming a “power pose” builds our confidence, intentionally engaging in loving, passionate behavior appears to spark romantic excitement.

For example, simply holding hands releases oxytocin, a hormone which increases relaxation and deepens feelings of trust, and that motivates further physical contact.  In short, we begin to crave our partners.  So the phrase “addicted to love” is perhaps not that far off! Studies done recently on couples who feel “very intensely in love” even after many years of marriage, mostly enjoy an active, exciting sex life which is self perpetuating due to the aforementioned brain chemistry.  Such successful relationships could be explained by their doing many of the things couples do while in courtship, while remaining in close physical and emotional contact. So love is more accurately described as a verb than a noun.

New or thrilling experiences, cause dopamine, a brain chemical associated with motivation, to flood the reward centers of our brain. And with each such exciting, rewarding experience, all that dopamine increases the desire for more.  This can explain why daredevils continually seek more thrilling conquests or why performers often refer to their shows as a drug.

Increasing evidence in recent years shows that the brain is much more malleable than previously thought. Experiences as well as thoughts affect its performance.

“Your brain…is constantly remodeling, reshaping itself,” says Rudolph Tanzi, PHD, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, coauthor with eastern philosopher, Deepak Chopra, of the book, Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being

Dr. Tanzi says that we can all improve through an inherent power to physically rewire our brains, which begins through self-awareness and apparently tricking the mind.

By detaching from emotions by repeatedly telling yourself, “I’m not sad right now, my brain is making me sad”, for example, “your brain will re-wire to make you a happier person, a healthier person,” Tanzi says.  However I would suggest changing the wording to “I am happy now” since focusing on a negative, brings that to our consciousness, making it harder to overcome.

Your brain is also preserved by maintaining curiosity as you age, learning the way a child does, by adding things like music & movement. You never forgot the alphabet song, right?

“When you attach passion and emotion to learning you remember everything. That’s why kids remember everything,” Tanzi says. “You get older, you get apathetic. Instead of ‘wow’ moments, you have ‘so-what’ moments, and that’s why you don’t learn as well.”

Even reading educational material such as this can stimulate the brain to make new connections. (By the way, if you find these articles useful, do let others know about this site!)

Tanzi says there is also research showing that exercise can actually prompt growth of new nerve cells in an area of the brain called the hippocampus responsible for short-term memory. Because this area is also where Alzheimer’s disease originates, Tanzi theorizes that many people can prevent Alzheimer’s through increased exercise.

According to Tarzi, our brains are improved by constantly balancing between gut feelings, emotions, and intellect.  The more you exercise, practice mindfulness techniques, and expose yourself to novel situations, the more readily your brain changes for the positive.

“You can use your mind to bring you the world you want to live in,” he says. The resulting benefits can far exceed the effort required!

If you’re not familiar with TED talks, they are 20 minutes of condensed wisdom by researchers and experts on an extremely wide variety of topics. Here is the talk by Dr. Cuddy referenced above.  Enjoy!