Living By Design:  Cultivate a Positive Belief System.

Sustainable changes develop from the inside out.  

A belief system is a set of principles and values that guide us to choose what is right or wrong, true or false.  These principles form the basis of our decisions and interactions in life.

The inside-out convictions that you hold greatly influence all aspects of life:  physical, mental, social and spiritual.

It is not just thinking positively.

It is actually developing harmony between what you do and what you value.  

START SOMEWHERE today cultivating a positive belief system and enjoying increased vitality and joy.    

If you believe that you are capable and competent of living a life filled with purpose and meaning, then you are more likely to notice and seek out opportunities that could help get you there.

You typically walk in the direction you are looking!

When you hold the belief system that you have reasonable elements of control over your environment, you are more likely to take positive, proactive steps to modify where you are headed.  

If you believe “that’s just how things are,” then you are more likely to live in frustration by constantly reacting to circumstances.   

Multiple interacting factors influence health and disease.  

It’s never just one thing!

Many of these variables are not fully under our control such as the genetic code that we inherited, past exposure to environmental toxins, a history of trauma or socioeconomic circumstances.  

Nevertheless, sound research on beliefs about aging suggests that mindset matters too.

For example, middle-aged adults who held positive beliefs about aging lived longer — an average of over seven years longer! — than those who held more negative beliefs.  

This is almost ten percent greater and was calculated after adjusting for gender, socioeconomic status, risk factors and current health.

That’s news we can use!

The research, titled “Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging”, conducted at Yale and Miami Universities with 660 individuals aged 50 or over, changed the previous academic reasoning about how people thought about their age.  Around the year 2000, a theory was circulating referring to “stereotype threat.” This theory basically states that members of stigmatized groups are limited by what other people think. But current research is pointing in a different direction.  It doesn’t matter what other people think unless you internalize it.  

Self perception is the weightier influence.  That’s more good news!

The Yale-Miami study found that people on the positive side of self-perceptions regarding aging fare much better than did those with a negative outlook about getting older.  They found both direct and indirect correlations.

For one thing, cultivating a positive belief system lowers stress. Lower stress generally translates to better cardiovascular health.  

I write and speak extensively about this and it makes such sense!  

Stress resilience is foundational to vitality.

Another facet of this study looked at the participants’ view of retirement — something every person has control over.  

Those on the negative end of beliefs who contemplated retirement as just marking the time before death and filled with monotony, boredom, and decline, were obviously more likely to suffer more and die sooner.  

However, if retirement is seen as a time to develop new interests and filled with opportunities, increased vitality ensues. “Positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy.”  Love it!

American longevity has increased by 27 years over the past century. Clean water and sanitation, as well as treatments and cures for infectious disease, have been part of that.  But remember, it is not just lifespan that matters!

Health span is also an important number to consider.  Your health span is the number of years that feel good and are able to interact and enjoy your life.

Lifespan is merely the number of years that we are alive.  A positive belief system enhances your health span.

The recent surge of interest in longevity has provoked mountains of research on the many determinants of a long life.  There has been a strong focus on genetics, as well as from the negative viewpoint of disease, injury, and mental decline.

Relatively little research has been directed at examining positive factors such as how beneficial beliefs might affect longevity as well as health span.  

Yet, as much as 75 percent of longevity may be due to factors that we can actually influence; our belief system weighs heavily.

Almost accidentally, the Berlin Aging Study also took an interesting look at the impact of belief systems on health.  Researchers examined 17 indicators of psychological function compared to mortality over seven years in a human population aged 70 and older.  

To their astonishment, one of the best predictors of mortality was the person’s own attitude toward aging. The authors concluded that, while negative beliefs don’t actually cause disease, they may reflect potential causes from other areas.  

The link between beliefs and health is also supported by research on the placebo effect.

The mere expectation that a medicine or treatment will be effective, even if the treatment is just a sugar pill, can make it so.  There is evidence for a measurable, objective result, too.  Among the most robust, quality studies on placebo effects is in the area of analgesia for pain management.  

Brain imaging studies show that multiple regions of the brain are physically affected when a person expects to feel better.  Placebos have been shown to temporarily provide relief in Parkinson’s Disease by elevating dopamine levels.  In the “Effects of Expectation on Placebo-induced Dopamine Release in Parkinson’s Disease,” the authors showed that expectations made a big difference and stated that “yet, the factors that controlled this dopamine release are undetermined.”  

In a number of studies, optimistic people were found to be less likely to develop heart disease, as well as recover faster from illness and surgery.  Just because we can’t “prove” it doesn’t mean it is not real. There is still so much that we don’t understand.

People with a positive belief system tend to have more friends and a larger social network than those with a negative view of life.  Social connectedness, in my research, is a major key to vitality and increased health span.  

There are literally heaps of research in this arena.  Stanford Medicine states that social connectedness is just as critical, if not more important, than exercise, healthy food, and good sleep and I absolutely agree.

They cite a landmark study showing that the lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.  

I’ve seen this for over 30 years at my “front row seat” in my dental practice.  

Quality friendships cover a multitude of bad habits and loneliness kills even the strictest of “health nuts!”    

How can you harness the power of a positive belief system in your life to improve your health, increase your vitality, and have energy for the relationships that matter?  

You have full control over what you choose to believe, but it is not always easy. We live in a world of negativity that prompts people to feel helpless.

Here are some areas to START SOMEWHERE to strengthen your positive belief system muscle:

  1. Remember, “what fires together, wires together.”  This was foundational in my Wellness Coaching training at Mayo Clinic.  Our brain cells communicate with each other by releasing chemicals (neurotransmitters) that the next brain cell absorbs.  This “neuronal firing” gets stronger and stronger between cells that communicate frequently.  Messages that travel the same pathway over and over begin to travel faster and faster. With enough repetition, this becomes automatic.  That’s why “practice makes perfect” – our brains basically go on autopilot. It’s somewhat like a friendship. The more time you spend together, the stronger the relationship grows!  
  2. Set clear intentions on how you want to approach each day.  You have to know where you want to be.  If a negative belief system has been your norm, you have to consciously practice something different and remind yourself of the new direction.  
  3. Tell yourself the truth.  I use scripture from the Bible as the basis of telling myself the truth.  For example, I tend toward self sufficiency (in a negative way) so one of my Biblical affirmations is based on Luke 12:24 to remind me that God is my provider and He can be trusted.  Although I don’t always remember this, I know that I don’t really need to waste time in worry!
  4. Look for friends and acquaintances who have a positive belief system and outlook.  We’ve all seen it and science has proven that we start to act like the people we spend time with.  It is why spouses start looking alike or babies mimic facial expressions.  If you hang out with vibrant people who are nurturing a positive belief system, it will rub off on you!  
  5. Nurture gratitude.  Keep a gratitude journal and write notes of gratitude.  Watch videos on my YouTube channel for easy ideas to have fun creating Snail Mail.  These practices can help you notice and appreciate the good in life and help keep you from rumination – getting caught up in unconstructive worry and negative thoughts.
  6. Give grace – both to others and yourself.  Realize that there is much that is not in our control.  Life is full of bumps and bruises – the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  We all need a break.

This blog post and research for not just for “older people!”  

Thought patterns develop early and it takes time to turn the ship around!  

Small, positive START SOMEWHERES can change the trajectory of your life.

Cultivate a positive belief system and enjoy more vitality and joy.  You can do it. I will help you!

Cultivating a positive belief system