If you’ve ever driven a car, you may have noticed that the vehicle always steers in the direction you are looking. When you gaze left, the car drifts left. You are probably not consciously trying to move the car into the left lane, it just follows the direction your mind is focused on. The human psyche is a powerful force that helps us craft the experiences we seek to have.

In fact, our subconscious is so influential that it has the ability to alter our physical attributes and abilities. These findings are prevalent in numerous studies but, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating applications of this theory comes from an experiment conducted in 1979 called the counterclockwise study. In essence, the study sought to answer one question: If you psychologically decide to feel younger, will your body play along?

In the late 70’s, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer set out to determine if age was just a mindset. Her theory was that some of the symptoms associated with old age (strength, posture, memory, hearing, vision, etc.) could be aided or even reversed using psychological intervention alone. Langer is steadfast in her opinion that our physical limitations as humans are largely determined by what we think we are capable of doing rather than what we can actually do.

Langer and her team recruited men over the age of 75 to participate in an experiment. The psychologists designed the experiment as an environmental shift back to 1959. The men, who were described as frail and aging, would be split into a control group and an experimental group. The 8 men in the experimental group were taken to a rented house that was to be their home for the next week. When the men entered the house they were transported back to the late 50’s. Music of the era flowed from the radio, the black and white T.V showcased the stars of the day, and all the newspapers, magazines, and photos were copies of the 1959 issues. Langer forbid mirrors from the house and instead gave each man a picture of himself in his mid-20's.

Subjective age versus Chronological age

Each man in the experiment was instructed to act as if it was 1959 and discuss the current events of that year in the present tense. None of the study conductors helped the men do anything nor did they make any attempt to recognize the men as old. At the beginning of the week, the seniors had answered questions that tested their mental and physical abilities. When the experiment came to a close, Langer and her team herded the men from their outdoor baseball game inside to take the exact same exam again. The results, as it is recalled from Langers accounts, were remarkable.

63% of the men scored higher in the intelligence category on their second test than their first. In addition, volunteers who knew nothing about the study were shown two photos of each men, a before photo taken prior to the start of the study, and an after photo taken after the study was complete, and asked to identify which man was older. The volunteers clearly identified the “before” photos as the older pictures and said that the “after” photos looked like they were taken when the men were (on average) two years younger.

*Not a photo from the study

Chronologically, the men got older during those 7 days they participated in the experiment, but subjectively, they aged about two years backward. By the end of the study it was reported that some men were walking upright when they had entered the house with severe hunches from years of muscle deterioration. After only 7 days in an (admittedly) heavily influential environment, many of the age related “problems” plaguing the men seemed to have either dissipated or disappeared all together.

Applications beyond anti-aging

Until 1954 it was a literal impossibility for a human to run 1 mile in under 4 minuets. But, once Roger Bannister completed a mile in 3 minuets 59 seconds, the 4 minuet mile was broken annually by a number of individuals. It turns out that it was not impossible, it was simply inconceivable. Once a person did it the mental barrier was removed for everyone and, since that moment, many many people have run a mile in under 4 minuets.

Studies and instances like these prove, at least to some degree, that our physical abilities are enhanced or hindered by our mental cognition. If we believe that something is possible and are determined to make it happen for ourselves, there is a good probability that it will manifest and happen.

If you’re having a hard time with the psychological aspect of this (as I always do, being one who questions everything) remember that the mind controls the body’s movements. If you want to move your finger, your mind tells your body to fire the right synapses in the right muscles to move your finger. This happens in our subconscious and as a result we don’t even comprehend the chain of events- we just know our finger moved when we wanted it to.

So, your brain literally controls your body. Given that fact, is it really that hard to believe that your mind could control your physical abilities? And if that is accepted, then the results of the counterclockwise study are impressive- but not shocking. The power to turn back the clock is yours to harness if you align your mental priorities and commit to change.

Endlessly curious about the human condition. Founder of Studio Upstart. Chief of Staff @ Untapped Ventures.

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