Continuing our brief exploration of the power of placebo-words (and expectations), I’d like to go back to Harvard and walk from Benson’s lab in the Medical School back to Langer’s Psychology of Possibility Lab for a couple more bits of wisdom.
Knowing that we’re all busy and ready to go rock the Day, let’s get right to the point.
In a section called “What’s in a word?” in her book Counterclockwise, Langer tells us: “With respect to cancer, however, being in ‘remission’ means that we are waiting for ‘it’ to return. If ‘it’ does return, the recurrence is seen as part of the same cancer. Psychologically, this may lead us to feel defeated. For each new cold we beat, we implicitly think, ‘I beat this before, so I can beat it again.’ If the cancer comes back, however, we think, ‘‘It’ is winning. I am just not as strong as ‘it’ is.’ Surely the cancer will in some ways bear a similarity to the last cancer, but in other ways, it is just as surely different. Our language leads us to see the similarities in recurring episodes of cancer, while with the common cold we see the dissimilarities. Of course, the stakes are so much higher with cancer that there is even more reason to consider our language choices.”
That’s a really powerful distinction, eh? (I had goosebumps typing that.)
When the stakes are as high as they are in dealing with cancer, the little +1 micro-Marginal Gains are even THAT much more important.
(Which is one of the reasons I think cancer “patients” should be called cancer “conquerors.” Check out this +1 on Patient vs. Conqueror for more on the etymology of THOSE words.)
Part of a longer discussion but… Langer also wonders: Why do we say that an individual who struggled with alcohol but hasn’t had a drink in ten years is “recovering” rather than “recovered”? And would we relate to alcoholism differently if it was described as an “allergy” rather than a “disease”?
One more time: Words matter.
How are yours?
Here’s one more fascinating study before we close the book on the subject and move on.
Langer tells us to imagine testing Asian women on math. The stereotype of Asians is that they are good at math. The stereotype of women is that they are not good at math.
Get this: If you prime Asian women to think about their gender as women, their math test scores will drop. If you prime them to think about their ethnicity as Asian, their scores will soar.
All of which begs the question: With what are you priming yourself throughout your day?!
Here’s to Optimizing.
+1. +1. +1.