#337 Cancer-Fighting Mindset

Pulling Levers in Our Lives

In our last +1, we talked about a super powerful way to keep your telomeres nice and long. Specifically: By seeing the stressors in your life as Challenges rather than as Threats. Our key practice? Saying “Bring it on!” in response to those stressful situations.

That reminds me of one of the most powerful ideas from David Servan-Schrieber’s Anticancer — a book I picked up after we found out my brother has cancer (and that we talk about in depth in our class Conquering Cancer 101).

David tells the story of a group of rats in Martin Seligman’s lab. Recall that Seligman is basically the Godfather of the Positive Psychology movement. We’ve featured three of his books: Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, and Flourish.

Back in the day, Seligman demonstrated how easily we can learn helplessness and how bad that is for our well-being. He also showed us just how powerful it is to learn optimism.

But this study just blows me away. Here’s the quick take.

Apparently scientists have developed a tumor they can inject into rats such that 50% of the rats will be able to reject the tumor while 50% won’t be able to reject it and will, therefore, die.

So, here’s the study: Take a bunch of rats. Give them all that tumor. Then split them up into three groups.

Group 1 is our Control group. They get the tumor then go on living their lives normally.

Group 2 is the Learned Helplessness group. That group of rats gets the tumor and then they are given random shocks they can’t avoid. As expected from a ton of other studies, these rats “learn helplessness” — basically giving up.

Group 3 is what we’ll call the Empowered group. These rats are given the same exact number of shocks they can’t control but then they’re given some additional shocks they can avoid by learning how to pull a lever to escape the shock.

Now, the question of the study: What happens with the tumors?

As expected, 54% of the Control group rejected their tumor. But, only 23% of the Learned Helplessness group rejected their tumor. In other words, more than twice as many of the helpless rats died than the control group. That’s crazy.

But here’s the really crazy part.

That third group that (eventually) learned how to avoid the shocks? 63% (!!!) of those guys rejected their tumor!!! Almost three times more lived than the helpless group.

Remember: They got the exact same number of shocks as the helpless group. But… They also learned how to avoid them.

Moral of the study? We need to REFUSE to allow ourselves to become helpless. We need to KNOW we can influence our lives and learn how to pull some levers.

What levers? Well, again, that’s what ALL of these +1s are about — tiny little incremental Optimizing levers that, when aggregated and compounded, make a HUGE difference.

But it all starts with our Empowered mindset.

Today’s +1: How’s your mindset?

And: What’s one lever you can pull to avoid some of those shocks?

In other words, what’s the #1 thing you KNOW you could be doing to Optimize your life?

And, of course, what’s the #1 thing you KNOW you need to STOP doing? Life gives us enough shocks. Let’s quit shocking ourselves, eh?!

High fives and have fun pulling those levers.

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