Mind Over Matter: 5 Ways to Use the Power of Your Mind To Achieve Your Goals

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “mind over matter?” Perhaps you picture the ancient spiritual practice of walking over hot coals. Originally used as a rite of passage or test of faith, “firewalking” has more recently been popularized as a way to overcome personal fears and limitations. The idea is that by changing your mindset, you can effectively tolerate physical and psychological discomfort.

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Written by Lindsay Schwartz — Fact-checked by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam

While few people are eager to walk across hot coals, the power of the mind is well-documented. Research shows that mindset plays a significant role in reaching goals, surmounting obstacles, and even fighting illness. Just ask Claire Nuer, leadership coach, and pioneer in the field of personal mastery.

When Claire’s doctors found a 12-millimeter melanoma in her right eye, she was given 3 months to live. Instead of following recommendations for surgery, Claire tried altering her mindset. Every day, Claire visualized the cancer being contained within the walls of a blanket. Claire believed that by doing this, she could prevent the cancer from spreading to the rest of her body. She was right.

Years later, when Claire had her eye removed, her doctors found the melanoma completely encased by a ball of nerve, mimicking what Claire had visualized.

Did Claire cure cancer with the power of her mind? Although visualization is not scientifically proven and should not take the place of traditional medical care, Claire’s experience is intriguing. Was her recovery a happy coincidence, or was it an example of mind over matter?

What Does Mind Over Matter Mean?

Mind over matter can be defined as using willpower (the mind) to overcome physical problems or limitations (matter). Martial artists use mind over matter when they use their bare hands to slice through solid wood.

More generally, mind over matter refers to our ability to overcome challenges using positive thinking and other self-regulation skills. While an outcome like Claire Nuer’s is rare, research shows that cancer patients with a more positive outlook have lower rehospitalization rates.

Is Mind Over Matter a Real Thing?

It depends on who you ask. While most psychologists agree the mind can be a powerful tool, they often balk at the idea of mind over matter. For people with chronic health issues, the idea can feel invalidating and dismissive. After all, if it were as simple as imagining yourself well, there would be no mental or physical illness at all!

Less controversial is the idea that how we think about things changes our experience. When defined this way, the examples of mind over matter are numerous and compelling.

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Mind Over Matter Examples

You’ve likely read stories about Good Samaritans who perform heroic feats in extraordinary situations, like lifting a 2-ton truck off of an injured child. But there are plenty of examples of mind over matter in everyday life. Perhaps you’ve even had your own experience of using a change in mindset to achieve something that previously seemed impossible.

Meditation

  • The mind plays an integral role in our perception of pain. Studies show that people who regularly meditate report less physical pain. Meditation has also been shown to be an effective treatment for high blood pressure, anxiety, and overall stress.

The Placebo Effect

  • The placebo effect occurs when a person’s belief about the efficacy of a treatment causes them to feel better. When pharmaceutical companies conduct clinical trials of medications, they include a placebo group. Participants in this group receive inactive sugar pills instead of medication. Time and time again, researchers have found that a significant percentage of the placebo participants’ symptoms improve, even though they received no active ingredients. Because the participants believed they would get better with treatment, they did!

Athletic performance

  • Athletes use visualization techniques to improve their performance. By imagining themselves successfully completing a task, such as the perfect golf swing, they actually improve muscle memory and increase the likelihood of success in the game. This power of suggestion applies to non-athletes, as well. In a recent study at Stanford University, researchers found that participants who were told they carried a gene variant for high stamina performed better on fitness tests.

Cold exposure

  • Some people are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures by using their minds to regulate body temperature. Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman,” has set multiple world records for cold exposure. Hof attributes this unique ability to his rigorous mental training. Similarly, in a 2013 study, neuroscientist Maria Kozhevnikov observed that Tibetan monks were able to tolerate extreme cold and even raise their body temperatures through focused meditation.

Trauma

  • Psychological trauma has both immediate and long-term effects on the body. It can change the structure and function of the brain, particularly in the areas responsible for memory and emotion regulation. In addition, trauma survivors are about 3 times more likely to suffer physical ailments like chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue.

The above examples are due to the connection between the mind and body. Our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can positively or negatively impact our physical functioning. While many ancient medical practices include mind-body treatments (for example, acupuncture), Western medicine has traditionally treated the mind and body as two separate entities. Thankfully, this perspective is starting to change, partly due to the volumes of scientific research that now supports the mind-body connection.

The placebo effect is a well-known example of mind over matter

Strategies for Using Mind Over Matter Psychology to Achieve Your Goals

Ready to put mind over matter to work for you? Here are 5 simple exercises that can help set you on the path of self-improvement. Remember that change takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself. With dedication and persistence, you can learn to harness the power of your mind to achieve greater success and well-being.

1. Positive Self-Talk

  • The words you use to describe yourself and your situation have a powerful impact on your mind and body. Researchers have found that people who use more positive emotional language not only report higher levels of subjective happiness but are also more successful across all areas of life. A positive outlook is associated with a decrease in the risk of heart attack and an increase in positive health outcomes. There is even evidence that your immune system responds to your thought patterns, with negative thoughts leading to a reduction in the number of T-cells available to fight infection! Unfortunately, most of us are wired to prioritize the negative over the positive. For positive self-talk tips, see our January blog post here.

2. Visualization

  • Visualizing a positive outcome and actually achieving that outcome activate similar regions of the brain. This is why mental rehearsals are so effective, whether in the realm of sports, performing arts, or public speaking. Mental rehearsals involve imagining yourself performing a specific action or reaching a particular goal. In doing so, you are essentially laying the neuronal pathways that lead to success. Both visualization and mental rehearsals are powerful tools for reducing anxiety and increasing confidence.

3. Mind/Body Practices

  • Practices like yoga and meditation focus on strengthening the mind-body connection. In yoga, you use breathwork to tolerate the discomfort of holding poses for prolonged periods of time. This strategy can then be applied to challenging situations outside the yoga studio. Likewise, meditation uses breathwork and awareness to empower you to react more consciously and effectively to stress.

4. Goal Setting

5. Challenge yourself

  • Pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits helps to develop resilience. By facing challenges instead of avoiding them, you can build confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles.
Yoga is a practice that focuses on the mind-body connection.

Conclusion

Author and scientist David Adam writes, “Our thoughts are our weapon against the world.” Like other weapons, the power of the mind can be used for good or evil. A positive mindset has a number of benefits for both physical and mental health. Research suggests that by training your brain with meditation, visualization, and other strategies, you can increase your ability to cope with adversity and improve your overall well-being. While mind over matter has its limitations, the mind-body connection is well-documented and powerful. As Carl Jung said, “Mind and matter are two aspects of the same thing.”

What does a mind over matter mean?

The term “mind over matter” means that a person’s willpower and mental strength can overcome physical limitations and challenges. It suggests that the power of the mind is stronger than the body, and that a person can achieve great things by focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes and overcome obstacles. It is often used in the context of mental health and self-care, as a reminder that taking care of one’s mental wellbeing is just as important as taking care of one’s physical health.

Why do people say mind over matter?

The term “mind over matter” is often used as a motivational statement to encourage people to use their mental strength and willpower to overcome physical challenges and limitations. This can be especially helpful for people facing physical or mental health challenges, as it can remind them that they have the power to take control of their situation and work towards recovery. Overall, the phrase emphasizes the importance of mental strength and resilience in overcoming life’s challenges.

What philosophy is mind over matter?

The philosophy behind the “mind over matter” is rooted in the idea that the human mind has incredible power and can shape physical reality. This idea has been explored in various philosophical and spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, Stoicism and Transcendentalism.

An important aspect of this philosophy is the connection between mind and body. In some traditions, it is believed that body and mind are fundamentally interconnected, and that our thoughts and mental states can have a direct impact on our physical health and well-being.

Another key aspect of the philosophy of mind over matter is the emphasis on human agency and the ability of the individual to shape their own reality. This idea suggests that we have the power to influence our circumstances and overcome challenges through our thoughts, attitudes and actions.

Overall, the philosophy behind mind over matter encourages people to tap into their inner strength and use their mental power to achieve their goals and overcome obstacles.

Is Mind Over Matter a real thing?

The concept of “mind over matter” is real in the sense that the power of mind can influence our physical and mental states. Studies have shown that certain mental practices, such as mindfulness meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and visualization techniques, can have a positive impact on physical health and well-being.

For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, lower stress levels and improve overall well-being. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been effective in treating various mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Visualization techniques have been shown to help athletes improve their performance and recover more quickly from injuries.

However, it is important to note that the concept of “mind over matter” is not a cure-all, but a replacement for medical treatment or therapy. Although it is true that mind and body are interconnected, it is also true that certain physical conditions require medical intervention and cannot be treated exclusively with mental practices. So, while mind over matter can be a useful tool in promoting mental and physical health, it should not be seen as a substitute for traditional medical care.

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