We all know that the placebo effect can help sugar pills combat illness: Believing we're taking medicine, we expect it to work—and it does. But in his new book, Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations
, science journalist Chris Berdik explains that expectations do much more, affecting everything from our physical endurance to our overall happiness. When left unchecked, assumptions can wreak havoc (causing superstar athletes to choke when the stakes are high, for instance, or turning negative stereotypes into self-fulfilling prophecies). Yet they can also be a source of positive change. Read on for some of Berdik's most fascinating findings—and expect to be surprised.
The No-Workout Workout
Merely thinking of your daily routine as a workout can help you get fit. In a study coauthored by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, hotel maids who were told that their work—including changing linens and vacuuming—was actually exercise significantly improved their fitness without changing their routines. In four weeks, they lost more weight and body fat, lowered their blood pressure, reduced their waist-to-hip ratio, and improved their body mass index compared with the control group, who weren't prepped to think of their activities as exercise.