Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

14 September 2009

It’s All In the Mind

When you’re four down with five to go in a best-of-nine competition it makes no difference to the final result because, all things being equal you could win the next four and find yourself at evens for the last race. So why are you at such a disadvantage?

Similarly, but conversely, why is playing at home an advantage to the local team? The wind blows for you in the first half and against you in the second. If the field slopes it slopes for both teams equally. And in international games the authority is always careful to find neutral referees, umpires and line judges.
Well, the commentators and analysts will tell you that if you’re the apparent underdog you have a big psychological hurdle to overcome. As Neddy Seagoon used to say in ‘The Goon Show’: ‘It’s all the mind, Jim. It’s all in the mind…’

My granny and all good mums have always been only too well aware of how the mind affects performance in life and they’d readily understand the common cliché ‘the feel-good factor’. It is what good grooming is all about. I mean, does it really make a logical difference if you have a hair-do? Or manicure? Or put on some lippy, blusher, blacken your eyelashes or sport subtle greeny-bluey eyelids?

Once a year granny used to take herself off to the seaside. On the bleak Victorian promenade of Brighton in Sussex she would breathe deeply, face bravely into the salt laden gale that scoured her roseate cheeks, work up an appetite and then repair to some side street café to lunch on a slice of pork pie washed down with Mackeson’s Stout and declare that ‘a change was as good as a rest’, and ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’.

Her descendent female line, had she had one, would, these days, have sought the feel good factor in a range of sophisticated cosmetics whose advertising promised beauty and hope; creams to restore youth and remove wrinkles, vitamin supplements especially formulated for women, and sun lotions whose magical properties would give them anything between an instantaneous Mediterranean tan or an unaltered pink under the glare of the midday sun.

All the logic and science in the world would not convince granny’s descendents that little in those nostrums would halt the march of age or wrinkles. They only knew that they made them feel good.
Doctors call it the placebo effect; most healing and good health comes about because of what’s in the mind. Perhaps we should bear in mind that part of the Hippocratic Oath goes: ‘Primum Non Nocere’ - ‘above all, do no harm’. If the cream, lotion or pill that hints at a therapeutic effect isn’t harmful, leave it alone. If it makes somebody feel good that’s all that matters.


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By Don Donovan