Why we feel fear
When our lives are under threat our primordial instincts take over and we feel fear. In ancient times we needed fear on a regular basis: it triggered the release of cortisol and adrenaline from our adrenal glands; it gave us the strength to run from, or fight, the wild beasts that were intent on killing us. Today, in the external situations that involve action, we can usually channel fear. But, in the internal fight against illness, fear – which was, and in some situations remains, a key survival emotion – now works against us.
Why illness-related fear is so destructive
We are not designed to be inactive when our life is under threat. When we leave the fighting totally in the hands of others we tend to lose direction – in our actions and in our thoughts. The fear remains and, if our condition doesn’t respond quickly to treatment, becomes increasingly destructive. It keeps us awake at night, it erodes our self-esteem; unable to fight we feel our lives are out of our control; we feel victims.
How we can fight back
The placebo effect points the way to how we, as individuals, can fight illness with our minds. Research provides us with evidence of the benefits of believing in recovery. Belief boosts the immune system; it triggers all kinds of healing mechanisms and potentially activates the unknown resources of our ‘inner pharmacy’ and the production of killer cells to attack illness. Believing in recovery also cancels out fear, and reduces the risk of other destructive emotions that often accompany illness such as depression and despair.
A question of belief
However, the efficacy of the placebo effect is based on belief resulting from external deception as opposed to taking a deliberate decision to believe. Even if we did take that decision, how exactly would we believe? Whilst there are a multitude of self-help books out there telling us we should believe, most fall short on explaining how to believe. They leave it up to us, as if justifying why we should believe is enough; probably because belief is seen as a feeling, something that has to come naturally. The books which try to give an insight into how to believe are over-complex with key factors obscured by information that is of no interest to someone who is looking for a way to fight. When we are in pain and discomfort, things need to be simple. Besides, for those with an unfavourable prognosis, immersed in the destructive thoughts and emotions of life-threatening illness, the very idea they can somehow defy reality and attain total belief in recovery will seem fanciful.
Extreme Mental Combat was developed under precisely those conditions, and shows us a straightforward route to attain total belief in a desired future, irrespective of how unrealistic that future may appear.
How we attain belief - stage one - redirecting the mind
The strategy works by redirecting the mind. With illness, as opposed to trying to imagine a future when we are well, the start point is to identify an image that encapsulates the achievement of a great goal in the future – a goal for which attainment of recovery is necessary. The focus then is on the goal, recovery becoming a by-product of attaining that goal. The identified image is opened out into a short film of imagery and sounds to be visualized as often as possible. This is the first stage to redirecting the mind and is an art frequently used by magicians, commonly known as misdirection: what the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.
The key to believing - the visual cortex
By examining and rating her patients’ visualizations, psychologist Jeanne Achterberg* predicted, with 93 per cent accuracy, who would recover and who would get worse or die. The recovery group were those who had a greater ability to visualize vividly, convincingly and regularly. The misdirection, correctly referred to by a number of magicians as redirection, occurs because the brain’s visual cortex (the area responsible for processing images) cannot tell the difference between what is vividly imagined and reality.
Stage two - rediscovering our inner child - the art of pretence
The second stage is via the stratagem of pretence, which requires us to act and think ‘as if’ we are going to attain our goal. It is based on the premise that if we pretend a reality for long enough then we naturally start to believe it. The two stages take considerable mental effort, but by persevering with them our self-worth and self-belief are heightened. The feeling of retaking control adds to this. The increased self-belief, relentless visualizing and pretence all work together to redirect the mind into accepting the reality of our desired future. The mind is viewed as a computer, one which will eventually have to respond to data constantly fed into it.
A crucial aspect to the strategy is that the visualizing and pretence continue beyond the point where we would ordinarily stop. The ability to persevere comes down to the use of extreme tactics normally employed in wartime; specifically, when a policy of total war is adopted – one where every available resource is utilized. Coercion and the most powerful emotions, such as love and shame, are employed to create drive.
Our fight - our future - our choice
It is clearly not for everyone. It is a personal decision to decide whether we are going to leave the fight completely in the hands of the doctors, or if we are going to join in the fight. There will be some who, particularly if their prognoses are favourable, will be happy to leave everything to others. But if we do choose to fight with our minds, learning the basics of the most extreme strategy could be a starting point to adapting and creating our own strategies.
*Achterberg, J and Lawlis, G F (1980) Bridges of the Bodymind: Behavioural Approaches for Health Care, Champaign, III: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing
Anton FitzSimons is a former soldier and award-winning business graduate. To combat the fear and loss of control he experienced with illness, he developed a strategy to exploit the placebo effect. Extreme Mental Combat is characterized by its simplicity and use of ruthless tactics to attain, and maintain, total belief in a desired future.
Extreme Mental Combat (2015) is available on Amazon now