Look After Your Mind – Let’s Pretend

When we imagine something, the same parts of the brain are active as when we actually experience the event. That’s to say, brain cells make no distinction between fantasy and reality. Because the mind and the body are intimately connected, when we remember an unpleasant experience, the feelings we had at the time come back to us.

On the other hand, remembering pleasant experiences brings on the positive feelings associated with those incidents. This simple principle forms the basis of a powerful way of looking after our minds and improving wellbeing – look to the positive.

This idea has been around for a long time: nearly two thousand years ago the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius advised that “Our life is what our thoughts make of it”. While more recently Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ became a bestseller shortly after its publication in 1953.

Training the Neurology

Another aspect of the let’s-pretend idea is called ‘training the neurology’. Many athletes visualise performing at their peak again and again, rerunning the visualisation repeatedly. As they do this, nerve impulses run from the brain to the muscles and cause micro-movements in the muscle fibres that help to prepare the body for the subsequent game or match. Further, vivid visualisation can draw out positive emotions that help them to achieve strong and confident emotions.

The power of let’s-pretend can also be exploited in education. I first became aware of this one day during my teaching career. I’d set the class a writing task. After about ten minutes a boy came up to my desk and said he couldn’t do it. Off the top of my head I said, “Well pretend you can and tell me when you’ve done it.” Rather to my surprise he didn’t argue or ask for more help, but went away and completed the task.

The word pretend alters the child’s mind set, while ‘when’ is a presupposition of success. At some level of his thinking the boy registered my confident expectation that he would succeed. I’ve used the ploy many times since.

On another occasion, this time when I was on an author visit to another school, a pupil came up to me to say she couldn’t do the piece of writing I’d set. Before I could use my magic phrase she said “because I’m thick”. My reply was, ‘Well pretend you’re thin and show me the story when you’ve finished it’. Immediately her anxiety vanished. She laughed and, like the boy before, went away and successfully completed the piece of writing.

Finally, a number of online dictionaries I’ve looked at advise us that to pretend is a kind of make believe, something that’s not real. For me, the power of pretend as I’ve talked about it is more about ‘making beliefs’, which can stand us in good stead.

Steve Bowkett.