WEEK ONE: Catch a Wave

Catch a Wave: Change Your Mind About Stress


Aikido is a martial art based on the principle of transforming energy.

Columbia psychologist Alia Crum talks about an aikido exercise where one person puts their arm out at shoulder height.
Another person tries to push it down.
Usually, the arm gives out.

Then, the first person is instructed to imagine she is reaching her arm out toward someone or something she cares about and to imagine she is funneling the other person’s energy into what she was reaching toward.

This time the arm is much stronger and the other person could not push her arm down.

The more the other person pushed, the stronger she felt.

The lesson?  How you think about something can transform its effect on you.

Physical reality is more subjective than we believe. 

Research now shows that by changing how we think about an experience we can change what is happening in our bodies.

(Wow, does faith matter. I climb the mountain of knowledge to find the Scriptures sitting there waiting for me.)

Perception matters.

We begin this study by learning this important truth about surfing stress:


One study found that housekeeping burns around 300 calories an hour.
Crum told one group of housekeepers they were getting significant exercise, in fact, more than enough than the daily recommended for good health.
She told another group of housekeepers that exercise is important, but they were NOT told that their work qualified as exercise.

Four weeks later those who had been told their work qualified as exercise had lost weight and body fat.
Their blood pressure was lower.
They even liked their jobs more.
They had not made any changes to their behavior outside of work.
The only thing that changed was their perception of themselves as exercisers.

In contrast, the housekeepers in the control group showed no improvements.

This does not mean that if you tell yourself that watching TV burns calories and you can lose weight binging on Game of Thrones.

What Crum told the housekeepers was true.

The women really were exercising.

But it did not have a physical effect until they were told that it was actually qualifying as exercise.

If they were not told that, they were more likely to view housekeeping as being detrimental to their bodies.


Alia Crum did a “Shake Tasting Study” where she invited hungry participants to come to her lab at eight in the morning after an overnight fast.
On their first visit participants were given a milkshake labeled “Indulgence: Decadence You Deserve”, with a nutritional label showing 620 calories and 30 grams of fat.
On their second visit, one week later, they drank a milkshake labeled “Sensi-Shake: Guilt-Free Satisfaction”, with 140 calories and 0 grams of fat.

As they drank the shakes the participants were hooked up to an intravenous catheter that drew blood samples.
Crum was measuring changes in blood levels of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone.
When blood levels of ghrelin go down, you feel full; when blood levels go up, you start looking for a snack.
When you eat something high in calories or fat, ghrelin levels drop dramatically.
Less-filling foods have less impact.

You would expect a decadent milkshake and a healthful one to have a very different effect on ghrelin levels- and they did.

Drinking the Sensi-Shake led to a small decline in ghrelin while consuming the Indulgence shake produced a much bigger drop.

But get this: The milkshake labels were a sham.
Both times, participants had been given the same 380-calories milkshake.

There should have been no difference in how the participants’ digestive tracts responded.

And yet, when they believed that the shake was an indulgent treat, their ghrelin levels dropped three times as much as when they thought it was a diet drink.


Crum’s study showed that expectations could alter something as concrete as how much of a hormone the cells of your gastrointestinal tract secretes.

In both studies, when people’s perceptions changed, their physical responses changed.

Their bodies changed. 


In each study, one particular belief seemed to enhance the body’s most adaptive response:

Viewing physical labor as exercise helped the body experience the benefits of being active.

Viewing a milkshake as a high-calorie indulgence helped the body produce signals of fullness.

Alia Crum began to wonder if this applied to how people viewed stress.

She realized that most people view stress as harmful, even though it can actually be beneficial.

She wondered if a person changed the way they view stress would the person’s body respond?

Dr. Kelly McGonigal’s studies have shown that viewing stress as enhancing makes it so.

And not in a subjective, self-biased way, but in the ratio of stress hormones produced by the participants’ adrenal glands.

Viewing stress as helpful creates a different biological reality.

How often do you say, “This is so stressful!” or “I’m so stressed!”?

When you do, remember that how you think about stress can alter your biochemistry and ultimately how you respond to whatever triggered the stress.

McGonigal writes, “Seeing the good in stress does not require giving up the reality that in some cases stress is harmful. The shift of mindset that matters is the one that allows you to hold a more balanced view of stress, to fear it less, to trust yourself to handle it, and use it as a resource for engaging with life.”

This is where faith is our surfboard. 

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. — James 1:12

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. — James 1:17-18

There are a few discoveries in those simple statements:

  • Reality: There are going to be stressful trials. Waves will hit your shore.
  • Rethink: Living the “blessed” life is possible regardless of your stress.
  • Reward: The blessed life, the “crown of life” comes after the trial. 
  • Redemption: In our deep stress God is working to give “perfect gifts”.
  • Renewal: Through stress and in the gift God re-births us into a new creation.



This Week’s Five S Focus: Solitude

This week focus on getting still. Quiet your life. 

Start with ten minutes and then see where God’s Spirit takes you from there.

Allow yourself to fully feel what you are going through and write down your personal perspective on stress, and how you think about it. 

Do you see stress as a negative to be avoided at all costs?

Or can you see stress as a reality you use to engage with life, a reality you surf in order to grow and live fully?

Write down your thoughts and emotions if you need to. I find that helpful. 

Catch your wave.

Embrace the stressful waves of your emotion and surrender them all to Christ. 

As you surf your stress meditate on the truths of James 1:12,17-18. 

Read that section over and over and over. Think of the 5 R’s I listed.

Keep catching that wave and ride it with the Redemptive One who is in charge of the waves.

Live fully. 

“Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him?” — Mark 4:41


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