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*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed.
Recently, on my lunch break from work, an unexpected encounter happened—it made me cry.
I casually passed a petite woman carrying a small service dog. She quietly followed me.
“Excuse me—you were my doctor!” she said hesitantly.
She looked up at me with expectant eyes and I scanned my memory. I could not place her. I apologized that I did not recognize her.
Then she helped me remember. “It was Thanksgiving day, two years ago.” She had suffered a stroke. She was laying paralized on the neurology unit, dependent on the electric bed to lift her head.
“You told me about the basketball players…”
In that moment, it all came flooding back. She continued, “I couldn’t move my legs. I could barely move my left hand, and you told me that I would walk again.” I remembered saying that she “could” walk again.
But she had found the power to transform that “could” to “would.”
I pictured her clearly, trapped in the dark hospital room, the same service dog at her side. Things looked bleak for her that morning, so I shared with her a story—a research study actually.
The story was about a group of scientists in Greece who gathered two groups of highly skilled basketball players. The first group practiced free throws on the court for a week. This was standard, much like the drills high school coaches run players through.
The second group, however, never stepped foot on a court. Instead, they spent the same 30 minutes a day, motionless in a dark room. Those laying in the dark were asked to visualize shooting a free throw. As they fired up their imaginations, an audible recording played in the background. The narrator described an ideal description of what the player looked like making the shot.
What do you think happened at the end of that week?
Those who were in the dark room imagining themselves making the perfect free throw were welcome back onto the court at the end of the experiment. Allowed to play again, they increased the number of free throws made by nearly thirty percent. They blew away the other group.
Why did I share this story with this woman who loved to dance and didn’t really care about basketball? To teach her that part of our brain does not know the difference between physically doing something and imagining it.
I told her the story so she could focus on something hopeful. Something that might help her, instead of just lying there, worrying that her life was ending. I also shared this with her because it is true.
The visualization group outperformed the group who practiced because in the real world, we commonly make mistakes.
On the other hand, in the world of our imagination perfection is easy if we choose. The more any pathway in our brain is used, the stronger it gets. Remarkably, we can access physical pathways through our muscles and our imagination.
I had encouraged this woman to picture herself dancing and doing the things that she loved most.
That Thanksgiving weekend, I felt like the woman had not gained much from my story. Outwardly, she barely reacted to my advice. Today, I am humbled to learn that her reaction was profound and internalized. With time and consistency, she was able to express it externally.
She showed me that the story of the basketball players had planted a seed of recovery. She nurtured that vision and allowed it to not only grow, but blossom.
A year and a half later, she is not only dancing but also volunteering at the hospital with her therapy dog. They are now bringing hope and comfort to others.
We both stood in the lobby crying. Mine were tears of gratitude for her remarkable healing.
Words carry power, both positive and negative. I am grateful for the reminder that sometimes when I believe that no one is listening or cares what I have to say, it still matters.
I am also inspired to put more intention and attention on the things that I know can bring more health and joy into my life.
This week I will spend 30 minutes a day visualizing myself making the best choices for my body, choosing to consume the healthiest herbs, foods, and media. I’m curious what things in my life I will transform.
What can you imagine transforming in your life? Please share below the seed you will plant today and nurture into the future.