Those of you who know me know that I am partial to science experiments. I dedicated 30 days to finding joy, and then wrote a book about it. I did a weeklong "no complaining" challenge and invited thousands of people to join me. I test out self-help theories, practices, and advice in the laboratory of my own life and keep track of what works (and what doesn't).
So I was excited when I read about my friend and fellow writer Jenn Perrell's apple experiment. This was one I can do with my kids, I thought! No microscope required.
Jenn based her experiment on the hypothesis in Masaru Emoto's book, The Hidden Messages in Water. Through extensive testing of water samples, Emoto found that the molecular structure changed depending on the energy around the water or words spoken to it.
In Jenn's experiment, she found the same was true with apples. The apples she spoke sweetly to held up much better over 28 days than the apples she berated.
Of course this all raises the question: If this is what happens to an apple, what is happening to us?
As much as I try to be kind with my thoughts and words, toward myself and everyone around me—the truth is I can be downright mean sometimes, mostly to myself. And I wanted to know how that might be affecting me molecularly.
My daughters and I carefully cut four pieces of apple and placed them on a plate. We thought about the words that we say to ourselves in our kindest moments, and that's how we chose "Beautiful" and "Awesome." We also thought about what we say to ourselves when our inner critic is running the show, and that's where "Ugly" and "Stupid" came from.
Twice a day for 10 days, we picked up each apple section, walked it across the room so its apple neighbors couldn't hear, and spoke to it according to its label. It sounded something like this:
"You are a stupid apple. You never have any good ideas and you do everything wrong. You are the dumbest apple I've ever seen."
"You are an awesome apple. You're fun, cool, smart, and you have great ideas. I love spending time with you because you are so awesome."
"You are an ugly apple. You're disgusting, gross, and I can't stand to look at you. Your skin is ugly, you're fat, and repulsive. You make me sick."
"You are a beautiful apple. You're the prettiest apple I've ever seen. You are beautiful both inside and out because you are kind and loving. I love you, beautiful apple."
We felt incredibly guilty for saying such mean things to "Ugly" and "Stupid " and expected to see those apples waste away before our very eyes from the power of our cruel words.
But what we saw surprised us. While "Stupid" began to degrade and "Beautiful" held her form as we predicted, "Awesome" seemed to be doing worst of all, and "Ugly" wasn't much worse off than "Beautiful."
Were we doing something wrong? Or perhaps the whole premise of the experiment was bogus…
I contacted Jenn and sent her pictures. "I don't think it's working," I told her. But then Jenn saw what was right in front of our eyes that we had failed to see.
"Have you had the apples next to each other on that plate the whole time?" she asked. In her experiment, she'd separated the apples in individual glass jars.
"Yes, but we carried each apple to a separate corner of the room to talk to it, so the other apples wouldn't hear," I responded, feeling only slightly ridiculous for having a serious discussion about the feelings and hearing capabilities of apples.
And then it hit me. I looked at poor "Awesome" on the plate, in between "Stupid" and "Ugly," and thought about how hard it must have been for her to feel awesome when she was surrounded by such bad vibes.
And "Ugly," although we'd done our best to put her down, was cradled between "Awesome" and "Beautiful," and buoyed by their confidence, wasn't letting our cruel words sink in.
Of course, further experimentation is called for. Next I will replicate Jenn's experiment more carefully, keeping the apples separated so I can have better scientific control over the laboratory conditions.
But I believe the experimental oversight my daughters and I made may have just demonstrated something far more insightful than merely the power of words, spoken to ourselves or others. These results speak to the influence we have on those around us.
We all have a mechanism in our brains known as mirror neurons, a type of specialized brain cell that transmits impulses related to imitation. Mirror neurons are most active in children and are how we observe, absorb, and copy the behaviors and feelings of those around us. Perhaps it's the same with apples.
So, what kind of apple are you today? Are you feeling Stupid, Awesome, Ugly, or Beautiful? And how about the apples around you, how are they affecting you? I encourage you to pay attention, because ultimately, the laboratory of your life is one grand experiment, and you're the one controlling the conditions.