The Harvard Hotel Maid Study: How Mindset Determines Results

In 2007, a Harvard psychologist conducted a study including 88 hotel maids. She told 44 of the maids that their daily jobs involved serious exercise, and educated them on how their daily tasks contributed to their physical fitness. She told the other 44 maids nothing. After one month, she found that the maids who had been told they exceeded the surgeon general’s guidelines for fitness had lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and developed a healthier body composition—despite no changes to their diet or daily routine. The control group, however, saw none of these benefits.

The takeaway? The relationship between exercise and subsequent health is largely determined by mindset: when you expect to see results, chances are you will. Read on to learn how you can apply this to see benefits in your own life.

How to make your mindset work for you:

Note: We’ve written these directions to boost physical fitness, but you can use this same method to get better sleep, tackle work projects, or just about anything.

  1. Before you next head to the gym, walk to the park, or catch up on household chores, study up on how that activity might affect your body. Check a fitness app to see how many calories you might burn, which muscle groups you might target, and (if you won’t be doing a literal workout) how the activity might compare to deliberate exercise. This info will help you complete Step 2.
  2. Before you get started, take a few moments visualize yourself going through the motions of your routine. For instance, if you’ll be cleaning: imagine how your muscles will feel when you work the vacuum, how your heart rate might increase as you carry laundry up the stairs, and how your body might feel afterwards (Sore? Energized? Relaxed?).
  3. Get started! Be sure to make a mental link between each task and the benefits you’ll see. For instance, if you’re walking the dog up a hill, imagine your quads and glutes engaging with each step.

That’s it! Commit to this exercise 5-7 times per week for one month, and then check in with your results—that’s how long the participants in the Harvard study took to see significant measurable results.