Ellen Langer

Tests and Smoke Detectors ·

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Listen to Counterclockwise

Most of us believe that medical tests are valuable and important. There’s a downside to this, however, that too often goes unnoticed. If we get bad “numbers”—for example, our cholesterol levels or blood pressure is too high—we can become stressed, which is not good for our health. But that’s not the worst of it. The major problem, as I see it, is on the other end—when we get positive health reports. Mistakenly, we may think there is no reason to be concerned about out health and we become oblivious to subtle cues that would otherwise reveal that it needs our attention.

In Counterclockwise, I compared this response to becoming oblivious to the first signs of smoke in our house because we feel safe now that we have smoke detectors. Medical tests and smoke detectors don’t detect everything for everybody. We ourselves need to be the guardians of our own health.