The Science Behind Prince

I joke about being “the purple guinea pig” but like a lot of jokes, it’s got more than a nugget of truth at its core. Living like Prince for a year often has me feeling like a mad scientist in a lab with purple concoctions bubbling in test tubes — and as I imbibe the content of each month’s allocated test tube, there’s a moment of breath-holding, then the month takes off and I’m zooming ahead in some crazy transformation of my own making.

Each month’s purple test tube liquid has different results. I might wind up looking like a mock Sheena Easton (during May’s month of adopting an alter ego) or a Medusa-like creature with snakes coming out of my head (okay, maybe not literally, but I certainly felt like a crazed, Medusa-like creature more than once during January’s month of fasting). The common denominator in each of the seven months has been the way that each of Prince’s habits and decisions I’ve replicated has turned out to have scientific research supporting them — and this month’s theme of play is no exception.

There’s science behind Prince. Yes, even the fasting! Just this week, golfer Phil Mickelson made headlines when he fasted for six days before the British Open.

“Extensive research shows that fasting lets your body heal itself,” Mickelson told USA Today. He explained that he felt pretty lousy for the first day or so, but by day five, he wasn’t craving food and had mental clarity and energy.

Prince spoke about fasting to Rolling Stone in 2014, saying, “After four days, you don’t want food anymore. … It’s like this thing that says, ‘Feed me, feed me.’ When it realizes it’s not going to get fed, it goes away. ”

February’s month of dressing up the way that Prince dressed up for everything he did led me to learn about enclothed cognition, or the systematic influence that clothing has on a wearer’s psychological processes. March’s month of exploring color helped me unpack the phenomenon known as synesthesia, a condition some believe Prince had, in which someone sees color when hearing sound. When I changed my name to a symbol in April, I began to research how much your name matters to the outcome of your life, and the effects of name-signalling — in other words, what names say about ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and socioeconomic background — and whether in the future, we might all adopt symbols rather than names.

In May, I adopted an alter ego (I named her”Aurora,” and found out later that my alter ego’s name had cracked the top five most popular girls’ names in 2019, so I was right on trend). Prince famously adopted multiple alter egos in the form of Camille and Alexander Nevermind and Christopher Tracy, and expressed other aspects of his personality via side acts like The Time, The Family and Vanity 6. I was surprised to learn that athletes, corporate executives and global pop stars from Lady Gaga to Beyonce have all used the science behind alter egos to activate their heroic selves and step into high-level performance. Side note: Lady Gaga talked about her alter ego — she calls it a superhero — in this recent Instagram post.

On to June, when the month of saying “no” to things I didn’t want to do helped me learn how uttering one little word can be an act of self-preservation. Turns out, even the New York Times has written about Why You Should Say No More Often, so I learned to set aside my people-pleasing tendencies. “No” can keep us focused on our goals and we know Prince was goal-oriented.

Which brings me to July and the serious topic of play, which offers benefits from improving focus to relieving stress and even helping avoid depression. I can attest that playing works, partly because it keeps you on the move. No time to sit home and ruminate when there’s playing to be done! I’ve paddle boarded and joy ridden and hosted new neighbors for a small party and explored the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and visited Chicago three times and New York once! Whew. Imaginative play — like travel — increases the ability to envision other perspectives, and we all could use a bit more of envisioning other perspectives in today’s world.

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