The Placebo Effect: Improve Your Performance by Praciting Optimism

by @deanyeong | Sign up to weekly newsletter here

In 1972, a study of placebo effect on steroid use took place. Researchers told 15 trained athletes they could get their hands on some free, legal steroids. The 15 subjects were already relatively strong before the research was carried out – with squat and bench press maxes around 300 pounds, and overhead press maxes a little less than 200 pounds.

The researchers make a promise to give these steroids to whoever made the best strength progress gains across a  7-week training period. So the athletes trained for 7 weeks and achieved an average 10% growth on their strength.

Then, six of the participants were randomly selected to take part in the “steroids” trial. They were told they were being given steroids, when what they really had been given was just placebo pills. They trained for another 4 weeks, thinking they were on drugs.

In just that 4 weeks, they achieved an average 32% increase on the same lifts. 32% instead of 10%, in 4 weeks instead of 7 weeks, simply because they thought they were on steroids. This phenomenon is commonly called the placebo effect.

The placebo effect has sometimes been defined as a physiological effect caused by the placebo pills, but scientists have pointed out that this seems illogical, as a placebo is an inert substance that does not directly cause anything. Instead, they introduced the term “meaning response” for the meaning that the brain associates with the placebo, which causes a physiological placebo effect.

Put this into another word, if you think it works, it will work.

Optimism Breeds Possibilities

In the book Think & Grow Rich, the author Napoleon Hill suggested that belief and faith are the key elements to attaining any result and achievement. It is considered as a must-read book in business, personal finance, and self-development niche. While the title of the book may sound too good to be true, the ideas in it are gold. It covers many solid techniques from how to organize your plan to how to form a mastermind group with like-minded people.

But belief and faith are the two elements, far more important than every single technique in the book. If you don’t have the belief and faith in your works, none of your plans and actions will matter.

As Napoleon Hill mentioned, everyone who was successful in life begun with a burning desire and obsession to their goals. This is so true because there is never an easy path to attain any desired goal in life. Without the burning desire, we will simply give up too soon. Most of us started out with a burning desire, the desire to get better and to attain both long-term and short-term goals whether it is:

  • Losing the extra weight to achieve the perfect shape.
  • Shipping your best work to make an impact.
  • Completing your studies to gain a promising career.

At a certain moment especially during the early stage, this burning desire toward our goals filled every part of our life. We become obsessed with it, we sacrifice things to attain it, and we hustle non-stop to get a step closer to it. That is until some unpredictable life events come along and kill everything we had ever done, including our desire. And most of us will start to ask ourselves – is this really possible?

This is when faith plays its role. Without faith – the belief and hope for the desired outcome, there will not be any victory. In fact, faith doesn’t magically turn the bad circumstances around, turn everything to your favor without any price. However, faith offers the possibility, it offers the courage for another trial after the defeat. It makes you try again and again and again until you finally claim your victory.

The question is – how to maintain your faith? By practicing optimism. Being optimistic means to have the hope and confidence about a positive outcome and the successful future.

Consistent Actions Feed Your Faith

Every self-help book stresses the importance of positivity and optimism, but not every book provides solid techniques on how to practice them. While visualizing your goals daily may work in some cases, it’s not for everyone and it’s not the best method. Instead, I suggest the three steps below:

1) TAKE TINY ACTION

Rather than visualize your goals blindly every day, set goals, acknowledge them, and put them aside. Instead, get into action immediately. Identify the action you need to take regularly to achieve your goals and set up a system to carry them out.

  • Want to become a bestselling author? Write 1,000 words every day.
  • Want to lose weight? Watch your diet mindfully and never miss a workout session.
  • Want to become a professional landscape photographer? Schedule weekly photo shooting trips.

Besides, make it a habit of studying the skills you need regularly, from friends, colleagues, mentors, books or even autograph of people you think you can learn from. A great way to accelerate your learning is by picking the brain of those who had been through what you’re doing right now.

2) MEASURE REGULARLY

Constant measuring your performance will help you lock your sight on the process. As a human being, we were wired to flee away from uncertainty. Yet, the future is always uncertain, and most of us automatically perceive it as dangers and threat, and back off due to the fear of what might be in front of us.

Measuring your progress creates the illusion of us achieving the goals we desired. It cures the feeling of uncertainty and tamps the lizard brain that wants us to give up on almost everything. This simple tip makes the forward path clearer, at the same time, it feeds your faith on pursuing your goals.

To simplify this process, identify only one key metric.

  • If you want to lose weight, watch only your body fat percentage.
  • If you want to grow your user base, then forget about the revenue for now.
  • If you want to write high-quality blog posts, stop the words counting.

Set up one metric and focus solely on that. This will guide your behavior and action with clarity.

3) CELEBRATE SMALL WINS

The final technique to fuel your faith is by celebrating small wins. Celebrate regularly helps to place your focus on positivity – do this often to train your mind to focus on the abundance of possibility instead of the scarcity of opportunity.

You can now create small wins easily because you have broken the bigger tasks into smaller actions. These small wins will slowly become the rewards signaling your brain to do more what you’re doing now. It doesn’t only change your behavior, with the compounding effect of consistency, it will eventually tune your mind to focus on positivity.

The Nocebo Effect

Some people might be skeptical to hear about practicing optimism. My point here is not to force you into a particular state of mind. But the impact of being optimism are proven to be profound on one’s life outcome. The techniques I proposed here don’t just suggest you think positively, instead, building a lasting routine to make true progress.

According to medical observations and studies, positive expectations regarding a treatment can result in positive outcomes. On the other hand, negative expectations can result in negative outcomes as well and this effect is commonly known as the nocebo effect. Putting this into our context, pessimistic mentality damages life outcomes because it affects our performances negatively.

The first step of mastering your behavior and improving your performance starts from our state of mind. A simple act of staying optimistic is going to increase the chances of us succeeding beyond our interpretation.

FOOTNOTES

  1. A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. The placebo effect can be produced by inert tablets, by sham surgery, and by false information.
  2. “Anabolic Steroids: The Physiological Effects of Placebos” by G. Ariel and W. Saville. Medicine and Science in Sports (1972). page 124-126.

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  • EW B Santos

    So much wisdom here

    • Thanks! It’s my pleasure to share. Glad you found it useful