A lot of people are skeptical about self-deception. Who wants to pretend that something is true when it’s obviously false? While it may not appear hugely influential, the power of the mind is key to making positive changes in our lives.
This incredible insight from science
Janis Schonfield was in a predicament. She suffered from severe depression for 30 years.
His colleague said, “Ted, this is the stupidest idea you’ve come up with yet.”
And yet those patients still experienced a reduction equal to 50% of actual medication.
A placebo often works even when we know it’s a placebo.
Could this effect be leveraged to better ourselves in everyday life?
The placebo effect goes even further
In 1996, Baylor College of Medicine conducted a study on patients with severe osteoarthritis in their knees.
Many had trouble with general mobility, walking with a limp or cane.
They separated participants into three groups for surgery.
Group one had saline sprayed into the inflamed joint.
Group two had actual cartilage shaved off (debridement).
Group three got an incision near their knee that was immediately sewed back up.
This experiment had a surprising result: 67% of those who had actual surgeries reported less pain and less medication needed.
And 83% of those with the fake surgery showed equal improvements.
The placebo outperformed the actual medicine.
That’s not to suggest we should get fake treatments for disease. It simply illustrates the incredible power of the mind.
Because the patients believed they’d had the treatment, they experienced the actual result.
Look at any corporate office
How many skittish self-doubting VPs have you met? I certainly haven’t met many. They are typically obnoxiously confident.
They have an underlying belief in the outcome of their effort. And it pays.
Self-doubt causes us to pause. It directs our thoughts back to self-effacement that hinders growth and action.
Self-belief opens doors—literally. A security guard friend once told me, “If you’re going somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, just walk in like you own the place and you’ll usually be fine.”
I’d be lying if I said I’d never tried this tip. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work.
The very act of believing is what gives power.
It’s as Varys from Game of Thrones said, “Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
Those wacky religious healings prove the power of the mind
You may remember those sham-religious shows from the 80s and 90s. The shouting televangelists slapped believers to heal them of every imaginable affliction and insecurity under the sun.
Some old lady says, “I have arthritis in my arm.”
He slaps her on the shoulder. And suddenly, she’s throwing a baseball across the room like Nolan Ryan in his prime.
In some cases, those believers were actually healed. This is a placebo at work—where belief and deception converge to create real, measurable results.
A borderline-foolish belief in yourself also enables grit and an expectation that you can and will succeed.
It’s as famed psychologist William James said:
The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.
Self-belief in other venues
Comedian Jim Gaffigan reflected on his amateur years, saying that people would often question why he kept doing comedy shows. His shows were bombing. He wasn’t selling tickets.
Jim persisted on his journey, knowing in his heart that he was funny.
Today? He’s one of the most popular comedians in the world.
In dating polls, women consistently list confidence as one of the most attractive things in a man.
More than once, I’ve seen a beautiful woman dating a man who didn’t have a promising career and wasn’t particularly attractive. He wasn’t funny or charming. But he didn’t care.
He was calm and sure of himself and became magnetic as a result. He’d taken a placebo “I’m hot” pill.
Beware of nocebo
The placebo effect has an evil twin, nocebo.
If you’re told a medication has strong side effects, you’ll often experience them from the placebo pill.
During one clinical trial, a patient got in a fight with his girlfriend. He guzzled a bottle of pills in an attempt to commit suicide and immediately regretted the decision. His heart was racing as he was rushed to the ER—dizzy, weak, and sweating.
A doctor showed up only to tell him he had taken the placebo medications. They were sugar. The effects quickly subsided.
Don’t sell yourself out (and instead, use self-belief to your advantage)
Self-doubt impairs our natural abilities.
There’s a concept called identity foreclosure that plagues millions of people. It happens when you lock and seal your sense of self.
As early as grade school, people laminate the idea that they aren’t smart enough to go down a given path. So they sell out and resign themselves to one direction.
Get placebo drunk on radical self-belief. Lean into something you already kinda-sorta believe about yourself.
“I think I’m talented at ___.”
Embrace the placebo and say, “I know I’m talented.”
Self-deception isn’t about lying to yourself. It’s about constructing the world in a way that best helps you achieve your goals.
If you believe doing something will make you better at your job, it probably will. If you assume a new strategy is wack and won’t help—it probably won’t.
Cynicism poisons your character and lowers your chance of success.
Did you know that the more money an employee believes is stolen from a company, the more likely they are to steal? They ingest the false belief that everyone steals, so they should too.
What you believe in your heart is what you see with your eyes.
The takeaway to remember
The placebo effect isn’t fully understood.
Expectations and classical conditioning partially explain it. We are conditioned to think pills are associated with healing and relief, so the brain fills in that information.
Yet, given how far the placebo effect extends, I wonder if we’ll someday see commercials for the drug, Placeboquel XR.
Self-deception can be a blessing under the right conditions.
No, don’t convince yourself you can sing if the neighbors have already called the police because it sounded like a cat was being tortured in your shower.
Practice optimistic realism.
Self-belief is like a potion that elevates your performance. Swallow the pill.
It doesn’t matter if it’s real. The results will be.