From Dream to Intention to Placebo to Reality

I was recently given a fitness bracelet as a gift; one of those which counts steps, monitors calorie use and heart rate.

This clever device is a perfect way to demonstrate the message of many of the articles on this blog; awareness, belief, expectations and the power of the placebo.

There are so many examples now from research to demonstrate without doubt the power of your state of mind on fitness. In return there is no doubt of the role played by physical fitness in your mental health.

For example Dr Guang Yue at the Kessler Foundation has demonstrated the ability of a person to improve muscle strength by visualisation. This is a scientific proof of something which has been known and demonstrated many times by athletes.

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”
Muhammad Ali

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction things begin to happen.”
Muhammad Ali

There is some amazing research, which can be seen in this TED video by  Dr Alia Crum.
She reports of a group of hotel house keepers who were divided into two groups, one group was told that their job was a great source of exercise while the other group was not given this information.

After one month those who had been made aware of the possible benefits of their job showed improvements in physical and mental health across the spectrum; from heart rate, weight, BMI, and blood pressure to job satisfaction. This was achieved without any noticeable change in their behaviour. It does not matter if the information made them work harder, that would just be an additional side effect of an improved mindset.

Awareness; Further research has shown that if you focus on the actual muscle being worked on during a training session rather than listening to music or watching TV as a distraction, the benefit of the exercise will be increased.

The benefits can be further enhanced by expectation. The stronger you believe in the outcome, the better that outcome will be. The observation which inspired Dr Benedetti for his  research into the placebo effect was from observations of patients receiving morphine after very invasive surgery. [Dr Benedetti is referred to in the link to Dr Crumb above.]

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When the morphine was administered by a doctor it had a far more potent effect than when it was administered without the awareness of the patient. Sometimes when the same dose was given by computer directly into the patient’s drip, it had no effect at all.

Research elsewhere has shown that the degree of compassion shown by the administering doctor also varies how effective a drug can be. The potency of placebos – which are inert copies of a drug used in trials – is similarly changes by the degree of compassion shown by the doctor prescribing the pill.

So what has this got to do with my new bracelet?

There is the very real benefit in that it makes me aware of just how active I am being on any day. The goal is 10,000 steps which is not too difficult. But now I am aware that I need to achieve this goal it encourages me to seek opportunities to increase the total.

This clever little band also tells me how many flights of stairs I have climbed. So now I climb a few more rather than using the lift.

If exercise has a placebo effect, there will also be many other benefits. It encapsulates my intention to improve my health. It raises my awareness of the need for and the value of exercise because it tells me also how many calories I have burnt during the day.

Now I am more aware of how much I eat. Belief, awareness and expectations are improving my health. If wearing the device is a statement of what is important to me and an expression of seriousness of that purpose, it will have a powerful effect in increasing the gain from the actual exercise which it is recording.

The device is there as a little prompt, a bit of fun. Its presence is not preoccupying. It is just like a pill, taken in a split second without any ceremony, which works – placebo or not – because I believed in it when I took it.

Can exercise be a placebo?

What if we could wear our most important intentions in the same way. You can.

Read a lot more about the placebo effect in The Mind Diet


Also published on Medium.