In the year 1982, two future hall of fame NBA players faced off for an NCAA National Championship. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels featured a freshman named Michael Jordan. The Georgetown Hoyas featured a freshman named Patrick Ewing.
Both teams were complete powerhouses who had sailed through the tournament up to that point. They made for an all time great basketball game, and in this game the legend of Michael Jordan was born.
With 17 seconds to go, Jordan hit a jumper from the left wing that put the Tar Heels up for good. They won the National Championship and Jordan went on to become arguably the greatest NBA player in history.
Without that game, Michael Jordan may not be the Michael Jordan we know of today.
Without that game, we might also be robbed of one of the greatest superstitions in all of sports history.
His secret? Jordan played every single NBA game with his North Carolina practice shorts on underneath his NBA uniform. In fact, part of the reason NBA shorts were lengthened was because of Jordan and this obsession.
Is this why Jordan became one of the greatest players in NBA history? Did the shorts actually push him to that level, or was it all a placebo effect? And can we exploit this same effect for our own personal gain?
The post hoc fallacy.
There is a Latin phrase that goes, “post hoc ergo propter hoc”. It means “after this therefore because of this.” In today’s world, where we don’t put up with long Latin phrases like that, this is known as the post hoc fallacy.
This is the connection we make when one event follows another. This line of thought is vital to our ability to think and make sense of the world. It’s the most basic form of learning, and we start experiencing it from the very beginning of our time on this Earth.
A great example is the use of buttons. Starting in our youth, we become conditioned to push a button and then expect something to happen. It could be an elevator button, button on a candy machine, or the button icon on our touch screen phones.
Even if the buttons don’t work, like over 2,500 crosswalk buttons in New York City don’t work.
This is the very reason why we fall victim to so many claims that turn out to be snake oil, hoaxes, and straight up lies.
Homeopathy, supplements, acupuncture, and the placebo effect.
Homeopathic remedies, supplements, and acupuncture have worked for millions of people throughout history. People have claimed they’ve done as much as cure cancer that was previously considered terminal.
In reality, these things are likely a shining example of the placebo effect in action. Many people know about homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, and supplements. What many people don’t know is where those treatments actually get their origin.
Homeopathic remedies for example work on the premise that water will “remember” what was in it. No fucking joke. Homeopathic remedies actually take some ingredient, and dilute it until it’s not even existent, and then claim that the water remembers what was in it, and does the job.
Acupuncture? It’s not much better. The entire premise of acupuncture works on the basis that the body has twelve meridians, and uses about 360 entry points. Any clue how they chose those numbers? China has twelve great rivers, and there are close to 360 days in a year.
Supplements are a little bit murkier, but there is no doubt that there are a number of supplement manufacturers who sell nothing but dirt bottled up in a capsule. Some of these even include places like GNC.
Yet people still use these forms of treatment, and they believe they work, all thanks to the placebo effect.
Just how powerful is the placebo effect?
In 2009 a group of German researchers took a group of people and told them they were going to apply an anesthetic cream. The cream was actually fake, but the subjects didn’t know that.
Then the researches applied painful heat to the arm where the fake cream had been applied. Those people who had the anesthetic cream actually reported that they didn’t feel any pain. Even when scientists looked at brain scans of the individuals, it showed that they actually behaved like they were getting relief.
They took some motherfucking brain scans and proved that just believing something will work is powerful enough to dull the sensation of some hot hot heat.
Are you getting bamboozled?
I’ll be the first to admit that dieting, exercising, and finding a program that works for you is fucking hard. Shit ain’t easy out in the streets. Especially when it comes to getting fit.
This is part of the reason why there are so many things out in the streets that promise to help us drop fat, gain muscle, and have the best sex of our lives. It could be pills, tonics, rubs, or a special program that dictates your workouts based on the lunar phase.
There are always people who claim they got kickass results thanks to these programs, but was it really because of these programs?
Chances are if you spend $79.99 on a bottle of pills, and receive the second one free with no shipping, you’re probably going to start paying attention to what you eat a bit more. You’ve made a purchase, and parted with your hard earned money. You’ve got what super smart guy and all around jackass Nassim Taleb calls “skin in the game”.
Fast-forward two months, and you’re down five pounds. Did you really drop those five pounds because of the magic pills that cost $79.99? Or did you drop it because you made that $79.99 purchase, and now you feel like you need to take a little bit better care of yourself to justify that purchase?
This is where things get weird. What if we used the placebo effect to trick ourselves? I know I’ve done this. I’ve spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on programs that I hoped would take me to the next level.
I made improvements following them. But were those improvements thanks to some badass program, or just the fact that I actually had something to follow – and because I spent money I’m now putting much more care into what I do?
Regardless what you you do, if you believe something will work it’s almost guaranteed to work. This is the most fundamental aspect of health and fitness to keep in mind. The best program is the program you believe in and can follow.
If you’re not buying in to a program, good luck succeeding. 100% of the time I’d rather write a subpar program that a client believes in completely than write a world class program the client is unsure about.
Why? Because there’s nothing more powerful than buying in. Shit, people didn’t even feel burning pain because they bought in to the idea that a fake cream would protect them. Imagine what buying in to a lifting plan or diet recommendation can do?
So what should you do?
It’s simple, but not easy. Eliminate all doubt. Don’t hop from program to program, or worry about if that diet is better than yours. You know what’s better? Adhering completely to your plan.
Buy in completely. Go all in. Show your hand, and announce to the world (or just yourself) that you’re going to follow your plan down to the letter for the next 4 weeks, 8 weeks, or however long it is.
If you’ve done that and it hasn’t worked at all, then you have a reason to complain. My hunch is that if you buy in, you probably don’t have to worry about this though.
The mind is a powerful thing. There’s no doubt about it. Just ask Michael Jordan. I’m pretty sure he could’ve become the greatest player to ever live without wearing his North Carolina shorts underneath his uniform every game. But he did. And it worked for him.