Using The Placebo Effect to Achieve Fitness Goals

I consider this to be the vital missing ingredient in fitness for many people, yet it isn’t a well discussed factor in mainstream fitness groups. Typically all the attention and emphasis is put onto technique, consistency, form, nutrition and method. The standard way to approach achieving fitness goals is to treat the body like a machine that always works as expected, like a computer that will work perfectly according to a manual.

With this approach a fundamental aspect is being left out of the equation which may hold many people back without them knowing why. I know it was holding me back, accounting for and utilizing this key ingredient has given me amazing benefits!

The body is not just a machine that behaves according to logic and physics, it has a complicated psychology, there’s a ghost in the machine if you will.

You may think that exercising for Y will produce X results as promised or as expected, but check out this study done by Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer.

Abstract from Study

In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one’s mindset, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle.

Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.

My Summary of the Study

So, they got a number of hotel maids who appeared to be overweight and had the biological conditions of people who didn’t get enough exercise. When surveyed, the majority of them believed to got very little exercise in their lives. Yet, all of them got beyond the the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation for daily exercise, though their biology didn’t seem to reflect this.

Langer, who was running the study, decided to split the hotel maids into two groups, telling one group they were getting more than enough daily exercise at their work alone, and not telling the other group anything. One month later, Langer and her team returned to take measurements of the maids. The ones who were told nothing had no changes, whereas the other group who now believed they were getting plenty exercise had lost weight and lowered their blood pressure by 10%!
Crazy, right?

Fitness and the Placebo Effect

How to Use Placebo Effect to Our Advantage

This information can be used to help those struggling to lose weight, those struggling to put on weight, or those who simply want to maximize their results.

Let’s say you’re going to the gym all the time and trying to build muscle, you want it so bad but you have some belief, perhaps partly subconscious, which is stunting your progress. What if you have some irrational belief that you can’t build muscle. That was my issue. I realized after some time that I had this idea in my head that other people could build muscle, but that my body was different, my body couldn’t change much from what it has always been. (You don’t need to have a self-limiting belief to make this method work, instead you can just focus on installing and reinforcing positive beliefs)

Solving this issue helped me make leaps and bounds with my journey. I rewrote that limiting belief by consciously putting my attention on it, and then mentally writing over it, “I can change and my body is capable of building muscle and increasing in size“. I then also visualized and felt myself the way I wanted to be. The best time to do this exercise is either when you’re in meditation, falling asleep or just waking up, as this is when you have most access to influence your subconscious mind.

So if you have been struggling to lose weight or build muscle, consider implementing this tactic to help you reach your fitness goals faster.
It helped me and I believe it can help you too!

Method Summarized

  1. Get into a subjective state (meditation or in bed)
  2. Focus on what you want to believe about yourself (I build muscle really easily and quickly)
  3. Continually repeat that in your head like you actually believe it, this will impress upon the subconscious.
  4. Keep an eye out on limiting beliefs. If they arise, write over them with a counter belief.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Keep your conscious mind busy with expectation of the best” Joseph Murphy

I hope this article helped you. Weaponize this tool for health and goodness friends!

All the best

Study Citation:
Crum, Alia J., and Ellen J. Langer. 2007. Mind-set matters: Exercise
and the placebo effect. Psychological Science 18, no. 2: 165-171

If you’re interested, I have a cheap (€5) and comprehensive Full-Body Weekly Gym Routine