Placebos are a quirky insight into the inner workings of how our brains work. Expectations paint a picture of the what we expect to experience, and then we look for instances to confirm those same expectations. This is what psychologists call confirmation bias. It illustrates how mirror-like our minds are, reflecting our thoughts and expectations into the reality we experience.
One of the most common field this had been tested in is in medicine.
Clincal trials have shown how placebos rival the effect of active medication perscribed to patients. With antidepressant drugs in particular, one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States, sugar pills have been found in some studies to produce better results than the antidepressants themselves.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that even when made aware they are taking a placebo, subjects still experience the physiological changes. This led me to a curiosity in how placebos could be added to improve my everyday life.
How to Create Your Own Placebo
My experiments with creating your own placebo effect started a couple years back after I read an article about chia seeds—the superfood of Aztecs and Mayans warriors. It was legend that this staple crop was used by long distance sprinters to run for 100s of miles at a time across mountainous terrains.
Interested in experimenting with the effects, I looked up a couple recipes online and ended up settled on a drink mix. A concoction of 12 oz of water, 2-3 tbsps of chia seeds, and half a lemon. (Note: if you’re going to make at home, soak the chia seeds as long as possible, preferably a full 24 hours).
After finishing my first drink, I looked at my hands expecting to see electricity surge from the fingertips. I decided to go for a run on the beach to see if it really worked. (This was in Rio de Janeiro at the time). I felt more confident in my approach. My strides felt more sure footed; the music in my headphones was pumping hard, my mood was lifted. It was one of those moments where everything seems to just fall in flow.
Did the drink really enhance my ability to run? Or was it the expectation that I would be more energetic? I’m not really sure, nor do I really care.
I still make and consume this concoction nearly daily (usually right before working out). Every single time it ignites a sense of vigor and alertness stronger than a cup of coffee.
Placebos are simple a form of Pavlovian conditioning. It can be through a magic pill, a drink, food, a lucky pair of underpants, or any sort of prep routine. Expectation and feedback loops are the basis of forming habits.
Your thoughts become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your identity; and your identity becomes your destiny. Guard those thoughts well.