Living the Placebo EffectApril 4th, 2008 by John Wolfe
“My company mascot is the bumblebee. Because of its tiny wings and heavy body, aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. But the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it flies anyway.” – Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics
According to my Webster’s New World Dictionary, circa 1963; the definition of the word placebo is: a medicine given just to humor a patient. I know what you’re probably thinking, “You need to spring for a new dictionary.” After reading that antiquated interpretation of the word, I would have to agree.
Over four decades ago, Webster’s dictionary seemed to also be humoring its readers (right along side most doctors) as it published a definition laced with a hint of mockery. Forty five years later modern medicine has realized there is validity to the placebo effect, beyond placation, but it’s not much closer to respectfully embracing it.
This, I believe, is partly due to a lack of fully understanding why placebos work and a prejudice toward exploring anything deemed unscientific. But it’s mostly due to the desire, primarily fueled by pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, HMO’s, etc. to not want to know exactly why they work. If their mechanisms were fully understood it could revolutionize the health care industry by putting health and the majority of control over one’s health back in the patient’s hands.
It’s similar to why our world hasn’t made the switch sooner from petroleum based fuel products, to more eco-friendly, green sources of alternative energy – big business is calling the shots and trying to dictate the trends. Unfortunately their trends are not about helping others to live happier, healthier, more empowered lives. This will continue being the case, until humanity’s interest in these subjects is reflected through its buying power on an even larger scale. Then, corporations will have to pay attention.
As consumers, we have to be willing to make more conscientious decisions concerning our purchases, based on how they affect the environment and others. And as patients, we must be willing to do the same where our health’s concerned. We must be more conscientiously aware of our body’s signals and what it’s trying to communicate. We need to start being more present and aware in our thoughts and the choices we make that continually influence our physical, spiritual and psychological health.
The placebo effect is about an individual investing belief in a treatment that is said to have no medicinal value whatsoever (the individual doesn’t know this, just like Mary Kay’s example of the bumblebee), yet the patient markedly improves anyway, solely on their desire to be well. Their improved condition is stemming from their own inner abilities, not from the treatment they think they’re receiving.
All forms of treatment are essentially placebos anyway, whether they’re deemed to be or not. I’m not discounting the fact that drugs and medicines have a physiological effect, but biologically we are identical to one another. The only difference is our individual propensity toward certain diseases and illnesses. Yet, I believe genetic propensities are accentuated and exacerbated by our emotional attitudes.
This is why you can take two individuals with the same illness, and have two totally different responses to the same treatment. If drugs were the only portion of the equation responsible for healing us, then everyone would experience identical response levels. This isn’t the case.
The patient absolutely has to believe in the treatment for it to work. Now, I’m sure there are cases where people with extremely negative, doubting attitudes have benefited from certain treatments, despite their outlook. However, I would wager that their level of improvement and overall well being was still not as pronounced as someone entering into the same treatment with a higher expectation. And the person with the negatively dominated outlook is far more susceptible to relapsing or acquiring another illness.
Our responses to treatment can be tracked much further back, in our individual history, beyond what’s happening at the doctor’s office. The types of results we experience can be traced back to the ways we have assimilated, processed and retained information since childhood. Perhaps, to fully understand why medical placebos can work, we should take their premise and apply it to other portions of our lives. By utilizing a psychological version of reverse engineering, we can harness the techniques that subconsciously power the placebo’s effects.
To fully live the placebo effect would mean we must find the place of knowing that which we want has already been accomplished. It would mean finding a way to believe and then reaching beyond belief, into the realm of knowing. This effect could be achieved in a multitude of ways, but if we are trying to emulate the sugar pill’s application, then we must know something to be true (even before we see it presented in our life experience) and release any contradictory thoughts, entirely. That has to be easier said than done, right? – Absolutely, if that’s what we choose to believe and we aren’t willing to try.
It’s been shown that patients that fully believe in their doctor’s abilities to help them attain wellness, along with the prescribed treatment, respond better than those that are doubtful of the procedures. The patients exhibiting the highest degree of confidence will typically release into their treatment, knowing they are going to get better, and never giving it a second, doubtful thought.
We must emulate that sort of vision and build that same level of confidence; envisioning our goals accomplished. Taking the necessary steps (no matter how small), each and every day, will continue to build the belief in our abilities for attainment. And our reality will begin to reshape itself, in turn reflecting our new beliefs.
You see, the placebo effect knows no bounds. It doesn’t strictly apply to doctors, hospitals and conquering illnesses. It’s about the way we live our entire lives. The placebo effect has little to do with treatment and everything to do with our own state of mind and being.
Here are three ways to start applying the placebo effect in your life, to better aid you in finding that place of knowing:
1. Physically move in the direction of that which you desire. Don’t stall and ponder other people’s opinions over whether or not you can or cannot, should or should not do something. That form of indecisive doubt is what has created most people’s negative take on reality for their entire lives. Literally, be the bumblebee. Take the action (even if it’s miniscule) and before you know it, you’ll be doing those things that were once believed impossible.
Every single step you take will reinforce your beliefs. If you encounter a few problems along the way, so what? Areas of resistance validate the fact you are in motion towards your desires. An object in motion may encounter some forms of resistance from time to time, it’s only natural.
2. Expect the unexpected. Most people use this phrase in a negative way. Turn it around and instead of expecting the worst case scenario; anticipate the very best from your actions. As you begin to live with great expectations, they will become your primary form of anticipation.
Be sure to let yourself off the hook if you still have negative thoughts, despite your efforts. Give yourself permission to do so. If you’ve spent years ruminating primarily in a negative manner, you really have no other recourse until you consistently begin practicing otherwise. Your brain’s become hard wired that way. But you have to make a conscious effort.
I’ve compared the deliberate creation of our reality to physical exercise before, and for good reason. We have to exercise and consistently re-train our brain (which acts as the intermediary between our spiritual self and our physical vehicle) to begin strengthening it to expect the best; before the best can manifest.
3. Surround yourself with a strong system of support. Placebos and treatments primarily work because people believe and have confidence in those that administer them (along with a belief in themselves). You must create your own community that administers belief in you and vice versa. If you’re finding that’s a tall order to fill, based upon the people currently in your life, then it’s time to start branching out and meeting others.
Surround yourself with books, music, philosophies, and affirmations that reinforce the power within you. Placebos can also exert their benefit by allowing you to focus on healing; removing your attention from illness. Employ teachings that shift your focus toward that which is therapeutic and empowering, and then watch your life unfold in that same manner.
These are just a few techniques for beginning to live the placebo effect. Examples are being set around us everyday, which defy the commonly accepted ideas of human potential. If we can dig down to locate the inspiration behind these accomplishments, we can continually come closer to understanding our abilities. Those abilities will never cease to expand as long as we can discover new ways to believe and to know.
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