I was talking with a group of individuals at my running club and one of the ladies said, ‘isn’t it strange how you feel you can run faster when you’ve tied your shoelaces tighter’.
Other runners mentioned feeling increased performance after a decent warm up, pre-race rituals or times when a ritual abandoned before a run left them feeling heavy legged and lethargic.
So I was interested to read a column in Runners World (May 2015) by Sam Murphy on placebos. She mentioned a study by the University of Glasgow where volunteers injected what they were told was a new drug that mimicked a banned substance that boosted endurance. The performance of the runners over a 3K distance increased by 1.2% (9.7 seconds) and they perceived their effort to be lower. It turns out the volunteers were injecting a saline solution, providing zero benefits to their performance.
I have also heard similar examples of people with terminal illnesses who, when given a placebo, improved dramatically. Their symptoms decreased and some seemingly made miraculous recoveries. When they found out they were taking a dummy drug their symptoms returned.
This got me thinking about how our minds work and the effect this has on our performance, both in the sporting world but also in the world of work. I certainly feel my concentration decreases at work without a morning coffee, but would I have still had the same level of performance if someone switched my coffee for a decaff without telling me?
So, is it then possible to train the brain to make you believe you can perform at an optimum level every day? I think it is.
About a year ago Lily Guthrie, Office of the Future Executive Assistant at the Ken Blanchard Companies, provided a group of us with a virtual session on ‘Creating Healthy Habits’. This was mainly focused on habit forming activities in order to keep fit, eat well and increase the health and alertness of your brain. Applying this concept to your work day would also provide structure and your brain will believe these habits are fundamental to good performance.
If you always have a healthy breakfast, keep water by your desk and write a ‘to do’ list every morning before even opening your emails would this fundamentally increase your productivity? Possibly it would, as you are hydrated, won’t be hungry and are organised.
It could also be said that these habits make you feel more productive too – it’s a little placebo at the start of your day. Without these daily habits you might not feel you are working optimally, but with these habits you feel you have started the day as you should and are ready to face any challenges that lie ahead.
I would challenge yourself to think about your ‘best’ days; when do you feel in control, creative, productive and organised? This could mean recording in a diary or somewhere on your computer what you did each day and how you felt. Make your own placebo – take the best parts of your week and make them a reality every day.
Lisa is the EMEA Client Services Manager at the Ken Blanchard Companies. The Client Services Team specialise in delivery; Project Management, Learning Services (virtual learning and online assessments) and Staffing (trainer allocation).