Your Illegal Performance Enhancement Drug

I always thought I ran faster with my new Nike running shoes.

Actually, I did.

A study* found that participants who were made to believe that they were given Nike Golf clubs, required fewer strokes to successfully complete a golf putt, compared to others who thought they were using clubs by Starter (a cheap ass brand).

Similarly, “exposure to the Apple (vs. IBM) brand logo makes people generate more creative ideas, and using a Red Bull car in a video game makes players race more aggressively and recklessly.“

I never measured myself that systematically, but I, like many of you, could most likely recall times where we were able to get ourselves pumped up and motivated just by listening to our workout song, or screaming at ourselves in the mirror.

I used to summon my inner Michael Jordan and I would feel invincible; The well seasoned cast iron pan still makes me believe I could fry fish well, EVEN with the skin on. The thing is, these seemingly nonexistent associations actually have real effects on our performance.

The reverse is also true: our performance could suffer purely because we thought we had an inferior racket, a non-gluten free breakfast, or when the really nice girl we have always liked yawned at our performance.

Inevitably, external triggers are unreliable, and they will create cognitive dissonance to render the whatever positive effect nonexistent. The Lance Armstrong journey was a classic example.

His yellow jacket and his yellow Livestrong bracelet signalled grit, pinnacle performance, and victory over cancer. I had 20+ live strong bracelets and gifted it to everyone. Yet, the moment he admitted that he cheated, the bracelet instantly returned to its true form- a piece of plastic. his super bike was no longer super. It was just another super expensive bike. Our amazing cognitive decoupling mechanism completed shut down- our magic pill was no longer magical, we could no longer turn on our inner Lance Armstrong to get through the 2pm cycling class.

Isn’t it great news that our brain could be tricked so easily? Given what science has shown us about our highly gullible brain, we should find and leverage triggers that we can use to awaken our inner Hulk, without having the risk of these triggers being unreliable or manipulated. We should all work on self talks, rituals, whatever, that could give us that extra edge.

Still not convinced? Read this: “‘The Last Dance’: Why Michael Jordan invented slights for motivation.

* Chartrand, Huber, Shiv, and Tanner 2008; Fitzsimons, Chartrand, and Fitzsimons 2008; Brasel and Gips 2011. “Performance Brand Placebos: How Brands Improve Performance and Consumers Take the Credit” Aaron Garvey, University of Kentucky, USA Frank Germann, University of Notre Dame, USA Lisa Bolton, Pennsylvania State University, USA