The “Placebo” effect — the power of not knowing your limits.

Image Credits: Rodney Mullen.

It’s often a humbling experience when every once in a while I get my ass-kicked. It keeps me grounded; it reminds me I’m human. It reminds I still have a lot to learn.

I for once decided I needed to challenge myself to something I’d never tried before; the Gym.

As a chain-smoking, junk-food eating, matchstick of a human being — I never thought I’d get big and didn’t see the value in it.

Every time somebody advised me to give it a shot; I’d quote Fran Lebowitz verbatim and get myself out of the conversation as soon as possible.

Except; one early morning, I decided — fuck it; I’ll go to the gym.

I didn’t have any gear, didn’t know a thing about supplements or whatever the hell it is that gym junkies put in their bodies — I was just an ignorant fool about to jump into a world where I definitely knew I’d get my ass-kicked; but also I was facing my fears.

When I got to the gym, the first thing I said to the trainer was, “I’m skinny, I won’t be able to gain weight, and also I’m really not here to be one of those guys that is trying to get huge to show off.” He laughed and said “Alright.”

And so we took off..

Over the course of the two months as we began training together, I began to realise I was doing things I thought were impossible — I’d cut down on smoking, I was eating right, my brain felt more active, and I felt less anxious.

But one thing I couldn’t make sense of was how quickly this magical transformation had happened.

Out of curiosity — I asked my trainer to come clean and tell me what exactly he’s done to my body because I have no idea how quickly this change had happened.

He said, grinning while he did so, “Well..you know all that time I told you, you were lifting 4kg; that was kindof a lie — you were lifting 8kg. And I did that momentarily with every exercise without telling you.”

I was baffled, “I CAN’T FUCKING LIFT 8KG..Are you kidding me?”.

He gave me a dumbbell, that weighed 14kg and asked me to do ‘Hammer Curls’; I shrugged and said I won’t be able to do it.

He handled it to me, and I gave up half way through my 3rd rep.

He laughed again and said, but you lifted this yesterday; so what’s changed?

It had to be a lie, I said to him.

He swore on his life he wasn’t lying to me and that it my just my brain that was keeping me from realising my real strength — so a white lie and a little psychological manipulation was all it took to break me out of my shell.

But now that I knew his strategy; I knew I’d fail the next time — cause I was knew how the trick was done.

Later did I learn, sometimes we need to teach ourselves how to lie to ourselves — if it’s for a good cause.

So telling my brain, I can’t eat a whole chicken or lift 14kg was setting a limit on what I believed I definitely could not achieve.

Instead, forgetting for a minute that there was a limit, or there was a sign on the side of the dumbbell that read how much it weighed allowed me to master the art of the magical world that is — the Placebo effect.

Now, I understand it could’ve been dangerous to push my body to these limits; but I had a trainer who knew what he was doing and would’ve stopped me if I was in any danger.

And that’s an important thing to understand as well, go far enough — but don’t go jumping off that cliff thinking you’ll land on a trampoline.

Because that placebo can run out; and you may find yourself facing a brutal reality. So be kind, and be humble.

But also know that mastering the art perfectly, knowing when and why you must use it — is the key to success.

So in the famous words of Mr. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

— Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Bless his soul.

I failed to learn the piano, so I decided I’d play the keyboard instead. //All aboard the Crazytrain.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store