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“The Expectation Effect” How Your Mindset Can Change Your World - David Robson

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

Is a famous quote from Henry Ford. I remember hearing and using this quote when I was an athlete. It was a reference to attitude, and I thought it fit but I did not know how dead on he was. It is way more than attitude though that is involved. Ultimately it comes down to your brain and what you believe, how you see the world. The "Expectation Effect, How your Mindset Can Change Your World” by David Robson discusses the essence of Henry Fords quote. He uses research to prove his case but discusses it in such a way as to keep you engaged and expand your own belief. At the end of each chapter he has action points to assist you reframing your beliefs and understanding.

David discusses how our brains are one big prediction machine and how our beliefs and knowledge can have a positive or negative effect on our life. Now if you know me I am not some “Sunshine and rainbows, talk about how things are great, while you stick your head in the sand and ignore reality” type of guy. I am also not some "health and wealth" "Speak it into existence" Joel Osteen snake oil salesman. Believe me, this is not what this book is about. Step by step, chapter by chapter he discussed research that support how important our brain and beliefs about certain things have a profound effect either positively or negatively.

I would venture to say that almost everyone has heard of the Placebo effect. The classic sugar pill having a positive effect because someone believes they are taking a drug with active ingredients. David discussed how Thomas Jefferson was aware of the Placebo effect and referred to doctors use of it as “a pious fraud.” What Jefferson didn’t know is that there need not be any fraud. The Placebo effect can work even when the individual knows the pill has no active ingrediencies. So called “Open Label Placebos” can be just as effective as the role of the brain as a prediction machine and its ability to influence the body’s response is explained.

I would wager that far fewer people know about the nocebo effect. It is essentially the same as the placebo but with a negative effect due to belief. I heard of the nocebo quite a few years ago from the Barbell Medicine crew. BM spoke about the nocebo often as it refers to pain and how our beliefs about pain, the human body and injury have a profound effect on the degree of pain, severity and length of recovery time. Some researchers estimate that the placebo effect may account for as much as 50 percent of the pain relief afforded by an actual drug. Pain relief can occur from a shift in someone’s subjective experience. Our expectations can play a huge role. Check out this Ted talk by Lorimer Moseley on “Why Things Hurt” for a great laugh and perspective on how our expectations effect our pain experience.

Doctors have the power to heal and to harm and what we are finding out is “The words a doctor speaks are themselves biologically active and an essential element of any treatment.” Researchers have found that patients who have been given encouragement to develop positive expectations have a quicker recovery. Unfortunately, doctors can do harm with terms their words. Phrases like “Bone on Bone”, “Wear and Tear” “Degenerative” and “You have the back of a 67 year old” spoken by a person of authority can create negative beliefs and expectations in patients and contribute to pain, lack of confidence in movement, negative beliefs, behaviors and less movement. I do not think doctors do this with the Intent to cause harm. Most often I believe it is used to give the patient information and manage expectations. Unfortunately, this can cause negative beliefs and harm. "Degenerative Disk Disease" sounds really bad but often is not and could be more accurately called "Age related changes". I could call my gray hair "Degenerative Hair Disease" but it is really just age related changes.

Coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists can create the same negative expectations with athletes and clients by telling them if they move this way or do that, they will get hurt. I was absolutely irate when I picked up my daughter from volleyball in junior high. A therapist had “tested” the team at practice and told my daughter she was most likely to tear her ACL. I was fortunate that she did not believe him and shrugged it off but this could have devastating effect. The intention behind all of this testing is good but if can create very negative effects.

The expectation effect explores how our mind and belief can effect our entire lives.

A high school and college friend of mine had a bad car accident 15 years ago, injured his spine and was told he would likely never walk again. While this could of had devastating effects and expectations I am proud to say Adam did not let himself get noceboed. Unfortunately, he saw others who did not have his same toughness, determination, work ethic and positive attitude. In short he believes he is in control, not entirely in of the outcome but certainly of his effort and that will help contribute to the outcome.

When discussing his recovery Adam referenced his background in sports and training giving him the attitude and work ethic to recover from his injury. He said he saw doctors that would say you are never going to walk again here are some pills for your pain. Adam told me of roommates that questioned why he would go to rehab. "Why are you going to physical therapy? There is only a 2% chance you will walk again". "2% chance is enough because if I don't go the chance is zero" was Adam's reply giving you a glimpse into his mindset. "When I was laying there I felt I let my family down. But I had two choices, I could lay there and feel sorry for myself or get up and go to work" He was positive and then worked hard at what he could control. Adam admits that it was hard and it still can be "it is still a roller coaster and sometimes I am better than others but the best medicine is lifting weights and stretching... if I take 6 weeks off I will be hurting. The only way I keep my back healthy after a 12 hour shift wearing 35# of gear is to stay strong."

Adam's support system was also crucial "I was truly blessed, for an entire year at least one cop came and asked 'are you good?' And a lot of times three or four. One guy donated 100 vacation hours to me."

Not only did Adam walk again, he has served most of his career after his injury. He is a "Use of Force instructor" and can still get on the mat. Many guys he serves with joined after his accident and do not even know what he went through because he does not let it define him and is strong and functional. " since the crash I have lived my life in pain but I have not taken a pain pill since 2008."

I continue to strength train myself because it is one of the best things we can do as we age to maintain muscle mass, mobility, function and independence. So many people will tell me “you are too old to be lifting heavy, you are going to hurt your back” or some variation that “they are too old for that” YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD, you are only too old if you believe you are too old. David discussed this in his chapter on healthy aging. I like the term used by Dr. Sullivan of grey steel who says we are “Athletes of Aging”.

Clint Eastwood is in his 90’s and has been productive and functional. When asked how he has done this he stated “I get up every day and don’t let the old man in.” This is the attitude and belief that has allowed him to be a supper ager. My father repaired and expanded his deck by himself with mostly hand tools when he was 80 years old. My mother has been an "Athlete of Aging" for over 3 years now as well and has done many things she would not have thought she could. It has changed here outlook and I believe this book can improve your outlook as well.

The author writes of a study done in the late 70's that took elderly individuals to a camp outfitted if it was 1959. One group was instructed to think that they were living in 1959 and only think about those things. The other group had the same set up and was asked to reminisce about the past but not live like they were living in that time. The first group had significantly greater improvement in the cognitive tests. Observers thought the participants were much younger than their age when looking at pictures. A further study showed that people with a positive out look on aging live 7.5 years longer than those with a poorer perception of aging. A positive outlook on aging can even decrease the change of dementia and other cognitive diseases.

Now if you are old enough to remember when Saturday Night Live was actually funny. You may accuse me of turning into Stuart Smalley. His “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley” was pretty funny and extremely awkward but in some ways it maybe more accurate than we knew.

"The Expectation Effect" is an excellent read that really can change your world by changing how you look and think about the world. I highly recommend you check it out.

I am very proud of Adam and my parents

If you are looking for help or direction in becoming an "Athlete of Aging" check out these programs or reach out for coaching here or call/text 605-695-0496

Nate Moe

Everyone Needs Moe Strength

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