10 Powerful Life Lessons to Learn from the Placebo Effect (Guest Blog from MedicalBillingandCoding.org)

WikiWorld comic about "The Nocebo Effect,...



Have you ever wondered why some medical (or emotional) treatments work for you while other remedies that work for some people don’t work for you. Recently I read this informative post about the PLACEBO EFFECT that everyone could benefit from reading, including doctors, patients and all medical professionals. This placebo effect actually works in all aspects of life, including romantic relationships, parent-child relationships and business building.


10 Powerful Lessons to Learn from the Placebo Effect


Posted on May 8, 2012 at Medical Billing and Coding site

“The relationship between our minds and our bodies is exceedingly complex, and often functions in ways that we simply haven’t yet found a way to understand or explain in purely scientific terms. For decades, studies on the placebo effect have shown that patients who believed they were getting a treatment responded in ways that were similar or the same to those who were actually getting a treatment, showcasing an unexpected level of power of the brain over the body.


While the placebo effect itself is a fascinating topic of study, there are a lot of very practical and perhaps even inspirational lessons that can be taken away from this phenomenon and applied to everyday life. Here are just a few that we think are especially powerful that offer insights into motivation, mindfulness, and even happiness that we can all stand to benefit from.


1. Belief is often more powerful than reality.
When researchers study the placebo effect, they often find that those who aren’t given a particular treatment improve in many of the same ways as those that are, simply because they believe that they are being treated, not because they’re getting any real medical help. While believing things, even very strongly, doesn’t always cause them to be true, it can have a marked impact on how we see and experience the world, often much more so than things that are regarded as fact. Belief can, in many ways, be a much more powerful force thanb reality, coloring our perceptions, pushing us forward, and changing what we feel is possible to accomplish.


2. Life is all about perception.
The placebo effect is all about perception, as people respond to an outside stimulus in a way that isn’t congruent with the effect the stimulus should actually have on the body (in many cases, there should be no effect at all). This reaction isn’t exclusive to issues of healthcare, however, as a number of studies have shown. People perceive a wine to taste better when they believe it’s expensive, and they get a greater health benefit from doing something if they believe it qualifies as exercise. How we think about something can entirely change how we react and how it affects us, whether it’s something as simple as enjoying wine or something much more complex like getting along with a boss, caring for an aging parent, or coping with the stresses of everyday life. The placebo effect teaches us that we can choose how things, whether bad or good, in the outside world affect us. That’s an incredibly powerful piece of knowledge to have.


3. Sometimes you get in your own way.
Belief is a powerful force, but sometimes the power it wields over us can actually hold us back and keep us from meeting our goals. The placebo effect can work in two ways: one that motivates, heals, and helps, and the other that can induce self-doubt, destructive thoughts, and keep success at bay (sometimes called the nocebo effect). If you believe you can’t accomplish something because you’re not smart enough, good enough, or fast enough, these beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you may fail not because you truly can’t do something, but because the doubt and uncertainty caused by your beliefs trips you up or makes you overly cautious. Take a child who is struggling with learning as an example. If he or she is told they will never grasp a concept, are stupid, and should just give up, eventually this message will sink in and the child will give up, regardless of his or her actual abilities.


4. There truly is power in positive thinking.
If the placebo effect teaches us anything, it’s that there is something to be said for positive thinking. It may not bring you unlimited riches or the perfect life, but it can have an effect on your happiness, relationships, and, of course, your health. Studies have shown that positive thinking can help you control stress, lower rates of depression, and may even result in a longer life span. So believing in the best outcome may just be what you need to get your life on track.


5. Anything is possible, if you put your mind to it.
As cliché and saccharine as it may be, there is truth in this old adage. Many things seem impossible until someone really puts effort into showing how they can be done. Take runner Roger Bannister as an example. Roger decided he would set the world record for running a mile, with the goal of a time that was under 4 minutes. People told him it wasn’t possible; after all, no one had ever done it before. In 1954, Bannister completed a mile run in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Within a year of breaking this previously unheard of barrier, more than 30 other runners had also run with similar times. All it took was someone changing the beliefs surrounding the achievement to make others see it as a possibility, something we can all take note of in our own lives.


6. We often become reliant on outside factors to empower ourselves.
As the placebo effect shows, we often believe we need some form of outside input, a medicine or surgery say, to feel better. In reality, it may be enough to believe that we’ll get better, allow ourselves to heal, and let time take its course than looking for an outside solution to a problem. While help and support from others can be great, real motivation has to come from within. You have to want something for yourself or believe that it will happen to really make any progress.


7. Humans aren’t always rational.
Like the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock in the classic Star Trek series, humans are constantly battling against their emotional side when trying to make logical, rational decisions. Often — perhaps too often — emotions win out, influencing our decisions on everything from business to buying a car. The way we react and the things we choose are rarely entirely rational or easily explicable to others. Our brains work in mysterious ways, as the placebo effect clearly demonstrates, so never forget to account for the effects of our ever powerful emotions in any situation, both in our own reactions and those of others. It may just give you a deeper understanding of a situation, temper your actions, and help you prepare for the unexpected.


8. You can choose your level of happiness in life.
You can choose to believe a medication will work or believe it will do nothing at all, but as the placebo effect shows us, sometimes hoping for the best will actually increase the likelihood that these things will come to pass. You can choose your beliefs and in turn, choose the ways in which things affect you in your everyday life. If you believe that being stuck in a traffic jam is the worst thing in the world, it will be, raising your levels of stress and making you angry. But if you choose to believe that any delay can be an opportunity, you’ll be less stressed, more happy, and may use that extra time on the road to think, learn a language, tackle a book on tape, or just enjoy some music. Being happy isn’t just something that happens, it’s something you can choose.


9. What you think is just as important as what you do.
Thoughts, even if we don’t act on them, have a big impact on our outlook on the world, what we do end up doing, and our overall level of happiness. They are incredibly powerful, often more so than we’re willing to readily admit. One lesson you can take away from the placebo effect is that your thoughts are just as important as your actions. After all, in placebo studies, doing an essentially empty task (taking a sugar pill) can have the same effect as actually doing something, because of a particular line of thinking. You can apply this to other areas of life as well, making sure careful and purposeful thoughs always precede any actions you take.


10. Life’s obstacles are rarely as insurmountable as they seem.
If people can see a change in their health, or at least their perception of it, from doing nothing at all except thinking that they should feel better, than there really isn’t much in life that can’t be conquered (or at least managed) by changing the way you think. Think you’ll never complete a task? That you can’t get ahead in your career? That you’ll never get over a breakup? While we might all feel this way from time to time, framing your thoughts with respect to the bigger, overall picture of your life can change how you see your ability to push through. And, as we’ve already discussed, it doesn’t hurt to truly believe that you can do these things either.”


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Dr. Erica


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1 Nolan { 05.16.12 at 4:54 am }

Those life lessons are indeed very important. More thinking on Placebo effect is obviously needed. Its impact is greater.
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2 Avinash King Avinash { 05.25.12 at 10:07 am }

I really enjoyed while reading your article. Well mentioned everything in details and all these 10 points are really powerful for our life.
These points really helps in changing our attitude for life. These points make any human motivated and recharged with lots of positive thought.

Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

3 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.25.12 at 7:20 pm }


When we know how the placebo effect works, we can also use it to our advantage and not be so easily influenced by other people’s negative and doubting thoughts.

4 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.25.12 at 7:21 pm }


The placebo effect is the reason that something can work for one person and not for another. Our minds are incredibly powerful. What we believe has a huge effect upon our health, physical, emotional and spiritual.


Dr. Erica

5 Kostas { 05.28.12 at 9:34 am }

Hi Dr. Erica, we really are what our beliefs are so if we believe on ourselves and think positive we can accoblish almost anything we put on our minds. The placebo effect it’s just a reminder how strong our beliefs are since if we really believe that we will become better then we will become better, thanks for sharing…
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6 Holly { 05.28.12 at 5:45 pm }

Our minds are incredibly powerful… I personally believe that we are far more capable than we ever believe we are… Just knowing some of the stories of what people have accomplished is just the tip of the iceberg!! Your 10 points are so bang on, implemeting them can be a bit more of an issue!! Great post!!
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7 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.28.12 at 6:04 pm }

Our minds truly control everything – our thoughts, our actions and even the reactions within our own body. It is essential to surround our selves with people and circumstances that support fulfilling our dreams.

Warmly, Dr. Erica

8 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.28.12 at 6:07 pm }


If the placebo effect works for remaining ill or getting better, think of what that means for anything we attempt to do in life. The people who have invented something that changed the world believed they could do it, even when there was no outward evidence. Some people with all the opportunity in the world, if they don’t believe they can succeed, they don’t.


Dr. Erica

9 Rosemary O'Shaughnessy { 05.28.12 at 7:52 pm }

Hi Erica,

I could not agree with you our attitude is very important part of our health and happiness. It is so true about our life’s about how we see things and then choose how to behave. take care Rosemary
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10 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.28.12 at 8:23 pm }


It is not only the way we see things but how the people around us see things. For example, wealthy people are often surrounded by other successful and wealthy people so they continue to support each other’s wealth consciousness. On the other hand, poor people tend to be surrounded by other poor people and it is more difficult to create success without a really strong inner belief about what is possible. Sometimes it just takes one other person to provide that support.


Dr. Erica

11 Sylviane Nuccio { 05.29.12 at 2:10 am }

Hello Dr. Erica!

I really love this post. I totally believe 100% that everything said here is true.

As your post shows here, not only our own beliefs have an effect on our results, but common beliefs as well. When one runner did finish at under 4 minutes all of a sudden more runners could do it too.

Limited beliefs can be worse than any physical handicap. There is the proofs in this post. Thanks for this.
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12 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.29.12 at 4:54 am }


Isn’t it amazing how much our mind controls what happens in our life? When we believe we will heal, our body can heal.
When we listen to negative beliefs of others, even in the daily news, we often limit our true potential in health, in athletic, and in any life pursuit.


Dr. Erica

13 Steve Vernon { 05.29.12 at 4:28 pm }

Dr. Erica, I always enjoy so much reading your posts, which are consistently full of helpful and thought-provoking insights and information. This one is no exception! I believe we are just now truly realizing as a human race the power our minds have over the reality of our daily lives. As author/teacher Mike Dooley very succinctly says over and over, “thoughts become things”. To the woman who was so determined to reach Jesus through the crowds and finally touched his clothes and found healing, he simply said, “your faith has made you whole” (Mark 5;34/Luke 8:48). He wasn’t taking the credit, but letting her know that it was her own belief in his powers that did the job. I don’t believe that he would (or could) have healed ANYONE who wasn’t of that mindset. The same principle has been taught in pretty much every major spiritual tradition throughout history, and we are finally coming to realize the reality of it. “A Course in Miracles” states “You see what you expect, and you expect what you invite. Your perception is the result of your invitation, coming to you as you sent for it.” Wow! That’s powerful!
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14 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.29.12 at 9:02 pm }


The medical profession has not yet caught up to this awareness. When they offer the prediction that someone has a few weeks or a few months to live, or that a person has an incurable disease,” it is like giving a person a life sentence. Many people just believe it without allowing their minds to think something else. And there are those who have healed from some of the most dire predictions through their own belief and faith in healing or faith in God. I love the teachings in the Course in Miracles – such simple concepts. Life becomes less emotional and less of a struggle when we realize the power of our thoughts.


Dr. Erica

15 Donna Merrill { 05.30.12 at 1:41 am }

I could not believe how things work. When I read your blog all I could think of is what I did today. I understand the concept of “Mind Over Matter” and used it with my doctor.
I was prescribed a statin for my cholesterol. I know my numbers were high, but I also know that my insurance company won’t insure me if I don’t listen to my doctor (long story)
I had to do something about it myself, so I went on a regiment of foods that were good for me, started exercising, went for accupuncture and Chineese herbs, but most of all, I told my body for 6 weeks that my cholesterol will be OK.
I visualized blood running through my veins easily and efficiently because I was doing good work.
Today I received my results. The doctor was so happy that I went down 100 points. I must admit I wanted to lie, but I told her what I did. And yes, I did lie and tell her I had muscle aches from the statin.
It’s a medical game, but my numbers proved to me it can be done. I think my placebo effect worked don’t you?
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16 Dr. Erica Goodstone { 05.30.12 at 2:41 am }


Congratulations! You believed in yourself and the power of your own body to heal if you treat it right. We would never think of feeding our automobiles inferior gas or letting it get low on oil, but many of us often neglect nurturing our bodies. I struggle with this often, eating really well for several days or weeks and then getting into some of those old habits that are not so good for my health.
You proved to yourself that your mind is really powerful. And a little white lie to help you maintain your health without drugs is okay.


Dr. Erica