OK, how long do you think it would take you to increase your strength by 25%?
Naturally, that depends on how close to your genetic potential you are right now.
On the other hand, a more advanced trainee might take three months or more.
And an Olympic athlete? Forget it – they’re already so close to their potential that even a 2-3 % improvement could take years.
But here’s something interesting.
In his bestselling book Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr Maxwell Maltz describes how an athlete couldn’t exceed 100 lbs on a grip-strength dynamometer.
The athlete was then hypnotized into believing he was much, much stronger, and then retested.
This time he hit 125 lbs.
Now, according to Maltz, the athlete hadn’t been hypnotized so much as de-hypnotized.
How? Because his old beliefs – I can’t pull more than 100 lbs – ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t really trying before, when he was hitting 100lbs it was a genuine balls-to-the-wall effort.
But he was unconsciously working against himself – with opposing muscle groups fighting against each other.
In effect, he was stomping on the gas pedal while simultaneously pushing the brake pedal to the floor.
And when he stopped doing that, he was finally able to display the strength that had been there all along.
He’d released the brakes that had been holding him back.
OK, that’s just an anecdote from a book, but there are studies that demonstrate the exact same thing.
The Steroid Carrot
Even though I’ve read it before, this study still blows my mind.
Fifteen trained athletes were told that the guys that made the greatest strength improvement over the following seven weeks would be given anabolic steroids(!).
Now that was a real motivator, and the top guys improved their strength by something like 22 lbs.
(Just to be clear, that was the combined strength improvement over four exercises: the squat, bench press, standing press, and seated press)
So, a 22-lb improvement in seven weeks.
Those guys were then given anabolic steroids for just four weeks.
The result? Their strength in those same four exercises improved by around 100 lbs!
A 22-lb improvement in seven weeks without steroids versus a 100-lb improvement in four weeks with steroids.
And the kicker? The “anabolic steroids” were actually just placebos and totally inert.
So you really can think yourself stronger.
Not only that, you can think yourself faster, too.
The Four-Minute Mile
In his TED talk The Mindset to Succeed , Professor Tim Noakes talks about how Roger Bannister and John Landy fought to become the first person to break the four-minute mile.
According to Noakes, Landy was perhaps the better athlete of the two.
After all, by January 1954 he had run a 4m 02s mile seven times in two years.
But this is what Landy concluded:
Frankly, I think the four-minute mile is beyond my capabilities. Two seconds may not sound like much, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall. Someone may achieve the four-minute mile the world is wanting so desperately, but I don’t think I can.
In May that year, Bannister scraped inside four minutes, running a time of 3m 59.4s.
And Landy? Well, just 46 days later, he smashed his own best time by an incredible three seconds and ran the mile in 3m 58.0s!
So what had stopped him from doing that before?
It was only when he really believed it was possible that he finally became able to do it.
But this doesn’t just apply to athletes, it works the same way for you and me.
And it can even affect our health.
According to Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, stress may not be as harmful as we’ve been lead to believe.
A major study tracked 30,000 adults in the US for eight years, and had them answer two simple questions.
1. How much stress do you experience?
2. Do you believe that stress is harmful?
Simple enough – but get this:
People who experienced a lot of stress and considered it harmful to health had a 43 % increased chance of dying.
On the other hand, people who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying in the study!
That lead researchers to conclude that around 182,000 people died prematurely over the duration of the study from the belief that stress is bad for you.
If that’s true it would make “stress belief” the 15th biggest killer in the US.
What Should We Do?
OK, so what does all this mean for you and me?
Fundamentally, we’ve got to control our minds instead of letting our habitual way of thinking control us.
The reality is it’s way easier for a person to be negative than positive.
The same way it’s easier to sit on the couch watching TV than it is to go for a walk, hit the gym, or head out on a bike ride with your kids.
Now, these eight steps from the original edition of Psycho-Cybernetics may sound kind of lame.
You might even think they’re slightly ridiculous, but they’re potentially life changing nonetheless.
So listen up.
1. I will be as cheerful as possible.
2. I will try to feel and act a little more friendly toward other people.
3. I am going to be a little less critical and a little more tolerant of other people, their faults, failings and mistakes. I will place the best possible interpretation upon their actions.
4. Insofar as possible, I am going to act as if success were inevitable, and I already am the sort of personality I want to be. I will practice “acting like” and “feeling like” this new personality.
5. I will not let my own opinion color facts in a pessimistic or negative way.
6. I will practice smiling at least three times during the day.
7. Regardless of what happens, I will act as calmly and intelligently as possible.
8. I will ignore completely and close my mind to all those negative and pessimistic “facts” which I can do nothing to change.
Keep in mind that it’s not enough to just read these once and then forget all about them.
That’s a bit like joining a gym but then never showing up.
So start putting them into action right now, today.
And be consistent.
Apply these regularly, and you’ll smash through old self-imposed limitations like they’re made of rice paper.
Sometimes it really is that simple.
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Reference: Ariel et al, 1974