As I was preparing to run my first marathon, there were a number of things working against me:
- I’d never run more than 10 miles in my life.
- I had 8 weeks to prepare.
- I got zero hours of sleep the night before.
To any expert looking in at my situation, they’d see a failure just waiting to happen. Instead, I ran a sub 4-hour marathon that would continue to be my personal record for the next four races before eventually training hard to beat it in Buenos Aires.
Had I been rational and calculating, I’d have come to the same conclusion as everyone else: I’m about to fail.
Luckily, in this case, I was neither rational nor calculating. I puffed up my chest, told myself it would be no big deal, and ran like crazy. It worked! I mean, it wasn’t “no big deal”—I couldn’t walk for two days after and I lost a toenail (may it rest in peace)—but that “fake” confidence helped me… a lot.
This is what’s amazing about the human brain; it’ll do whatever you tell it if you use the right tone of voice. Study after psychological study show that your reality can be completely distorted by your beliefs.
Here’s just one example. Stanford researchers found people who think willpower is limited have limited willpower. Not so interesting, right? We all know willpower is limited. Or is it? Shockingly, they also found people who think willpower is not limited have incredible, lasting willpower.
For decades, science has tried to prove through other channels one or the other is true. But now we’re learning it’s really neither; whatever your brain says is what your reality is.
This is also what’s unfortunate about the human brain. If you tell it the wrong things, it’ll still believe them.
In the words of the great Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”