The Power of Suggestion is Real (the scientific version of “The Secret”)

You get what you expect to get

Crossing your  fingers, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, knocking on wood, or wishing on a falling star all have one thing in common – the power of suggestion.  The magic you imagine in the bones and fur of the rabbit’s foot makes you feel lucky and hopeful, which invites into your mind the anticipation that canstockphoto3064755an outcome you desire could actually happen.

Expectation is the key.  Science has found that the genie emerges from the bottle when our expectation of success mobilizes vast cognitive and emotional resources and directs those resources toward fulfilling our desire.

In other words, we get what we expect to get. This phenomenon has been called the placebo effect, the power of suggestion, and more recently it’s been touted as The Secret. The evidence of real life outcomes is now so overwhelming that science is taking this phenomenon seriously. Researchers Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Maryanne Garry of Victoria University found that, “the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think … [with] real life implications. They added:  If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people’s lives.”[1]  

The landmark research of Ellen Langer of Harvard showed that the power of suggestion could roll back the biological clock by twenty years for men in their late seventies and early eighties.[2]  She also found it can increase eye sight by 40 percent[3] and allow you to lose weight at a rapid rate.[4]  A study conducted by the Scottish Institute of Sport found that a placebo can improve athletic performance the same as taking steroids.[5] The power of suggestion can improve cognitive function, reduce pain, and even change the outcome in as deadly a disease as Hodgkin lymphoma.  I had a client, who in his mid-20s was diagnosed with stage-2 Adult Hodgkin lymphoma.  The medical prognosis was considered highly unfavorable. Somehow, when his oncologist delivered the bad news he heard the opposite. He left the clinic thinking the doctor had told him that his chances were highly favorable. During the course of his treatment, his mindset was built on the anticipation that every step of his medical care was moving toward the highly favorable outcome of complete remission, which is exactly what happened. It wasn’t until his oncologist presented the case at grand rounds that he learned he’d misunderstood the facts, proving Karl Menninger’s maxim that attitude is more important than facts. He stated that, had he known the verdict that medical statistics predicted, he probably would’ve died. He was absolutely certain that the mindset his misunderstanding produced saved his life.

The proof is there. The power of suggestion can shape your reality. When the power of suggestion is infused with expectation, the odds go up that you’ll get what you’re hoping to get. It modifies the old proverb be careful what you ask for with be careful to ask for it with  impassioned belief.

[1] R. B. Michael, M. Garry and I. Kirsch, Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol.21(3), pp.151–156, 2012

[2]Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, Random House (new York), 2009 p. 5-12


[4] Crum, Alia J., and Ellen J. Langer. Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science 18, 2007, no. 2:165-171.

[5] McClung, M.; Collins, D. Because I know it will!”: Placebo effects of an ergogenic aid on athletic performance, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology 2007 Vol. 29 No. 3 pp. 382-394