Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

The “Brocebo” Illusion

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Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just working on chiseling down for the beach, you have, in large part placed the fate of your success in the palm of someone else’s hands.

Like it or not, once you’ve stepped into the public eye or worse yet, once you’ve slapped on the last coat of tan, basted yourself in baby oil and stepped on stage in front of a panel of judges, you have relinquished the power of decision to someone else.

What happens next is no longer up to you.

Your opinion at this point means very little, if anything at all.

In fact, research in the area of Social Psychology based on Yerkes Dodson’s Law, Theory of Social Facilitation would suggest – and here’s a brain twister for you – when it comes to your performance your opinion about other people’s opinion of you may matter more than your own opinion of yourself.

I layman’s terms, social facilitation is the tendency for people to do better when in the presence of or being observed by other people. As usual this does not go without a flip side known as social inhibition which is the tendency to do worse, when in the presence of or being observed by other people.

…it all happens in your mind!

One of the key determinants of social facilitation and/or inhibition is, at least based on my personal experience, whether or not, you, as the observed, have formed the opinion that the observers (judges/audience) are supportive or critical of our performance. In other words, whether you believe they think you’re awesome or suck.

Whether we like to admit it or not–other people’s opinion matters to us! And since we may not know their opinion – we form one for them.

As a human being and therefore a “social creature” the chances are, like most of us, at one level or another you have been forming your personal opinions, including opinions about yourself good or bad, based, although not exclusively, on the influences and opinions of others. This, in a long career of painful lessons is exactly what spawned one of my most stinging and valuable.

I was in the early stages of a budding body building career and had already racked up several fairly impressive victories and respectable placings in some high profile prestigious competitions when I made a classic tactical error. I allowed myself to be influenced by opinions other than my own.

“You look freaking amazing, bro” – “you’re ready, bro” – go collect your trophy, bro” was what I was hearing, in spite of the fact that I was in off season shape, from my immediate gym tribe which included some very successful and more importantly (at the time) “freaking cool” athletes.

And as a result, when I looked in the mirror, I was convinced I was seeing something that simply was not there – a competition ready physique.

The “Brocebo” Effect

Borrowing from a recent post on SuppVersity by Dr. Andro about the impact of placebos on athletic performance, especially when endorsed by a pro or a bro, I now call this the “Brocebo (bro-cebo) Effect.”

Just like the classic performance enhancing effect a simple sugar pill (placebo) can have even on a seasoned pro, I was psychologically pumped up by what I was hearing because it was what I wanted to believe to be true. And before I knew it, I found myself on stage at an important stepping stone competition, pale, unprepared and most influentially – of the opinion that “the audience and the judges must think I suck.”

Unlike the actual placebo effect however, which in proven cases can actually enhance performance with little if any negative aftermath – the impact of buying into the “Brocebo Effect” was for me both demoralizing and humiliating.

I learned the hard way that basing your actions solely on the opinions of your overzealous “bros, tribe, or homeys” can not only induce false confidence, but can actually be a very powerful covert foe to your success. Perhaps we should re-name it the “Fauxcebo Effect.”

Here are three rules for managing and handling social influences that will keep you from swallowing the Brocebo pill and help you avoid falling victim to social inhibition when stepping on stage or into the relatively public eye of your local beach:

  1. Seek the critical eye of a coach, mentor or honest critic who will give it to you straight. If you surround yourself with a posse of yes-men, suck ups or Brocebos you will never get an honest unbiased (all be it sometimes painful) critique.
  2. A swollen head (ego) will always find plenty of helium to fill it. Keep yourself grounded in confident humility by adapting a beginner’s mind set – meaning, seek constant learning in the pursuit of mastery. The moment you feel like you have become the master is the moment you should be bracing for a painfully humbling experience.
  3. Judge harshly and you shall be judged harshly. When you sit back as the critic and judge others harshly or form and express unfavorable, unkind or just plain mean opinions of others you are sending a message to your unconscious mind that “people are judging you in the same harsh unforgiving way.” These unconscious beliefs will way heavy on your ability to perform at your best on stage or in any social or business setting. Be kind, compassionate, honest and professional when critiquing others and your subconscious will receive the message that the audience and judges are there to support and reward you for your hard work, diligence and courage… and you will be setting in motion the process of social facilitation

See you in the winner’s circle!

Tom Terwilliger

 

 

PS. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback

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Comments

One Response to “The “Brocebo” Illusion”
  1. Betty Rocker says:

    Hey Tom,

    I think that how we look at and respond to our peers says a lot about how we feel about ourselves. If we can’t look at ourselves honestly, or there’s something we’re afraid to see, we’re more likely to give false praise. If we’re always beating ourselves up mentally, we might be more likely to see negative traits in others. Either way, our perception of others is always a projection of self-perception.

    You said “seek constant learning in the pursuit of mastery” and reflect on being humble even when we are striving to be great. I feel like I respond and learn the most from others who have maintained an attitude of clarity about who they are and how they got there, and prefer the counsel and opinion of someone who is willing to share a story about their own struggles rather than a cheerleader. Having people around me who challenge me and are always a little further along than I am pushes me to stay honest and keep growing.

    When I was in college (1995!), I was the only girl on the mountain biking team. I was always last, always the slowest and sometimes got discouraged. There was no way my teammates could puff me up with hot air, because I was obviously the weakest rider! But riding with faster and stronger riders subconsciously (and physically) pushed me to be faster and better than I would have ever gotten riding with people who were at the same level or below me. When I finally raced against other women who were more my size and stature, I was in the top percentage of finishers. I had no idea I was actually as good at is as I turned out to be and have since actively pursued experiences that put me in situations where I wasn’t the best.

    I really appreciated this post as the more opportunities I have to present myself publicly, the more valuable this theme has become. It’s really great to celebrate achievements and feel good about successes, but they are most meaningful when I can look myself in the mirror and say without a shred of doubt, “I earned this.” That hollow feeling that comes from getting praise when we don’t quite merit it is something each individual has to determine for themselves, but guarding against the hot air of hubris is the herald of the strongest wind in our sails of achievement.

    Great post.
    -BR

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