Placebo or Nocebo: Which Pill Will You Swallow?

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to get my Swine Flu immunization. Quite a few people in my circle have been getting sick, and the media’s pervasive coverage of this illness would make it seem that the pending pandemic is potentially pernicious enough to rival the Black Plague or something so dramatic. So, with that, I determined, “Why not?”

While waiting in the doctor’s office, I grabbed the news magazine on the top and began reading. I cannot tell you the date or name of the publication, nor the name of the article, but what I read was quite fascinating indeed.

Most of us are familiar with the placebo effect, where an inert pill (commonly sugar) is given to a patient who is then told that the said pill will have therapeutic effect. Lo and behold, the condition of some patients improves, because the patient merely believes that the placebo will help them.

The article I read spoke that the opposite effect or nocebo sometimes occurs with patients who are told that a treatment might have undesirable side effects. We have seen how pharmaceutical companies (almost laughably) toss in their “undesirable side effects” disclaimers in the television ads for new medications. It turns out that when people are under the impression that a medication “may hurt” or bring about these undesirable side effects when given an inert treatment, they often feel the negative effects.

This got me thinking of the negativity that surrounds recession times. How does the media coverage of mass layoffs and unemployment rates impact your perception? I often find myself acknowledging that accomplishing various career or job search goals is difficult because of the times we are facing. Am I doing my clients (or myself) a favor by “pragmatically” observing that there are less jobs out there right now, therefore making their job search more difficult–or am I rather feeding a nocebo negativity, deterring them from an optimism that would feed their motivation and allow them to remain persistent in the hopes that they will soon find success?

After reading this article, I am determined to stick with the latter perception, and dwell on the positive as Pollyannaish as this may be. Perception is key. Those that are able to ignore the naysayers and who persistently pursue their goals and dreams are the ones who can change the world, innovate, and achieve the most. How does your perception of yourself, your situation, and of the greater world around you impact your achievement? Do you allow failures to derail you, or do you see them rather as opportunities to learn so that you will ultimately be successful toward whatever it is you are questing for?

Your attitude or perception can either be a placebo or nocebo regardless of what situation you face. If the distance between hard and impossible is a thousand miles wide, imagine then what can be done, no matter what barriers you currently face. Pablo Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” Can you imagine a better economy? A better job? A better life? A better world? Take the positive pill and you can find whatever remedy you are seeking.