Tao of the Zentropist

January 5, 2011

What Power Balance Bracelets Teach Us About Belief

To quote Captain Renault in the classic film Casablanca, I was “shocked” to learn via the Associated Press newswire that the manufacturer of Power Balance bracelets, in response to an Australian consumer protection inquiry, has admitted, “There is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims,” in reference to its televised marketing campaign boldly stating that wearing its silicone bracelets improves balance, strength and flexibility.

Gee, you think? Plastic bracelets with “magical” holograms don’t really interact with the body’s chemistry, or alter your “chi” or encourage the instantaneous development of more fast-twitch muscles and neurological pathways? For those seeking instant gratification, this must be disappointing news indeed. But what this does reveal is how powerful belief can be, and how psychological conditioning can lead to positive outcomes.

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD – OR IS IT?

What science does seem to suggest is that an individual’s mental state does have a measurable impact on not only athletic performance, but a wide range of human endeavors. Indeed, much of the “self-help” industry, including the cottage industry spawned by “The Secret” and the notion of the Law of Attraction, is based upon affirmations of positivity and reinforcing an attitude of belief that one is capable of achieving whatever goals one desires. You just have to want it badly enough.

Psychological mindset is important, and at elite levels of competition, any potential edge over a competitor is widely sought out. As Henry Ford is credited with saying, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

The danger, of course, is that it can be very difficult for most people to maintain the focus and discipline necessary to remain positive 24/7, especially in the face of challenging circumstances which undermine confidence and perhaps speak to nagging self-doubts or feelings of inferiority. That’s why many Eastern traditions speak of focusing on the NOW, or the present moment, because it is the one thing that we have direct control over. Quantum mechanics aside, for all practical purposes the past is behind us (although as Shakespeare wisely noted, “The past is prologue”) and the future is still unwinding and unknowable. But we do have the ability to act in a certain way at this very moment, and adjust our attitude accordingly.

Of course, part and parcel to our mental attitude and maintaining a “Can Do” belief system is also recognizing where our talents and interests lie, and finding the sweet spot where these intersect and we can excel. Returning again to the topic of athletics, competition at the elite levels in every sport requires the right combination of genetics, hard work (physical and mental) and even a healthy dose of luck; absent any of these factors, just believing that one can become a highly compensated professional athlete is ultimately an unhealthy delusion.

THE POWER OF MAGICAL THINKING

Now what’s interesting, and frankly, not too surprising is that Power Balance has also admitted that some of the sports figures raving about the efficacy of its product are actually paid endorsers. We can be cynical about this, as vested financial self-interest is a powerful motivator, but I suppose that it’s also possible that people like Shaquille O’Neill and Lamar Odom really believe that their performance is enhanced by wearing a talisman which invariably is manufactured overseas by people who will likely realize in their lifetime less income than these gentleman do in a single season of athletic competition.

Based on interviews, I’ve come to the conclusion that Shaq is probably a nice guy whose heart is in the right place, but I wouldn’t hold him up as a paradigm of intellectual horsepower or as someone experienced in the art of critical thinking. And the Power Balance “demonstrations” featured on their television commercials and Website of haplessly weak, out of balance people suddenly “centering” themselves and resisting a tug on the arm are comical as any competent martial artist knows; notice how a subtle change in angle when force is applied can make all the difference between being able to maintain some semblance of balance and toppling over. I’ll be more impressed if someone can maintain their center (not to mention their equanimity!) with the aid of the magic bracelet when confronted by a well-trained fighter.

Yet even still, I would draw an important lesson from yet another scam tapping into the tendency of most people to want instant results with minimal or no effort; belief is a powerful tool in support of achieving one’s goals, so long as it is also backed by what Buddhism identifies as the Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.  One doesn’t necessarily have to agree with traditional Buddhist definitions of each of these, but rather the spirit of how they apply to each of us individually.

That’s something that all of us, regardless of religious affiliation, can potentially believe in…

Jonathan S. Ross is the founder and principal of Black Rock Consulting, a boutique management and communications consultancy based in Los Angeles offering strategic planning, project management, marketing and writing services to start-ups, early stage and more mature businesses. Feel free to send an email to schedule a confidential discussion of your needs. Initial consultations are FREE OF CHARGE and WITHOUT FURTHER OBLIGATION.

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