What Is Your Brain Really Capable Of?


Mere thoughts of an upcoming public performance, or important meeting, can cause sweaty palms and an increased heart beat.

Mere thoughts of a naked female form can cause an erection.

Once the 5 minute mile was broken, multiple other people broke it shortly thereafter.

Depressed people are more likely to get sick.

After overweight maids were told that they should be thinner due to the amount of manual labor they performed in their jobs, they started losing weight.

Basketball free throw shooting skills can be increased by thinking about going through the motions of shooting a free throw, even without physically performing the skill.

In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin said he prevented atrophy of the muscles of his broken arm by working out the unbroken arm, and then visualizing the workout passing to the other arm.


I came across each of those anecdotes while reading various articles and books.

When I started considering them all together, it made me wonder…what is my brain really capable of?

How much unrealized non-conscious control does the brain actually have over the body?

Sure, Waitzkin was able to stave off atrophy…but maybe that was just due to the amount of natural Human Growth Hormone that working out in general causes the body to produce.

Sure the basketball study showed an increase in skill at hitting free throws…but maybe that was just the effect of a more entrenched nerve pattern firing in the brain to cause the right actions to flow in the right sequence more consistently.

Sure the maids lost weight…but maybe once they realized how active they actually were, it changed their self-image, and they started eating healthier too.

Sure depressed people get sick more…but maybe that’s why they are depressed.

Sure the five minute mile was broken multiple times once it was shown to be physically possible…but maybe that was just the effects of shared training methods making everyone better.

Sure a naked female form causes an erection…but…okay you got me there. I’m not going to be consciously thinking an erection into happening. I can fantasize, but I can’t “flex” one into being.

So I decided to try an experiment.

The Experiment

I’m really lazy. I’m not athletic at all. I’m not fat, but I get winded really easily. I have no endurance, and I generally don’t like to stand up for too long.

Needless to say, I really REALLY don’t like working out or physical exertion. But…I still wouldn’t mind having the muscled body from doing it.

So, I thought, given all of the above anecdotes, that maybe if I visualized doing pull-ups, I could cause my brain to build muscle in my body without doing anything.

I believe this might be the definition of “crazy lazy”.

On Day 1, I took my baseline.

I did 6.3 physical pull-ups.

I was not able to pull myself up any further. These are 5 seconds up, and 5 seconds down, no pausing at top or bottom. So 63 seconds of exertion. Blech!

Then, for the next 7 evenings, in the shower, with my eyes closed, I visualized doing 8.3 pull-ups.

I actually took 83 seconds to do it.

I visualized grabbing the bar, pulling my chin up above the bar over 5 seconds, and lowering myself back down over 5 seconds.

I imagined looking over at my arm and watching my bicep flex and contract as I pulled up, and unflex and lengthen as I lowered down.

I did not move any part of my body while I was doing the visualization.

And, yes, I was sitting…83 seconds is a long time to stand for no good reason.

Results Day

On Day 8, I did the real physical pull-ups again. (Blech!)

A week previous, I was able to do 6.3 pull-ups.

This time I did….8.3!

Exactly what I was visualizing!!!

NO actual physical exertion and a week later, I could do 30% MORE pull-ups!!!

Score one for the lazy guy!!!!

Okay, wait, could there be an alternate explanation that didn’t have anything to do with the visualizing?

I have actually tried to work out before. And I did increase strength and size, and at a certain point, it did happen that I would work out a group of muscles once a week and still get stronger over that week.

Now I was working out other groups of muscles at the same time, so it’s possible that the HGH in my blood from those workouts was improving all muscles at the same time.

So from a strict perspective, this run of the experiment was inconclusive…but still very encouraging.

Rinse and Repeat

I decided to perform the experiment again. But this time for much longer.

This time I would do it for 21 days.

Because when I did the working out in the past, and built muscle, that’s how long it took to have the muscle disappear again when I stopped working out.

So if I didn’t do any physical exertion for 21 more days, not only should I not gain more pull-up ability, I should actually lose ability, and go back down to 6.3.

For the next 21 days, in the shower, every night, I visualized doing pull-ups.

But now I was doing it for 21 days…3x the time I had done before. And I had gotten 2 more pull-ups out of that…so I figured I should expect 3×2…6 more pull-ups on top of the 8.3.

So I was visualizing 14.3 pull-ups in the shower every night. 143 seconds. All mental. No physical.

Results Day…Take 2

I stepped up to the bar, grabbed, and started my 10 second pull-ups.

I had my heart and mind set on 14.3 pull-ups.

I was cranking them out 10 seconds at a time…until about 10 where I started to feel the pain.

Then it got worse and worse pretty quickly.

I was only able to eke out 12.1 pull-ups.

I was really dejected.

I thought I might have found this awesome body hack, and now, it had slipped from my grasp.

I had told a buddy of mine about the experiment, and the 1 week results, and that I was going to do the 3 week run and see what happened.

So the next day we met over donuts (if you’re going to be lazy…gluttony is a nice add-on).

I broke the bad news. My pull-ups only increased from 8.3 to 12.1 over the 3 week period without my doing any physical exertion…instead of the 14.3 I was visualizing. (The first week I got the 8.3 I visualized on the dot!)

He got excited, and said “So you got what you wanted!”

At first, I was confused. I didn’t understand what he couldn’t see…I didn’t get 14.3?

He actually had to walk me through it and point it out to me…I increased my pull-ups 45% (8.3 to 12.1) without any physical exertion over a period of time when my pull-up ability should have gone DOWN!

How cool is that?!

I told multiple people about this. Some were excited. Others were skeptical.

I even gave a speech on the experiment to my Toastmasters group.

Then, something REALLY amazing happened.


I forgot.

I forgot I did that. I forgot how cool it was. I forgot how cool I was for trying it.

I even, somehow, didn’t document the speech that I gave to my Toastmasters group.

I gave it as an impromptu speech and have no notes from it, and no one was recording videos that day.

Herd Memory

So how can I be telling you about it now if I forgot?

I was at a meeting recently and one of the people I had told prompted me to tell the story.

And as I told the story, it came back to me, and I remembered how awesome it was.

And I felt really good about myself.

But, how could this have happened? How did I forget that I did something that cool?

And more importantly…what other awesome things have I done that I still don’t remember, and am not giving myself credit for?

Scratch The Itch

My forgetting this was a tragedy. A tragedy I want to avoid in the future.

And I am pretty sure that other people have the same problem of forgetting what awesome things they have accomplished.

So I built something to help.

It’s called Mettle Forger.

Load it up with short phrases.

Things you’ve accomplished, compliments you appreciated, and goals you are working toward.

It will send these short phrases to you, randomly, and give you a little shot of happiness, and a reminder of your awesomeness, so you don’t forget.



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