During his post-game press conference on Sunday, Lebron James sat in front of reporters curious how he felt about his eighth NBA Finals appearance. On his head, he work a slouchy baseball cap — a “dad hat,” they’ve become known in the last two years — adorned with this all-caps, sans-serif message: “THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL”. The declarative could’ve served as the answer to reporters about how James has achieved such incredible athletic feats over a long career.
Of course, the hats are for sale (and so are T-shirts on Amazon). They will likely adorn the heads of weekend warriors throughout the summer, especially if James wears it after each game as the Cavs go through the Finals. And if the Cavs win the title in June, you can expect it to be a hot holiday gift.
Despite the fact that the Boston Celtics — the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opponents — couldn’t seem to make a basket on Sunday, scientific study of sports psychology and willpower shows that the message on the four-time MVP’s hat couldn’t be truer.
Research published this month in the journal Psychological Assessment found that a person’s belief about their own willpower predicts their own self-control. If you believe your own willpower is strong — that “there is no magic pill” for sheet determination — it will be. And if you think you and most humans are weak, your willpower will be lower. If you’re at athlete who combines willpower with incredible talent, like James, you likely fall into camp of the former.
If you believe “there is no magic pill” for success like James, you also likely score highly on the Implicit Theory of Willpower for Strenuous Mental Activities (or ITW-M) scale used by the researchers in that study, which can now be applied across various cultures for further research.
Another study, this one published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in April 2015, found that “when people believe that willpower is an abundant (rather than highly limited) resource, they exhibit better self-control after demanding tasks. However, some have questioned whether this ‘nonlimited’ theory leads to squandering of resources and worse outcomes in everyday life when demands on self-regulation are high.”
The brain trick people like James play on themselves is that willpower is in very high supply. However, James has become a master of using it wisely, if a wasting of “nonlimited” willpower does indeed occur as some psychologists believe.
The idea of the “magic pill” has been used for years to describe the mindset people force themselves into as a way to overcome challenges, whether that be improving mental health or achieving more physically.
As the message on James’s hat declares in big block letters, if you’re an elite athlete or somebody who just wants to lose weight and run faster, there’s often no easy solution. Even as other scientific studies have shown that the NBA champion’s ideas about mental “toughness” are wrong (it can be developed and isn’t a thing people are born with), his ideas about willpower are closer to the net than the Celtics were on Sunday.