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Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Magic of Belief

Chapter Four excerpt – The Power of Belief

Some years ago I did something that to most people would seem miraculous, I walked on fire… a 1200 degree bed of glowing, red-hot coals that stretched some twenty feet. My feet were not burned nor even blistered however when I got home that evening and attempted to remove my trousers, I found that the nylon zipper was melted shut. I had to cut the pants off with a pair of scissors. How was this possible?...belief. I was in a state of congruent belief that the coals would not burn me. As a matter of fact, what I saw in my mind was not the stretch of glowing coals before me but a bed of cool, wet moss. 

Similarly there have been studies of schizophrenics who physically display the symptoms of a disease that they believe is a part of their “other” personality.  They have tested positive, for example, for diabetes when they believe they have become one of their personalities that has that particular disease.  In the hands of a skilled clinical hypnotherapist, a patient in deep trance can be burned with a piece of ice by being told that the ice is hot metal. In Appalachia, religious fundamentalists are able to safely drink highly poisonous strychnine in quantities that would most certainly kill virtually anyone else. They are also able to withstand deadly venomous snake bites with little or no apparent effect. It is the very same mechanism that accounts for the placebo effect. Experiments are setup where two groups of people are told they are receiving a medication that will produce a specific effect. Only one group actually receives the active drug while the other receives an inactive compound such as a sugar pill. Invariably, some of the people who received the sugar pill or “placebo” will exhibit the same or similar physiological responses as the group who received the active drug. Once again, the mechanism is expectation or belief.

So what is a belief? Simply stated a belief is way of understanding or representing something to ourselves as truth.  Beliefs are created in numerous ways, let’s have a look at some of them…
Environment is a powerful creator of beliefs. For example if a child is told repeatedly that it is stupid as it endeavors to learn through trial and error, it will begin to adopt that belief and cease to experiment expecting only failure. This type of belief can be and usually is carried into adulthood with disastrous consequences. Conversely, if a child is praised as smart and capable, even as it tries, fails and tries again, it will continue striving to learn and will develop a belief of  self-determination and confidence. Children who are exposed consistently to an atmosphere of failure and despondence will adopt a belief that failure and despondence are the norm while children exposed consistently to an atmosphere of achievement and contentment will come to believe that achievement and contentment are, in fact, the norm.

Events can shape beliefs. The following story illustrates an event radically changing the beliefs of both the participant, not me, and the observer, me. In the summer of 1987 I was studying for my master practitioner certification in NLP at UC Santa Cruz. We had been studying the structure of beliefs and the mechanisms for changing them. One day in class our instructor, Dr. Rober Dilts, one of the pioneering developers of NLP, selected a woman in our class for a demonstration. I had noticed from the first day of class that she wore impossibly thick eye glasses. I later learned that she was very nearly legally blind. Dr. Dilts asked her to be seated next to him in front of the class and she timidly agreed. He asked his colleague to stand at the rear of the small classroom and hold up a number of fingers. He inquired if the woman could determine, without her glasses, how many fingers were being held up. Not only could she not do it, she reported that she could only see a vague outline of what appeared to be a person standing at the rear of the room. After some thoughtful reassurance from Dr. Dilts, he began working with her to change the belief she had held since early childhood regarding her eyesight. In a matter of 15 to 20 short minutes his work was done and he once again asked his colleague to hold up fingers on each hand. She looked up toward the back of the room and was unable to speak her answer because she was crying uncontrollably. She then held up seven proud fingers. She was exactly correct. Her belief, as well as mine and I dare say everyone in the room that day, was shattered by that event; not only her belief about her eyesight but her belief about what is possible. That day radically changed several beliefs of mine that have never reverted to their previous state to this day.

Past results can create belief. There is no more effective way to foster a belief that you can do something than to, well, do it. After completing my studies at Santa Cruz, I had a vast set of tools designed to very rapidly change behavior. While we had the opportunity to experiment with those tools in class, lab and with fellow students, we had yet to take the skills out into the “real world.” As it would happen, I would have that opportunity in an airport on my way back home from school. I was on a layover, sitting in the airport restaurant and overheard two businessmen conversing with a colleague regarding their upcoming flight which just happened to be in less than a half hour away. Apparently their colleague was terrified of flying to the point of phobia. He had agreed to come on this particular trip due only to the fact that the meeting they were all to attend in another city across the country was of huge importance to their company. Now that flight time was approaching, he was stricken with immobilizing fear and was refusing, despite the pleading of his associates, to get on the plane. Sensing an opportunity to help and try out my new skills as well, I interjected…

“Pardon me gentlemen, I could not help but overhear and I believe I can help. If you’ll give me just a few moments with your friend, I think he will be fine and more than willing to make the trip.”

 After a bit of extremely curious questioning from the men, they agreed. I think mostly because they were out of time and out of options. The frightened man and I found a quiet place to sit and in about 5 minutes, he was ready to board the plane without hesitation. They offered me a ridiculous amount of money for my service which I refused. I had my payment. I now had a congruent belief that my skills were as effective in the “real world” as they were in the academic cocoon of the Santa Cruz campus.
Knowledge can create beliefs. Beliefs come in essentially three forms. The first we are not concerned with. Those are innocuous beliefs like, “I believe I can either have fish or chicken for dinner.” Good for you, it’s a great country we live in! The other two forms are of tremendous importance. They are supporting beliefs and limiting beliefs. These are the forms of belief that have a dramatic and lasting impact on our everyday experience. These are the forms of belief that can determine whether we reach our goals and live an extraordinary life of health, joy, peace and abundance or exist in an ordinary or miserable state of ill-health, drudgery, lack and unhappiness.  Often knowledge of concepts that are new to us can foster new beliefs. This book might be a good example of that for you. If what you read here is new to your mind and makes a great deal of sense to you, it may create a new belief in you. That is admittedly the goal here by the way. You may come to believe, simply through exposure to the concepts that you are not a victim, not at the mercy of circumstances beyond your control, that your thoughts shape your reality, that all possible outcomes are available to you, that you can choose your beliefs, that we are all connected, the list goes on. On the other hand you may want to believe these things but find that there is still considerable doubt; that it all might be just so much hocus pocus. Well here’s the good news. There is a very specific procedure from the NLP tool kit that creates lasting and permanent belief change and we are going to go through it step by step. As we discussed previously, in order for the creation formula to work you must arrange your thoughts as if your goal has already been achieved. That means belief. It means getting rid of your limiting beliefs. Things like…

“This stuff won’t work.”
“I’m not smart enough to do this.”
“Nothing ever goes my way.”
“Everything is always hard.”

 and replacing them with new beliefs that support you in your efforts and in your life. Beliefs like,
“I can do whatever I choose to do.”

“I am healthy and happy.”
“I love the amazing adventure that is my life.”
“I am love.”