Thought Viruses and the Meta Structure of Beliefs

The Meta Structure of Beliefs

In the course of this book, we have explored a number of the dimensions of our experience that are influenced by our beliefs, and which are also involved in forming and sustaining our beliefs.

Our sensory experience is what provides the raw materials from which we construct our maps of the world. Beliefs are generalizations drawn from the data of our experience, and are typically updated and corrected by experience. As a model of our experience, beliefs necessarily delete and distort aspects of the experiences that they have been developed to represent. This gives beliefs the potential to limit us as easily as empower us.

Values are what give our beliefs and experience meaning. They are the higher level 'positive intentions' which the belief has been established to support or reflect. Beliefs connect values to our experiences through statements of 'cause-effect' and 'complex equivalence'.

Expectations provide the motivation for maintaining a particular generalization or belief. Expectations relate to the consequences that we anticipate will come from holding a particular belief. The particular consequences a belief or generalization produces determines the usefulness of the belief.

Our internal states act as both filters upon our experience and the impetus for our actions. Our internal states arc often the container or foundation supporting a particular belief or generalization, and determine the emotional energy invested in sustaining the belief.

It is the interconnections between these various components of our life experience that forms what Richard Bandler refers to as the "fabric of reality." The function of our beliefs is to provide key links between these basic elements that make up our map of the world.

Consider, for example, a child learning to ride a bicycle. An empowering belief such as, "I can learn," might link together key values associated with learning—such as 'fun' and 'self improvement'—with an internal state of 'confidence', and the expectation that, "I will get better and better." These provide the motivation and impetus for the child to keep trying, even though he or she might fall quite frequently. As the child is able to experience longer periods in which he or she maintains balance before falling, it reinforces the generalization, "I can learn," as well as the state of confidence, the expectation of improvement and the values of fun and self improvement.

Fun and

Self Improvement

Fun and


(Generalizan otis)

Self Improvement r


(Generalizan otis)

"I will Expcctati get better (Anticipan and better " Consequent <--

"I will Expcctati get better (Anticipan and better " Consequent <--

Balancing Longer Before Falling down


(Sensory Input)

Our Beliefs are Generalizations Which Link Together Experiences, Values, Internal States and Expectations, and Form the Fabric of Our Reality

Healthy beliefs maintain their connection with all of these various dimensions. Our beliefs naturally shift and update themselves as wTe go through changes in values, expectations, internal states, and as we have new experiences.

Limiting beliefs can arise as a result of a shift in any one of these components to a negative formulation or 'problem frame'. Once established, limiting beliefs can exert an influence on any or all of these various components. For instance, let's say that a child who is learning to ride a bicycle has an older brother or sister who is already able to ride a bike competently. While this may provide a strong motivation for the younger child to learn to ride, he or she may also develop inappropriate expectations. The child may expect to ride as well as his or her older sibling, and compare his or her performance negatively to that of the older child. Because the younger child's performance does not match his or her expectations, the child my shift into a problem frame or failure frame, leading to an internal state of frustration. In addition to producing uncomfortable feelings, the negative internal state may effect the child's performance, causing him or her to fall more frequently. The child may also begin to build the expectation, "I will fall again," feeding a self-fulfilling prophesy. Eventually, in order to avoid continued discomfort and frustration, the child may establish the belief, "I will never be able to ride a bicycle," and quit trying to ride any longer.

Desire to avoid further frustration and discomfort

Desire to avoid further frustration and discomfort

Falling down and getting hurt

Limiting Beliefs Create a 'Problem Frame'

When limiting beliefs and generalizations stay connected with the intentions and experiences from which they have been established, the deletions and distortions eventually become updated or corrected as a result of new experiences, changes in internal state, and revised expectations. New data or 'counter examples' that do not fit with the generalization will lead the person to reconsider the validity of his or her limiting belief.

If a child who has built the generalization, "I can't ride a bike," is encouraged and supported to continue to try riding

(and is able to perceive his or her "failure" as "feedback") he or she will eventually learn to maintain balance, and begin to have some success. This will typically lead the child to begin to think, "Well, maybe I can learn this after all." With continued success, the child will reverse his or her earlier belief, naturally reframing it on his or her own. The child becomes more 'open to believe' that he or she is capable of learning to ride the bicycle, and 'open to doubt' his or her perceived limitations.

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