The Power of Beliefs

Beliefs are a powerful influence on our lives. They are also notoriously difficult to change through typical rules of logic or rational thinking. There is an old story, related by Abraham Maslow, about a patient who was being treated by a psychiatrist. The patient wouldn't eat or take care of himself, claiming that he was a corpse. The psychiatrist spent many hours arguing with the patient trying to convince him he wasn't a corpse. Finally the psychiatrist asked the patient if corpses bled. The patient replied, "Of course corpses don't bleed, all of their body functions have stopped." The psychiatrist then convinced the patient to try an experiment. The psychiatrist would carefully prick the patient with a pin and they would see if he started to bleed. The patient agreed. After all, he was a corpse. The psychiatrist gently pricked the patient's skin with a needle and, sure enough, he began to bleed. With a look of shock and amazement the patient gasped, "I'll be darned...corpses DO bleed!"

It is common wisdom that if someone really believes he can do something he will do it, and if he believes something is impossible no amount of effort will convince him that it can be accomplished. What is unfortunate is that many sick people, such as those with cancer or heart disease, will often present their doctors and friends with the same belief mentioned in the story above. Beliefs like "It's too late now;" "There's nothing I can do anyway;" "I'm a victim...My number came up;" can often limit the full resources of the patient. Our beliefs about ourselves and what is possible in the world around us greatly impact our day-to-day effectiveness. All of us have beliefs that serve as resources as well as beliefs that limit us.

The power of beliefs was demonstrated in an enlightening study in which a group of children who were tested to have average intelligence was divided at random into two equal groups. One of the groups was assigned to a teacher who was told that the children were "gifted." The other group was given to a teacher who was told that the children were "slow learners." A year later the two groups were re tested for intelligence. Not surprisingly, the majority of the group that was arbitrarily identified as "gifted" scored higher than they had previously, while the majority of the group that was labeled "slow" scored lower! The teacher's beliefs about the students effected their ability to learn.

In another study, 100 cancer "survivors" (patients who had reversed their symptoms for over 10 years) were interviewed about what they had done to achieve success. The interviews showed that no one treatment method stood out as being more effective than any other. Some had taken the standard medical treatment of chemotherapy and/or radiation, some had used a nutritional approach, others had followed a spiritual path, while others concentrated on a psychological approach and some did nothing at all. The only thing that was characteristic of the entire group was that they all believed that the approach they took would work.

Another good example of the power of beliefs to both limit us and empower us is that of the 'four minute mile'. Before May 6, 1954, it was believed that four minutes was an unbreakable barrier to the speed with which a human being could run a mile. In the nine years prior to the historic day in which Roger Bannister broke the four minute ceiling, no runners had even come close. Within six weeks after Bannister's feat, the Australian runner «John Lundy lowered the record by another second. Within the next nine years nearly two hundred people had broken the once seemingly impenetrable barrier.

Certainly, these examples seem to demonstrate that our beliefs can shape, effect or even determine our degree of intelligence, health, relationships, creativity, even our degree of happiness and personal success. Yet, if indeed our beliefs are such a powerful force in our lives, how do we get control of them so they don't control us? Many of our beliefs were installed in us when we were children by parents, teachers, social upbringing and the media, before we were aware of their impact or able to have a choice about them. Is it possible to restructure, unlearn or change old beliefs that may be limiting us and imprint new ones that can expand our potential beyond what we currently imagine? If so, how do we do it?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Sleight of Mouth patterns offer some powerful new tools with which we can reframe and transform potentially limiting beliefs.

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