Beliefs: What are they good for?

April 6th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

I agree with the sentiment that belief, especially one that is blind and ignores all other evidence can be the opposite of genuine thought. On the other hand, belief can be quite powerful in its own right. For personal empowerment I call these types of beliefs, operational beliefs. This is what you might call a metabelief –  a belief about beliefs (see metaprogramming). For example, if you believe that you can pass tomorrow’s test, you are more likely to study for it today. The more you study, the increased chance you have of passing it. If you believe that you’re going to fail, you won’t bother studying for it, and thus more likely to fail. This is the essential ingredient of positive thinking, or its more mature offspring – neuro-linguistic programming.

Back in the mid-90s when I was living at Arcosanti, one of my jobs required a great deal of public speaking – about 2 hours a day. The very thought of speaking in front of a new group of strangers every day terrified me. I thought to myself, “I am a horrible public speaker and get so nervous that I can’t speak complete sentences without stuttering”. I knew if I was to survive this job and excel at it, I would have to become a better public speaker. So each morning while showering, I kept telling myself over and over again, that I was the best public speaker who walked on the planet. It was hard to say this out loud without either laughing or cringing. After a few days I got fairly bold in saying it, and began shouting in defiance how awesome my public speaking skills were. So each morning over the next few months I would repeat this ‘mantra’. Sure enough, before I knew it, I actually began to believe I was indeed the best public speaker who walked the planet. By the time I got to work to give my presentation, I knew that in every bone of my body. I felt completely confident and assured that my presentation would knock the socks off my audience. After six months, I would get standing ovations at least half the time. This of course reinforced the idea that I was the best speaker on the planet. Of course, I know I’m probably not the best speaker, but I’m a substantially better public speaker now than when I started. This was achieved in most part by believing in myself and my abilities. Some call it belief, others call it faith. As paradoxically as it sounds, sometimes you have to “lie” to yourself, to find out what you’re truly capable of. It definitely helps if you include somatic component to this like yoga or breathwork.

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