The Power of Belief
Sensei’s Corner – September 2007
Several months ago a friend emailed me a link to a video clip1 I found quite amusing. The video featured a delusional “martial arts instructor” who claimed to command the power of ki (life energy) to the extent that he could knock out and/ or throw opponents while tens of feet away. Similar to a jedi knight, this guy moved his hands around as if using this unseen “force” to strike and push people around. The incomprehensible part, though, was the fact that his students believed it, too. They possessed a level of belief that assisted in perpetuating the farce. When he moved his hands, they fell over and reacted as though they were actually on the receiving end of fierce blows. None of the people felt as though they were acting in any way. They all believed.
Most will simply dismiss these clips as amusing samples of “joke” martial arts. I see much more. I see something that is incredibly valuable to everyone; martial artist or not. That lesson is this: the act of believing can literally change the way you experience the world, give life to things that are dead and suspend or eliminate the boundaries of “reality”. The act of sincerely believing you will be knocked out by a man waving his hand will make it so. Let that sink in for a moment and think of the implications. What you believe manifests itself in your words, behaviors, capabilities, and physical being.2
We see in the examples1 some people whose power of belief has been put to poor use. Imagine the great disadvantage these people place themselves in by believing they can defend themselves with ki. I pray none of them are ever actually attacked by someone who doesn’t believe in their magical powers. But let’s consider some other examples of unproductive beliefs that perhaps are more common:
- “I’m just not a fast learner.”
- “Kata _____ just always gives me trouble”
- “Nobody ever listens to me”
- “I’m just always too tired to really train hard”
- “My problem is that I can never relax”
Each of these beliefs seems harmless and probably familiar. If you have never said any of them out loud or to yourself you probably know someone who has. Assuming that our beliefs will manifest themselves in our thoughts, words, and physical actions, can you predict how an individual with these beliefs may act? What are they capable (or not capable) of? What limitations have they imposed on themselves?
Now, consider the powerful changes that may be realized by adjusting just one belief. Perhaps instead of saying what’s listed above we say:
- “Sometimes I learn quickly”
- “I am always improving the way I do Kata ______ ”
- “Nobody ever listens to me”
- “I like it when people do listen to me”
- “Training hard energizes me”
- “When I relax it makes things easier”
Notice that in each example I did not suggest attempting to change the belief by imposing the “opposite belief” on our subconscious. That approach simply creates internal conflict and it will actually serve to reinforce the unproductive belief. This is because your mind will recall and use as “proof” all of the experiential evidence from your past that created the belief in the first place. Like accepting an opponent’s strike and redirecting it, we must work with our current beliefs to point them in a more useful direction. By focusing on statements that we see as both useful and true, we create a belief structure that truly serves us.
Of course, as with martial arts training, continuous practice is the key. It’s not enough to simply reshape some belief statements and move on. We must repeat the new positive beliefs we’ve created for ourselves over and over again. Through repetition and reinforcement your new beliefs will become internalized and eventually begin to manifest themselves in the way you experience the world.
Beliefs are powerful. There is no piece of information that enters your mind without first being filtered through your beliefs. Their influence on you and your life is unavoidable. To truly address the limitations in your life and pursue the perfection of character, you must spend some time creating and installing useful beliefs.
1 The following links are to video clips posted at www.youtube.com. They clearly illustrate both the sincerity with which instructors and students believe in the power of ki and clear evidence that it is “all in their heads.”
2 Book: Changing Belief Systems with NLP by Robert Dilts.
Summary: Our beliefs are a very powerful influence on our behavior. It is widely understood that if someone really believes he can do something, he will do it; but if believes something is impossible, no amount of effort will convince him that it can be accomplished. Our beliefs about ourselves and what is possible greatly affected our day-to-day effectiveness. All of us have beliefs that serve as resources as well as beliefs that limit us. Many of our beliefs were instilled in us as 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? If so, how do we do it? This book is a result of the author’s own exploration of the underlying processes that influence beliefs, using the tools of NLP.
– Sensei Don Seiler