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Expanding the Dynamics of Beliefs

“Nothing is more wondrous about the fifteen billion neurons in the human brain than their ability to convert thoughts, hopes and attitudes into chemical substances. Everything begins, therefore, with belief. What we believe is the most powerful option of all.”
(Norman Cousins, 1915-1990, American Journalist, Author and Professor)

Human beings are meaning-makers, that is, generalizers. We make generalizations about everything. Generalizations set boundaries, which by definition are artificial. Yet they function as indispensable guides to generate behaviors, which enable us to navigate through the world of experience.

“We can no longer afford to ignore that fact. We must learn that our beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes about the world create the world.”
(R. C. Henry, 1940-, “The Mental Universe”, Physicist)

A fundamental conclusion of the new physics acknowledges that the “observer creates the reality”. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality, that is, our beliefs about ourselves, about our own capabilities, as well as how we see the world and what we consider impossible or possible.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
(Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German Physicist and Philosopher of Science)

A generalization is in essence a principle or, as I like to call it, a “working hypothesis” which is inferred from a limited number of particular examples. At best, it is really a probability statement, rather than an absolute. It represents an evaluative statement that goes beyond what is actually observed and the information available. This “going-beyond” is called an inductive leap to formulate a rule, governing some category of experience. An inductive leap occurs when we use particular cases as examples to make a statement (or inference) that characterizes some totality, which includes both the observed and unobserved cases. Generalizations can operate as a kind of “double-edged” sword. They can either restrict / limit or expand and enrich the range of possibility and choice.

Often there can be a tendency to take for granted and assume that one’s generalization (belief) is the only one possible or the “right” one, as if it were a fact. This may seem harmless on the surface. However, then this occurs, it can be restrictive, because of the tacit emphasis on closure to the further exploration. There is an additional implication in that the generalization (belief) is taken to be valid and the same for all observers or should be.

“Belief is not the beginning of knowledge, but the end.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, German Writer)

Korzybski[1] suggests an interesting and provocative hypothesis about the nature of belief. He states that a belief may be something we build when we don’t know what is real, and in that sense, is artificial. Additionally, since a belief is generalized from a limited number of examples, it is always partial and incomplete. So an interesting question arises: Can we ever assert with complete and utter certainty and confidence that we are completely right and the other person completely wrong?

“Perception requires imagination because the data people encounter in their lives are never complete and always equivocal. We draw conclusions and make judgments based on uncertain and incomplete information.”
(Leonard Mlodinow, 1954-, American Physicist and Author)

Korzybski further suggests that a belief cannot conclusively be based on the “statistics” that seem to support it, rather primarily on one factor – how well it serves the individual, i.e., the usefulness and ecological implications of the belief.

I would like to expand the notion of what you can do with beliefs. It’s not about finding out what is wrong. It’s not about validating or invalidating or even trying to eliminate a particular belief. This actually isn’t productive and doesn’t lead to generative change. Rather it’s about adding, and adding in such a way that expands the range of possibility, opening up choices where someone perceived there were none.

It is far more useful and ecological to explore and examine the assumptions that reinforce a belief. You can leave a belief intact and examine the underlying unexplored assumptions in such a way that opens the “door” to new and different possibilities to enrich ones experience and interactions with others.

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And, because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”
(R. D. Laing, 1927-1989, Scottish Psychiatrist)

Beliefs are the nominalized-coded version of an ongoing process. So, in this sense, a belief exists as an idea or an ideal, a model, standard or archetype as distinguished from sensory data. They provide a template or map to make sense of and give meaning to the world of experience; that is, they serve to reduce ambiguity in order to establish and maintain coherency.

In addition, a belief functions as a filter in that it determines what someone notices as well as what someone doesn’t notice. It can be described as a “predisposition” that is carried forward into some situation, that is, the stage is already set, in large part, by predetermined responses. In other words, even prior to the selection of response, choice is either restricted or expanded, because the belief is synonymous with the set of perceptual filters that direct someone to notice those parts of the world that are consistent with the belief. Our perceptions have the incredible power to distort our circumstances so that they align with what we already believe. In this sense, the belief sets out to prove what it assumes. This is often referred to as “the structure of self-fulfilling prophecy”.

“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
(Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948)

A belief is associated with a particular state of mind, characterized by an intensified attention, receptiveness and increased responsiveness to a certain idea or set of ideas. This definition is reminiscent of the definition that Milton Erickson, M.D. often used in describing trance. So, in this sense, a belief can be thought of as a “post-hypnotic suggestion” in that it sets out to verify the validity of a belief, rather than explore and test the validity. This is looped behavior.

“The change from old to new requires, in a sense, learning to see and hear all over.”
(S. I. Hayakawa, 1906-1992, Canadian-born American Linguist, Psychologist and Semanticist)

When someone perceives something as a problem, difficulty or a limitation, they have become stuck in a habitual way of looking at something, making it difficult to think creatively and flexibly. The more someone has defended a belief, the harder it becomes to change perceptions and consider it with “fresh” eyes and ears. When the focus of attention is shifted, the quality of life changes, because energy flows where attention goes.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
(Albert Einstein)

Creative solutions begin to emerge and possibilities open up when the elements of a perceived problem are reorganized into a different in ways that broaden the scope of how someone looks at what they are doing. This is one of the things that can be accomplished through the use of the “Meta Model of Language” and the so-called “Sleight of Mouth” patterns, which I refer to as “Patterns of Reformulation”.

“Language is more than just a means of communication, it is an organ of perception.”
(Julian Jaynes, 1920-1997, American Psychologist)[2]

The “Meta Model” is more than an information-gathering tool. It is a powerful information-organizing tool that “invites” someone to explore something not only from one perspective, rather from various points of view. This is essential, because when someone doesn’t explore a perceived problem from different perspectives, they won’t change their thinking, and consequently, their behavior.

“Change your thought and you change your world.”
(Norman Vincent Peale, 1898-1993, Author and Minister)[3]

The “Sleight of Mouth” patterns are basically an extension of the “Meta Model”. These patterns refer to a set of distinctions that reflect the ways in which people defend, validate and maintain their beliefs. In other words, the “justification mechanism” is the one that we are dealing with here. These patterns represent the “logic” or rationale that someone uses to verify and give credence to (i.e., make believable and reinforce) something… strengthen (or weaken)[4] an idea, an opinion, a belief. In a larger sense, you can think of these patterns as a way in which people preserve the generalization that what they are doing makes sense, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.

The degree to which someone has installed a belief is related to the degree with which they have defended it. People tend to cling to the beliefs that they have defended the most. They have often used so many “Sleight of Mouth” patterns to create and validate “evidence”, making it difficult to shift perspectives to create a different focus, and consequently, open up greater freedom in thinking and in action.

“When you rule out the impossible, everything can be believed, thereby making available a limitless and infinite array of new possibilities.”
(Albert Einstein)

The language patterns of the “Meta Model” and “Sleight of Mouth” (Patterns of Reformulation) are essentials tools to organize conscious and unconscious mind processes in ways that mobilize your inherent potential to deal with life’s experiences/situations creatively and flexibly. Whether you describe something as a problem, limitation, difficulty, impossibility or your own curiosity to look at life as an opportunity to learn in the spirit of exploration, every experience/situation holds the potential for continued personal development, because the real wealth and richness of resources reside on the inside… in the other mind… in the other mind.

“The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
(William James, 1842-1910, American Psychologist, Physician and Philosopher)

© Christina Hall, Ph.D., The NLP Connection 1994 (rev. 2004 & 2014)

Footnotes

[1] Alfred Korzybski, 1879-1950, Polish-American scholar and developer of General Semantics, probably best known for the presupposition “The Map is not the Territory”.

[2] Julian Jaynes, best known for his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.”

[3] Norman Vincent Peale, best known for his book “The Power of Positive Thinking.” You can think positively about a situation, wish and want, but that is not enough. The next step is to plan, connecting your outcome (goal) within the larger context of purpose, take action to implement your plan, making adjustments along the way, because any plan is always conceptually ideal. You can consider the “reality” of some current situation and of future projections (e.g., the economy, the job market), but another “reality” is your power to choose an active response. The questions you ask yourself in situations set a powerful direction, for example, “How can I exercise my initiative in this situation?“ “How can I effect this situation?“

[4] George Pólya, 1887-1985, Hungarian mathematician pointed out that beliefs are rarely developed or proved on the basis of actual experience. The basic patterns are identified in his book title “How to Solve It, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning (Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics, and Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Inference,” 1945). He was able to find out what it is that changes a belief. The premise being that since there is an infinite number of numbers, you can really never know if any axiom or theorem is true for every number. In fact, it is impossible to ever know for sure. Consequently, we operate from principles of plausibility.

Appendix

Basic Attitude

  1. There is only movement and change, which means that everything moves from stage to stage.
  2. According to Albert Einstein “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”
  3. No experience is fixed. Every experience represents a “transition” that connects the past to the present to the future.
  4. “There is not any present moment that is unconnected with some future one. The life of every man is a continued chain of incidents, each link of which hangs upon the former.”
    (Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, English Essayist)
  5. All behavior, including language, is a product of internal processes. There is no fixed meaning to any behavior (internal/external). Meaning is always relational and contextual. And you are NOT your behavior… you are NOT your thoughts… and you are NOT your emotions or primary feelings.
  6. All perceptions are partial and incomplete, because you can never describe all that’s there. A person is always communicating their semantic response, that is, the meaning that they attached to their Internal Representation, rather the actual external event.

Some Basic Resources

  1. MINDFULNESS: the act of paying attention in a particular way with non-judgmental awareness. Mindfulness is EMPOWERING because it cultivates greater AWARENESS and CLARITY of PURPOSE.
  2. PURPOSE: the directed focus of your conscious attention.
  3. MOTIVATION: congruently and fully aligned movement toward actualizing the greater purpose.
  4. IMAGINATION: It is essential to cultivate your innate ability to enter the world of “as if” to explore and experiment with “fresh” eyes and ears a variety of different perspectives/perceptions to expand the range of possibility and choice, opening up greater freedom in thinking and in action.
  5. “The world of reality has limits... the world of imagination is boundless.”
    (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778, Swiss Philosopher and Writer)
  6. REFRAMING AT HIGHER LOGICAL LEVELS: This emphasizes “both/and” relations as distinguished from “either/or” relations. This means that seemingly contradictory situations can both be valued as a tool to support and advance personal development.

If you can conceive something in your mind, then it can be brought into your physical world, because anything that has ever been accomplished started as an act of mind.

“I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
(Albert Einstein)

© Christina Hall, Ph.D., The NLP Connection 2010

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