Be careful what you believe!
What you believe will work as a self-fulfilling dynamic.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
What is a belief? It is a thought which is embedded within a reality-confirmation frame. When we embed a thought inside a confirmation of reality, we create a phenomenon of the mind that we call a “belief.” And when we create a belief, we not only think of something, but we treat our thought as real. We attribute a meaning of reality to it.
So with a belief, with any belief, we frame our first thought as real. And to do that we frame it within another thought, a higher thought, so that it becomes a context (a mental context) for how we interpret the first thought. Then, having done that, we then begin to experience the content of our belief as being real so that from the inside-looking out, it has and gives off us all of the sense (and senses) of being real. What is the heart of beliefs? We construct “reality.” We create our inner sense of what’s real and what is not by the beliefs that we invent and adopt.
It is in this way that beliefs are reality-endowing perspectives. In the creation of beliefs (e.g., in believing) we meta-state our thoughts with a higher level thought-and-feeling of various aspects of reality. That is, we bring the following states (mind-body states) to our basic idea:
“This is real.”
“This is actual.”
“This is the way it is.”
“This X is the meaning of Y.”
“Things work this way.”
“This X leads to this Y.”
It is in this way we create beliefs about what is (what exists), how things work, the way we and others work, and the meaning of things— what is important (values), what to go for (intentions, outcomes), and how to feel or experience things (emotions).
These reality frames about ourselves, others, the world, what exists, what causes what, etc. describe how we confirm our thoughts. We confirm that our thoughts are legitimate, real, and actual. And it is this process of confirming that engages and elevates our thinking to the level of beliefs. Thoughts are at the first level— just representations in our mind of things. Beliefs are second thoughts about those first thoughts. Then we create beliefs about our beliefs.1
Mere thought only gives us ideas—content information about things. But we may or may not interpret such thoughts as real or valid. We may think that our thoughts are untrue, unreal, fantasy, wishful thinking, science fiction, myths, lies, and so on. These second thoughts about our first thoughts prevent us from treating them as something to direct our lives. We don’t act on such ideas. They do not refer to anything real. Or, just as equally we could say that these frames stop us so we do not “believe.”
It is when we “believe” in an idea that we then act on it as a legitimate map about reality. We frame it as real—actual—legitimate and so we respond as if it is. All beliefs have this as if quality precisely because beliefs are not empirical thoughts, but operate at a second level to our first thoughts about the empirical world. That’s why beliefs do not have to be true, real, actual, or empirical to be believed. We all have, and do, believe things that are not true. Some of them hurt us; some help us.
Did you catch that? Beliefs do not have to be true, real, actual, or empirical to be believed. This is incredible!
Also, we can and do believe lots of things that we can’t “prove” to the satisfaction of all fair-minded people. In fact, this provides one way to determine if a thought is a belief or a first level representation of what you can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, etc. (empirical).
“Do all fair-minded people accept it?”
“Do non-believers accept it?”
If not, then you are working with a belief and not empirical information. And this is true regardless of the strength of your belief.
We do not “believe” in things that are empirical— things that we can see, hear, touch, and measure. At the primary level empirical things are the brute facts that all fair-minded people agree upon. Empirical things are simply accepted as existing. Even an unbeliever will acknowledge such. We study them so that we can more fully understand them. If the subject is not empirical and cannot be seen or measured, it is not a brute fact, but a belief fact.
When we believe, we think that we have enough or sufficient “proof” to go with our belief and to act upon it. We live our lives by thousands of beliefs simply because we have to assume that many things are so in order to take action. Otherwise we would be paralyzed from acting. Otherwise we would never get out and do anything.
Everyday we take actions believing that we will be able to do something, that what we do is important, and that our actions will bring forth the results we want, results that will make a difference in our lives and the lives of others. We don’t know that for sure. We act in belief that probability is on our side.
All of the Multiple Layers of Beliefs
All of this highlights that in believing we can have different degrees of evidence, different levels of beliefs that some are only one level away from the empirical things of brute facts and some are many levels away. We also have beliefs about our beliefs. We believe our beliefs are more sure, or less, more valid or less valid. This speaks to the strength of our beliefs.
How strong do you believe that?
Do you have any question or doubt about that?
Do you have some doubt? Will your doubt stop you?
Is your belief strong enough to get your through?
What else do you need to believe about that in order to step forward and act on that belief?
Do you have any limiting beliefs about that belief stopping you?
What would be the most powerful belief that would empower your first belief?
Beliefs are higher level frames or meta-states about our thoughts and ideas that embed our thoughts within the content of what we believe conviction that it is valid and legitimate. Beliefs then create our validity-frames. With them we see the content of the ideas that we believe as valid, real, and true. Beliefs govern our mapping of what’s true. We never believe what’s not true for us. If you think that something is not so, does not exist, is not true— you cannot believe it and you cannot believe in it. It will not govern your actions or mobilize your mind-body system. On the contrary you may dis-believe it— believe that it is not so. And we dis-believing you prevent it from commanding your neurology.
The Magic of Self-Fulfilling
All of this combines to create the self-fulfilling prophesy nature of beliefs. Whatever you believe, you will tend to see, hear, and experience. If it is possible to bring something into reality, then it is belief that mobilizes your mind-body to do so. Of course, not every belief can do that. You can believe all day and night that you can fly with your arms like superman but without that mechanism for flight in your neurology (unlike a bird or bee), your mind-body system will not be able to actualize that belief.
Beliefs create a self-fulfilling prophesy because a belief is a “command to the nervous system” abut what’s real.2 If you believe something is dangerous to your well-being, that belief will command your neurology to make the threat-to-your-being real and actual to you on the inside. It will organize the messages of your thoughts and ideas so that your nervous systems are informed about what’s happening and to mobilize your skills and resources to cope with that threat. That’s why your whole fight-flight system (the General Arousal System) is activated with all of the corresponding responses in your brain stem and body.
The self-fulfilling prophesy nature of beliefs create both powers and problems. Beliefs that we can learn, that others have resources, that people are basically good, etc. enables as to call new realities into being. Whether things were that way originally, they become that way by our beliefs. But we can also believe in things that undermine us and sabotage the quality of our lives. If we believe that we are worthless, scum of the earth, that we will never amount to anything, that we don’t deserve to success, that others are cruel and want us to fail, etc., we similarly call those toxic experiences into existence.
Jesus noted this self-fulfilling nature and principle of beliefs when he said, “Be it unto you according to your faith.” Psychologically, the general principle is that life will work for you as you believe it will work for you. And that becomes even more true of your beliefs-in-yourbeliefs, for your higher level beliefs which comprise your belief sytems. It is by our beliefs that create our inner sense of reality, our inner maps about things, and then from there we create our our experience of reality. Beliefs endow us with creator powers for good or ill.
The Structure of Fanaticism
Beliefs are important at every level. And this becomes especially important if or when we believe in the validity of our beliefs. Do that and you have a command inside your Matrix of frames that will close your mind to seeing counter-evidence to your beliefs.3 You then become so sure of your beliefs, so confident, so convinced, that you may not even recognize your that your thinking at this level are beliefs. You may even say, “That’s not a belief, I know that.” And of course, at this stage you have moved into fanaticism.
In this, believing is one thing, but believing-in-the-rightness-of-your-beliefs is an entirely different thing. This is what does semantic damage to us because it shuts down the mind. It closes our minds. It sets a belief bias that colors the world and prevents us from detecting errors and making corrections. And this is true for every theological belief, philosophical belief, even for scientific beliefs about things.
Breaking through Beliefs
So can a strong absolute, even fanatical belief, be broken through? How could that happen? It typically happens when life does not work according to our beliefs.
Now generally, life operates according to our beliefs unless or until something intrudes into our life to rock our world in a way that prevents our beliefs from fulfilling themselves. It’s at those moments that reality hits and we crash and we begin to reconsider things.
At the same time, most of us actually work hard to protect ourselves from such. We insure that reality will not intrude by avoiding encountering experiences and people and books that would question our beliefs. That’s why we hang around people who believe as we believe, we read books and magazines that agree with our viewpoint, avoid experiences that would require a different belief, turn off TV programs we dislike, etc. We seek out people, books, and information that will reinforce our current beliefs. The self-fulfilling nature of beliefs drives this kind of behavior.
No wonder those who believe in something can become so sure, so absolute, and so fanatical. No wonder they close off any possibility that they could be wrong. That’s the question I ask people who knock on my door or come into my life who are so absolutely confident.
“Could you be wrong? Is that a possibility? If you could be wrong come in and let’s talk; if you can’t be wrong, please go and get some more life experiences.”
If there’s no possibility that one could be wrong, then the person has shut the door of his or her mind to disconfirming information. Why is that? As they have become “true believers” to use Eric Hoeffer’s term, they have become fanatics. They can only see what their beliefs allow them to see. In this, beliefs create blindness of the mind so that a person can become blind to any information that differs from their understandings.
It is because a thought does not have to be real or true or even legitimate to be believed that we can, and do, believe things that are wrong, false, untrue, hurtful, toxic, limiting, unsane, and even insane. This makes the quality of our beliefs of critical importance. It highlights our responsibility for choosing good, healthy beliefs that support our self-actualization, enhance our life and relationships, and empower us for continual development.
Ultimately no one is responsible for our beliefs, but ourselves. That’s because you and I only have the power to create them for ourselves. And what is the power that creates a belief? It is the power of confirmation. We confirm thoughts so they become beliefs. We confirm beliefs into existence— we call them into being, and when we do, we commission them to become commands to our nervous system, to set self-organizing attractors so that the belief will then create us in its image.
How is your power to create and to destroy beliefs? How skillfully competent are you at decommissioning limiting beliefs that do not serve you well? How easily and gracefully can you identify a limiting belief and pull it apart so that it is undone as a belief? So that it becomes a mere thought that does no semantic damage to you? How skilled are you in catching less-thangreat beliefs as you think and speak and reframe them on the spot? To do so is true mastery.
The Structure of Beliefs and Proof
Once you recognize the structure of a belief —a reality-confirming frame of a thought, then disconfirming the old and confirming the new gives you a quick, elegant, and powerful way to change beliefs. How? Say “No” to the old that de-commissions it and “Yes” to the new that enriches your responses. “Yes” and “No” make up the structures of the frames that generate reality-validating and dis-validating.
Yet merely saying “Yes” once to a thought will not suddenly transform it into a life-enhancing belief. We have to say “yes” to it repeatedly.
“Yes, I want to believe that! Yes, that would enrich my life. Yes, that would be nice.
Yes I am beginning to believe that. Yes I have some ideas about how that could be true and valid.”
Yes confirms. Yes welcomes an idea into our mind and enables us to begin to believe it. As we then say Yes to it for more reasons— this engages the higher levels of the mind to come up with understandings, explanations, and reasons for the belief.
Beliefs are like that—they need reasons for validation. The slow way to create a belief is to work with content, that is, to identify specific content information about something that enables us to make sense of the idea and to validate it. We can validate an idea with content by giving another person reasons to believe it. Yet this approach puts the belief at the disposal of the quality of the reasons, the logic of the reasons, and how the belief fits into the person’s networks of beliefs. If the new belief fits into the existing Matrix of beliefs makes sense (is meaningful), and matches the person’s way of reasoning (his or her logic and use of logic), then the new belief will go in and be accepted fairly easily.
Conversely, the less it fits into the person’s philosophies of life, basic understandings, and current belief systems and the more it differs from one’s way of thinking, the less it will make sense and so the more difficult it will be to take on and install as one’s belief.
That’s why the long, slow, and hard way to change beliefs is to argue, persuade, or reason ourselves or another into the belief. This content approach is how most people primarily attempts to alter beliefs, change beliefs, and take on new beliefs.
The Structural approach is to dis-validate the old with a No to clear mental-and-emotional space filled up by the old belief and to then validate the new belief with a Yes. Once this is accomplished, then the person’s own higher understandings will self-organize to find and invent supporting reasons and philosophies. And this mostly occurs outside-of-our-consciousness awareness. Because of this, the structural approach makes the process smoother and more elegant.
What is the FBI within the structural approach? It is that our beliefs lie embedded within higher frames, level upon level. So where ever there is a belief, there are higher frames-by-implication or FBI frames holding it in place. These are the premises, presuppositions, and assumptions that we operate from, mostly unconsciously, that support the belief. So when we confirm a new thought so it evokes a new belief, the higher levels, the presuppositional levels of our understandings, philosophies, etc. go to work to come up with acceptable explanations for our new belief. You can see this in others when they begin “justifying” their beliefs with legitimate and illegitimate reasons. It is not the content of the justifying that creates the belief, but the process of justifying— the process of finding and/or creating reasons.
“Proof” is in the mind of the beholder — in the mind of the believer. What “proves” a belief for you? What confirms it? ?What gives it validity and credibility for you? What makes it worthy of your trust? What do you use? For many people, credibility arises from the number of times they have heard something, or the emotional intensity, or if they read it in a book, or if an expert said it, or if there were numbers and statistics connected to it, or if they read it in a book, or if it seems practical, or if it fits into one’s referent group, etc. All kinds of things can be used for “proof.” Again, it is not the content of the proof, but the fact that we are “proving” to ourselves its validity and giving ourselves some reason to say Yes to it. It is the proving process that creates the “proofs.”
What convinces you?4 Are you easily convinced of things or do you tend to resist being convinced? Are you automatically convinced and give everything the benefit of the doubt? Are you that naive and trusting? Or are you never convinced and have to be continuously convinced to consider same new idea at every moment? Are you that skeptical?
Because “proof” can consists of all kinds of things, what convinces one person will not convince another. What is proof for one person doesn’t persuade another in the least. What is proof for one leaves others empty and totally skeptical. It’s not the content of the proof that does the magic of creating a belief, but the presence of something that serves for a person as “proof.”
Believing and being a Believer
The bottom line is that we are all believers. Some believe in a higher intelligence called God; some believe that there is no God. Both are believers. No one has proof; each calls upon all kinds of evidence that for them are convincing. But both believe. Either is a choice. What is not a choice is whether to believe or not to believe. We don’t have that choice. Believe we must — and believe we do about a thousand things. So being a believer, the choice is whether you bring an absolutism to your belief or recognize that they are human maps— fallible, liable to error, and make them open to correction and refinement.
Beliefs are magical things —they are thoughts and yet they are more than thoughts. They are awarenesses and yet they are more than just awareness. Beliefs make up the construct of the Matrix of our minds—how we come to know and understand things, give meaning to things, and work inside our mind-body system to create energy, emotions, and actions.
The “magic” of beliefs is that they command our Neuro-Semantics thereby incorporating our ideas into our very neurology. The “magical” of beliefs can also be seen in their self-fulfilling nature—how they color our world and blinds us to what doesn’t filter the beliefs.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. is a cognitive psychology who has turned his attention to the structure of experience through studies in NLP and Neuro-Semantics. For more about “beliefs” see his book, Sub-Modalities Going Meta and Mind-Lines.
1: This is the structure of a meta-state — a state about a state, a thought about another thought, a feeling about another feeling, a thought about a feeling, a feeling about a thought. In this all beliefs are meta-states and so it is beliefs or meta-states all the way up in the Matrix of our mind.
2: Beliefs are a “command to the nervous system,” Richard Bandler, Using Your Brain for a Change (1985).
3: This refers to the Matrix model, see the book, The Matrix Model (2002).
4: These are meta-programs. See the book, Figuring Out People (2006) for a full development of meta-programs.