The doctor said “He won’t see the night out”. This was within earshot of the young Milton Erickson (American psychiatrist and psychologist, 1901 – 1980) who was lying paralysed in bed riddled with polio fever. Hearing his mother weep the teenager vowed there and then in anger that he would survive the night and prove the doctor wrong. Although he must have fallen asleep at some point, Milton was unaware. Yet, he did remember seeing the first light of the dawn stream though his windows.
Milton had decided not to take the doctor’s belief but to choose one for himself, i.e. he believed that he could live.
Beliefs are a choice
Have you ever wondered where your beliefs come from?
Some of the most powerful beliefs come from the people you come in contact with. This is the reason that when you change one of your big beliefs about life the people around can act in what seems to be negative ways.
For example you decide to change your beliefs about health and you eat differently. Your friends and family will come up with counter arguments that you’re wrong. Or they will support you and also tempt you with cake suggesting that just one cake will not make a difference.
Rules you live by
One way to think about beliefs is that they are the rules you have set up to affirm your truth. For example, if I were to ask you “what is your favorite food?” and you replied “Pasta”. If I were then say “No it’s not” I then look like an idiot. You are the king or queen of your world, and when you declare Pasta is your favourite food then it is your favorite food. This may seem to be a simplistic example, but this is exactly what you will look like if you challenge someone else’s beliefs.
Let’s take an overview of what happens when you change or update a belief. Other people may not know this and so they will continue to act by your old rules, even though you have changed them. Naturally this can be upsetting for you and even threaten the relationship, but you can appreciate why people react the way they do when others try to impose changes on their lives.
So what do we do when we want to update our beliefs?
When you need to update your beliefs
You are now aware of the reaction you can face with changing beliefs. So how should we go about it?
It’s important to note that all beliefs are held at an unconscious level and need to be accessed.
Let’s take an example of a stated belief: “I’m not very good with money” with a two step process:
Uncover the belief structure that underlies this statement.
Find the underlying structure of the belief by repeatedly asking two fundamental questions to challenge the statement with “Because?” or “Which Means?” This runs as a chain and will gradually peel away the layers to expose the underlying belief:
“I’m not very good with money, because?”
“I’ve never really had any, because?”
“There are more important things in life, which means?”
“It’s wrong for me to focus on money, because?
“That would make me a bad person”
Step 2: Change the belief, using the same statement interventions as above – but this time by framing them positively and applying them to a behaviour that acts ‘as if’ this has already happened to affirm your new truth.
In this case the new belief could be:
“I am great with money, because I add value which means I can make a difference in the world”.
In NLP this technique is known as ‘acting as if’ and is something that the great Milton Erickson used so effectively in his psychotherapy of patients and clients.
Interestingly, the people you mix with can make a difference to enhance your new belief. Find someone, or a group of people who already hold that new belief and interact and spend time with them.
“I am dyslexic, I can’t write”
“I’m dyslexic, which means?”
“I can’t write, which means?”
“I’m stupid, which means?”
“I can’t be successful, because?”
“I am worthless”.
This shocked me down to my very toes. In that moment I made a significant decision, just as Milton had done all those years ago, and I vowed to add worth to the world. Dyslexia has nothing to do with being stupid or having difficulty with writing – it can make things difficult but not insurmountable and it certainly does not affect general intelligence. I therefore chose some new beliefs and in the process I have met some amazing people from all around the world
So what are the key learning points to consider?
- What new beliefs do you want?
- Beliefs affirm our truth
- When you change your beliefs it can be meet with resistance
- Beliefs are held at the unconscious
- You can choose your beliefs
- You may need to act ‘as if’
Not only did Milton Erickson survive, he re-built his body and went on to undertake a 100 mile canoe ride. In view of the negative statement of the doctor that fateful night, Milton also vowed to become a doctor so that nobody would have to go through what he went through. The Milton legacy lives to this day, even underpinning the key principles of NLP. Who would have thought that someone who revolutionised and changed the face of western psychotherapy also suffered from another condition which doctors, of that period, had yet to determine a name for? Yes, even the great Milton Erickson was also dyslexic.
Have you ever wondered how many different ways there are within NLP for changing beliefs? It is good to wonder and when you are ready to join the 1,000s of people who have discovered multiple ways, join us on the NLP Practitioner training programme.
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Article written by John Cassidy-Rice