Belief or bluff…boundaries of The Possible

In my upcoming book, “How to NOT Kill Each Other During Lockdown”, I talk about beliefs as they are a cornerstone of our worldview. Which directly translates to our behavioral choices. In NLP parlance, that “worldview” is our “Map of the World”, the complete set of filters, biases, beliefs, that shape our perception of reality, of the world and our place in it. That matters because if our Map allows for disagreements or friction without losing our minds, we may find it easier to adapt, influence, or compromise in situations where we experience disagreement with others. 

There’s a simple point that I make that’s so impactful that I want to share it here. If we believe something is impossible, then, as reasonable people, we won’t attempt it. The definition of “impossible” clearly states that it can’t be done. Who would waste their time on such a thing, right?

But what if we don’t believe it’s impossible? I use the example in the book of the Wright brothers, as they worked to create a mechanical flying machine. At that time, it was conventional wisdom that anything heavier-than-air could not fly. It was accepted as truth, and by extension, such a device would be “impossible”. As reasonable individuals, Orville and Wilbur Wright did not attempt the truly impossible. Rather, they disagreed that such a machine was impossible at all. That might sound nit-picky, but think about it for a moment. Of course, the impossible is “NOT POSSIBLE”. One of my trainers said that “failure is only such if you put a time limit on success”. So if we have begun to attempt something, and while not reaching our goal, we got useful feedback…and then it happened again…and again…pretty soon, we’d have a wealth of information, of knowledge, and be that much more clear on the possible paths to success. A woman I respect a great deal once told me, “All information is good.” She would seem to be right. For if you remove that time limit, that process seems quite likely to result in success. Even if only “eventually” so. 

Let’s apply this to the Wrights.  Let’s modify that “conventional wisdom” just a bit and see how it changes things. “Anything heavier-than-air could not fly–YET.” Or “Anything heavier-than-air could not fly–so far.” Or, “Anything heavier-than-air could not fly–as far as we know.” Or, and I really like this one, “Anything heavier-than-air could not fly–until YOU figured out how!”

Most of us have heard the famous Henry Ford quote regarding belief: “Whether you believe that you can or that you can’t–you’re right.” I don’t repeat that just to name-drop. That actually sums up the point of this article in the first place. If you believe that everything you do results in failure (which would be a very difficult belief to maintain–if you’re alive and reading this, anyway–you’ve clearly succeeded in at least a few areas), how likely are you to push yourself to succeed or develop a new ability your success requires? Maybe in addition to having that belief, you’re also curious…so you initially try…but as adversity kicks in or the task becomes a little more challenging than expected, such a belief, if taken to heart, would clearly drive you to give up. On the other hand, a belief that “I can do anything with enough hard work and patience,” sounds like a pretty good ingredient in a success recipe.

Beliefs dictate what we think is possible, plausible, desirable, etc. Everything we believe has the potential to inspire us drive us forward, apply our skills, decide to develop new skills, or just give up. It’s the reason that in NLP, we say that the “truth” of a belief isn’t as important as whether or not it’s USEFUL. In coaching people, I’ve occasionally come across an objection there. “What if the belief isn’t even true?” I’ve been asked. “Or maybe COULD be true, but also might not be?” NLP would say that those two questions matter far less than the one about utility.

So does a belief that you can do anything with enough hard work and patience mean you’ll always succeed? No. But as important, it also doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t often succeed. If the belief is in some cases objectively untrue, such as “Everyone likes me,” that doesn’t prove its antithesis. If you go out into the world behave in a likable manner (according to your cultural norms), and meet people, inevitably some people will like you. Though it’s also safe to say that some won’t. Your task is to decide whether that belief helped you or not. Part of creating either outcome is to meet people, so would having that belief inspire you to go out into the world and meet people? I have to assume that’s at least more true than that belief making you hide in the darkest room of your home refusing to meet others. 

Taken a step further, there are techniques in NLP and other forms of social psychology which allow for acting as though something untrue had already been made true. Meaning you are not a wealthy person, and you have a desire to be one. But you create beliefs that support your pursuit and you may begin living as a wealthy person does, at least as far as it makes sense. Perhaps you don’t (yet) have the means to buy an expensive home, car, or afford lavish vacations, but you identify the habits of wealthy people and internalize them, yourself. There have been many such models created, elicited and shared. Case in point: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley. If you chose to embrace this mindset, this Map of the World, and begin living within that Map, you would be acting “as-if” you already were wealthy. Not only would you be able to feel wealthy, but the very habits you’ve internalized, in conjunction with “millionaire beliefs” would very possibly enable you to reach that goal. Likely, they aren’t the only things, but they obviously would support that pursuit.

I saw a trainer one time use a funny example of this. “I’m often asked how I became a millionaire. I started out as a kid with a paper route. Then when I got older, I began trading penny stocks and buying old houses. I’d renovate the houses and sell them at a profit. After ten years of trading stock and flipping houses, my very rich uncle died, leaving me a million dollars! That’s how I did it!”

Rather than feed cynicism with that example, let’s just laugh and move on. After all, is it possible for someone to make a million dollars on their own doing what he described? Of course. It’s happened many times throughout history and it’s still working today for many. The core of it is the question: Will I do the behaviors necessary to achieve this goal? The answer to that will depend on what you believe. To you:

  • Is this possible?
  • Is it ethical?
  • Will this earn me respect of those I respect?
  • Will this fulfill me?

That’s just a handful of questions I’ve heard in my workshops. Depending upon what you care about, what values guide your beliefs, your own questions may vary wildly. But they don’t just matter, they’re vital. Hypothetically, let’s consider a person who wants to be a millionaire, just for example. And she asks herself the above questions, based on her values–meaning each of those questions matters a lot to her. Now let’s say the answer to two of those questions is “NO.” Remember, there is no objective answer here. This is all dictated by her beliefs. So if any two, hell, if any ONE question gets a “NO,” how likely is she to persist? How likely is she to find the behaviors necessary in achieving her goal, within her capacity? I’m going to say it’s at least less likely than if she’d gotten a cheering “YES!” to each question. Now you understand the point about “usefulness”, if you hadn’t already.

So the next question would be, What IF the belief seems unlikely to you, but you really want to make it so? You BELIEVE it’s unlikely you will become a millionaire, but you want to change this. There are several powerful techniques we can explore for making that change. But in the interest of time, let’s just say that you want to behave AS IF you believed your goal is possible. AS IF, indeed, you’d already achieved it, so your own actions can catch up eventually to your chosen reality.

There have been people who’ve sworn that this was all they needed in order to achieve their goals. I won’t claim to know something I don’t–so maybe they are right. Maybe faith is truly enough. What I know to be true for certain is that with a powerfully supportive set of beliefs, we allow ourselves far more agility, daring, and ultimately achievement. In fact, with unsupportive beliefs, we may not even try. 

We’ve also heard the expression “fake it until you make it.” I won’t claim that never works because clearly for many it has. I just know that in some fields, such as Cybersecurity or Surgery, bluffing isn’t as likely to work because the actual skill is far too important to success. Working with this subject matter is the same way. My producing results in people’s lives, having people refer others to me, being told, as I have, “I was told you were the ONLY person who could help me!” (how’s that for pressure?) I’ve seen how skill matters. So rather than “fake it”, I would suggest in most areas you commit to developing skill, form a solid strategy, and take consistent action toward that goal. Any belief that helps you do this is a good idea, provided it doesn’t harm others, in my opinion.

Remember that last part as well–your own goals shouldn’t harm others because if they do, you are creating much more work for yourself. Craft your goals with ecology in mind, meaning that they pose no challenge or problem for the other pre-existing elements in that environment. Ecology check satisfied? Create the proper support system of beliefs and strategy and use all feedback to refine your approach. And go get it!

Copyright © 2020 Chris Gingolph

Leave a Reply