Change Work February 2007

A reason to believe

No, I'm not going to quote Rod Stewart. Rather something by Bertrand Russell!

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way."

In December's article we looked at Values: those  principles, people, places, and things that are most important to you.  Values are the foundation of your life. But they are not the whole story. They are supported (or undermined) by your beliefs.

Beliefs cluster around values. For example, I might value "honesty", which sounds pretty worthy and fairly harmless. Alongside that though, I might believe that anyone who has ever wronged me should never be trusted again - and this could cause much trouble in my relationships. Alternatively, I might believe that everyone is deserving of a second chance and so leave open the possibility of righting wrongs. (Not necessarily any less trouble though!)

There is a story about a patient who was being treated by a psychiatrist. This patient was refusing to eat or to take care of himself in any way. He claimed that he was a corpse.

All efforts to disabuse him of this mistaken belief had failed. Finally, the psychiatrist suggested that he could prove to the patient that he wasn't a corpse. "Do corpses bleed?" he asked. "Of course not!" replied the patient, "How could they when they're dead?"

"Then will you allow me to prick your finger with this pin? Then we'll see if YOU bleed." said the psychiatrist.

The patient agreed, still convinced that he was a corpse. So, the psychiatrist took a pin and lightly pricked the patient's finger, which began to bleed. The patient looked at the blood in astonishment and gasped, "Well who'd have thought it? Corpses DO bleed!"

As Russell implied, beliefs we are comfortable with tend to resist an awful lot of evidence to the contrary.

To achieve anything you need to believe three things about the outcome:

Doubts in any of these areas will hold you back and doubts are just further examples of beliefs. Most of these limiting beliefs are based on a mistaken piece of logic of the form "A means B". For example,

"I've never done this before - that means I can never do it", or

"My boss gave this assignment to someone else - that means he doesn't trust me."

In beliefs of this type, the conclusion may actually be true, but it doesn't follow from the first observation. You can help someone (or yourself) to overcome the limiting belief by challenging it in one of a variety of ways. These are known as "reframing" and help the individual to access new internal resources, i.e. to see things differently.

Let's say that someone expresses the belief: "This new project is too difficult for me."
You can:

1  Redefine the words.
"The whole thing might be difficult, but you don't have to get everything right first time."

2   Change the time frame. Evaluate the statement from a different time scale, either much longer or much shorter.
"How long will it take to learn how to do it?"

3   Explore the consequences of the behaviour.
"If you don't try you'll never know whether it's difficult or easy"

4   Change the chunk size.
Chunk up (take a wider perspective): "Are all projects difficult?"
Chunk down: "Which part of the project is easy for you?"

5   Find a counter example.
"Have you ever completed a project that was easier than you expected?"

6   Ask for the evidence.
"How do you know that?"

7   Re-evaluate the statement from another model of the world.
"Most coaches would say that you only learn through attempting things you don't already know how to do."

8   Give a metaphor or an analogy to give the person resources.
"That reminds me of the first time I had to lead a team ..."

9   Appeal to the positive intention behind the belief.
"I know that you want to hit your targets."

10   Change the context so that the relationship does not apply in the same way.
"The degree of difficulty depends on who you can ask for help."

Finally, the easiest way to create and reinforce enabling beliefs is to continually affirm them, i.e. to focus on and to repeatedly state what you can do. For those things that you still believe you can't do, make it "can't do yet." This automatically puts you in learning mode rather than accepting of limitations.

And this brings us back to an earlier article where I mentioned a critical presupposition:

"If one person can do something, it is possible to model it and teach it to others."

It doesn't matter if this isn't universally true - it's just that we achieve more by thinking and acting as if it were true. So, whatever you want to do that you can't do yet, you will be able to learn.

I wish you all the success you deserve!