Most people reading this will have heard of Placebo – the effect when we think we have taken a substance and start to experience improvements or symptoms based on these expectations.
In our ongoing look at the next frontier of human performance I want to tap into something we call the Belief Effect. Unlike Placebo which is based around a false understanding, the belief effect focusses more on how our physiology and biology is impacted based on how much we believe something to be the case.
Belief is a powerful driver of increased performance and confidence. The American Social Psychologist Amy Buddy has written extensively about the impact power poses can have on our internal ability to perform. The fake it til you make it syndrome received a lot of column inches and attention.
I want to be clear I DO NOT BELIEVE in fake it til you make it. it has actually no grounding in neuroscience and is a false representation of that actually happens in the Belief Effect
Science backed Belief Effect
I want to share something that does stack up with what we know about the power of belief. There was a recent study (yet to be fully published) that tested for this effect. Not just in terms of self reported actions or feeling but actual neurological adaptations.
This study took a group of smokers who regularly ingested nicotine. The individuals were deprived of nicotine for a period of time prior to the study to ensure that they no longer had nicotine in their systems.
Why nicotine you might ask?
Nicotine creates a proven impact on the way the brain works that has been scientifically tested and can be seen in FMRI scans of the brains activation areas – so it is a good test subject.
In this study the individuals were all given nicotine. However, they were split into 3 groups, one being told they had received a small dose, the second being told they received a medium dose and the thirds being told they received a large dose.
Each group had been given just a small amount – the same amount (delivered via vaping as the exact amounts is better controlled rather than in other forms).
As you would expect each group saw activation in the brain. However, what was surprising was that the level if activation varied depending on the amount each group believed they had been given – with the highest group seeing a much higher level of activation.
This result is interesting because the actual reaction in the brain – the chemical response pattern changed based on the belief of the person. This showed that the brain has the ability to actual change neurological responses based purely on belief. Leading to individuals experiencing different effects.
Why not fake it til you make it then?
So I stated previously I do not advocate the fake it til you make it blurb that is so popular. The reason why this does not actually stack up with the science around the belief effect is simple. You are faking it. You know, and most importantly believe, that you are not able to perform the task or job to the level required, hence the need to fake it.
This fundamental belief pattern will undermine every action or choice you make – you will simple operate in a space of fear about being found out rather than be truly empowered to perform.
This is where Cuddy’s work gets confused. Embodying a belief pattern based on a genuine belief you can and do deserve to be where you are or do what you do (even if other factors may be a barrier) is not faking it til you make it.
One of the fundamental principles of self mastery is self awareness and self truth. If we start from a standpoint of “faking it” we will never have the integrity to achieve long term personal growth that leads to high performance.
What does this mean for learning and human performance?
This is openly one study and is based on the use of a specific chemical – so it’s more wide reaching implications need to be approached with a bit of caution.
However, when stacked against existing evidence of people doing extraordinary things when they have a specific belief it does provide some clear evidence of what can happen in our brains.
Take Roger Banister and his pursuit of the 4 minute mile. For years this threshold had seemed unbreakable, that any man could run this fast. Yet, within 12 months of him breaking this barrier a further 24 men also dipped beneath the 4 minute mark. Bannister proved it was possible, the rest simply believed it could be done and did it.
We often ask why does one person manage to recover from disease and illness that should have not been possible? Last week I shared my own Uncle’s story because he was unwilling to accept the belief he would not walk again unaided.
We know that people who genuinely believe things see evidence to back up their beliefs. The Secret and all the hype around manifestation is based on this premise – if I believe something enough it can come true.
Way back in 1908 Charles F Hannel wrote the mastery – a 26 part correspondence course on how to use the power of ones thoughts to control our external world. Most people reading this will have heard of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”
Robin Shama says the world is created twice, first in our mind and then in reality.
The truth is we are yet to know just how powerful this can be, yet there is no denying that the mind has an influence over how we experience the world that is dramatic. If we learn how to harness the power.
The second truth is – the belief affect is real and we can harness it to positively impact our lives.
The third truth is – the belief affect is real and when we don’t control it or positively utilise it then it will cause negative impacts in our lives.
Ever met someone who just seems to be followed by a dark cloud – bad things just keep happening to them? Are they unlucky or do they, unwittingly, bring these bad things into their lives? Tune into the narrative and language of these people, and explore the inner voice and it is not unusual to discover a set of beliefs that induce the negative actions. Of course these actions then go to re-enforce the negative belief and the cycle gets stronger and continues.
And they call it bad luck.
It really does come down to what you believe…
Now I am sure there are a few of you reading this who might in your mind be dismissing it as quasi, pseudo science babble. Some of you will have already started to turn away thinking that this is just a load of nonsense.
Maybe you are not switched off, yet are also not convinced enough to commit?
I position it this way. It takes the same amount of effort and energy to believe that the mind can impact our life and experience as it does to believe the opposite. It takes the same energy to believe in positive psychology being able to positively impact our lived experience. So the cost is no different to doubting or discounting and writing this stuff off.
And yet, just maybe, if you truly believe in it the power is there to change your life for the better. All you have to do is to believe in something.
Why wouldn’t you? Even if deep in your core you just don’t think it will work, why wouldn’t you intentionally, specifically challenge that core belief and choose to belief it is possible?
I would rather take a life of disappointment where I hoped for great and only got average, than a life of certainty where I believed it would be awful and my wish was granted!
I am excited by the progress that is being made that is starting to put some science behind the belief effect because I truly believe that when more people access and understand how to harness the power of their minds we will all grow.