Beliefs are pre-formed, pre-organized approaches to perception that filter our communication to ourselves in a consistent manner. Where do beliefs come from? Why do some people have beliefs that push them toward success while others have beliefs that only help them to fail? If we are going to try to model the beliefs that foster excellence, the first thing we need to find out is where those beliefs come from.
The first source is the environment. This is where the cycles of success breeding success and failure breeding failure are played out in the most relentless fashion. The real horror of ghetto life is not the daily frustrations and deprivations. People can overcome those. The real nightmare is the effect the environment has on beliefs and dreams. If all you see is failure, if all you see is despair, it’s very hard for you to form the internal representations that will foster success. If you grow up in wealth and success, you can easily model wealth and success. If you grow up in poverty and despair, that’s where your models of possibility come from. Albert Einstein said, few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differs from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
In one of the advanced courses in modeling, an exercise is under taken where we find people who live in the streets of big cities. They are brought in and model their belief systems and mental strategies. They offer them food and a great deal of love and simply ask if they would tell the group about their life, how they feel about where they are now, they believe things are that way. Then we contrast them with people who, in spite of great physical or emotional tragedies, have turned their lives around.
There was one man who was twenty eight years old, strong obviously intelligent, and physically fit, with a handsome face. Why was he so unhappy and living in the street while W Mitchell—who, at least on the surface, had fewer resources available to change his life was so happy? Mitchell grew up in an environment that provided examples, models of people who had overcome great odds to produce a life of joy. This created a belief in him self: This was possible for me as well. By contrast, this other young man, call him John, grew up in an environment where no such models existed. His mother was a prostitute; his father went to jail for shooting someone. When he was eight years old, his father shot him up with heroin. That kind of environment certainly played a role in what be believed was possible little more than survival and how to achieve it: live in the streets, steal, attempt to erase your pain through drugs. He believed that people always take advantage of you don’t watch them, that no one loves anyone, and so on. That night we worked with this mean and changed his belief systems. As a result, he never went back to the streets. Since that night, he has been off drugs. He began working and he now has newfound friends and is living in a new environment with new beliefs, producing new results.
Dr. Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago studies one hundred extraordinary successful young athletes, musicians, and students. He was surprised to find that most of the young prodigies didn’t begin by showing great flashes of brilliance.
Instead, most received careful attention, guidance, and support, and then they began to develop. The belief that they could be special came before any overt signs of great talent.
Environment may be the single most potent generator of belief, but it’s not the only one. If it were, we’d live in a static world where the children of wealth would know only wealth, and the children of poverty would never rise above their origins. Instead there are other experiences and ways of learning that can also be incubators of belief.
Events, small or large, can help foster beliefs. There are certain events in everyone’s life that they will never forget. Where were you the day John F Kennedy was killed? If you are old enough to remember it, one will surely know. For many people, it was a day that forever altered their world view. In the same way, most of us have experiences we will never forget, instances that had such an impact on us that they were installed into our brains forever. These are the kinds of experiences that form the beliefs that can change our lives.