Somewhere there’s a happy wife who believes that her husband is loyal and faithful. He’s not. He’s a very good actor who sleeps around. He’s careful and calculating so when he says “I’m working late Honey” she believes him. She also believes that she’s in a great marriage with a great guy because when he’s with her, he’s mostly attentive, thoughtful and fun to be around. And while the story she tells herself about the marriage is fiction, her experience is not. She totally believes it and therefore her happiness is genuine. Her literal experience is the result of her belief, not the reality of the situation. And while we might all want to punch the husband on the nose and kick him in his philandering nuts, the wife is genuinely happy (because of her belief).
Should we tell her?
There’s the over-thinking guy who suffers from daily self-induced headaches. His doctor, who also happens to be his friend, understands that he is something of a hypochondriac who is predisposed to anxiety and often talks himself into a state of illness. We all know such a person. After numerous tests (clearing him of anything sinister), the doctor who also knows that his friend is quite gullible, decides to trick him into recovery. He tells him that he is trying to get his hands on a hard-to-get super pain treatment that works one hundred percent of the time. It’s an injection (injections are more powerful placebos than creams, pills or tablets) which only needs to be given once. The patient is ecstatic but the doctor tells him not to get too excited because the drug is very hard to acquire. As a result, the anticipation builds and causes patient’s expectation and belief in the drug to go through the roof. The doctor strings him along for a few weeks and by the time he finally injects the ‘miracle drug’ (some inert liquid) into his friend’s shoulder, the patient totally believes that his days of chronic headaches are over. And they are. From that moment on, he is calmer, less anxious and the pounding in his head never returns. The drug was fake but both the belief and the result were real. The power was in the belief. Without knowing it, the patient healed himself.
A year later, the doctor wonders whether he should share the truth with his pain-free friend. Do you think that knowing the truth would (a) make the patient realise his own power and potential or (b) prompt a return of the headaches?
There’s the dying woman in hospital who has less than a week to live. She totally believes that she’s going to a better place. Her belief is so absolute and unwavering that she feels no fear or anxiety and amazingly, is looking forward to the next part of her journey. Her literal experience is a positive one. And no, she’s not delusional or in a state of cognitive decline. In the room next door is a woman with an identical condition and prognosis but a totally different set of beliefs and expectations. As a result, she is terrified, anxious and in constant mental and emotional pain. In both cases, the experience (happiness and calm, terror and anxiety) is self-created. Their literal reality is a by-product of their individual beliefs.
There’s the girl who is home alone and mistakenly believes that there’s an intruder in the next room. The intruder is a half open window generating a few weird noises on a windy night. Within a few minutes, the girl is certain she’s about to die. She has worked herself into a total state of hysteria and despair. Her heart is racing, she’s breathing like a marathon runner, stress hormones are coursing through her body, her blood pressure has sky-rocketed and not surprisingly, she’s about to vomit. In reality, her biggest risk is what she’s unwittingly doing to her own body through her irrational belief. Once again, her experience was totally real.
Belief is a powerful thing. Possibly, the most powerful thing. On a practical level, it can make or break us. It can turn us into monsters or masters of our own destiny. It can build relationships or destroy them. Make us healthy or sick. It can allow us to grow or it can keep us trapped in a self-created prison. It’s an ever-present mental and emotional rudder, steering us and directing our choices, behaviours and reactions. For better or worse.
And while many things in life are not optional or changeable, beliefs are.
So, do you think we should tell the wife (in story one) and the headache guy (in story two)?