WINNER TAKES ALL
Exceptional People Teach Us How to Find Career and Personal Success in the 21st Century (Insight Books)
CHAPTER 1: BELIEVE IN A POSITIVE FUTURE
When I look into the future, what do I see?
Beliefs are the bedrock upon which all experience is built. Your success depends on the beliefs you hold. What you believe determines how you go about things, whether you seek out one type of situation or another, and what you are or are not willing to try. Beliefs which in the past wouldn't have held you back, nowadays will.
For example, you may believe that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." As long as our world was relatively stable, you didn't have to learn many "new tricks" once you were an adult and functioning comfortably in society. For generations, if you were a typesetter for example, you could work for a newspaper your whole life without altering how you did your typesetting hardly at all. Your belief that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" didn't affect your success. But with the explosion of change in every area, it's no longer possible to be successful without being willing to learn new skills. Beliefs which mattered little before now take on critical importance.
So, for example, given your belief that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," you believe you're too old, at all of 54 years of age, to learn how to work with computers - even though you're well aware of the growing importance of computers in virtually all businesses. So you don't seek out people-friendly computer courses or schools, you don't try to find a support group for the computer-challenged, you walk right past the "Computers for Dummies" section of your local bookstore, in short, you don't even try to find out if there is a way for you to learn computers. As far as you're concerned, it won't work, so why bother. Meanwhile, you are closing yourself off from umpteen opportunities for your advancement and future success. You are enslaved by your limiting belief.
Winners hold beliefs which free them to seek maximum benefit from their world. Let's say, for example, you have a 62 year old brother, who believes "you're never too old to learn." Truly a Winner's belief. Your brother, guided by his belief, has somehow managed to find himself a subsidized program for "seniors learning computers" at the local high school. It's not costing him a dime to learn as much as he wants to about computers, he's managed to buy a rebuilt computer from the company that supplies the school for a ridiculously small sum, and to boot - has a new social set composed of like-minded seniors. They're considering designing their own Web page as soon as they can figure out which one of the local servers will give them the best deal. Just as your belief ("old dog") enslaves you, your brother's ("Never too old") has set him free to pursue a new and potentially profitable arena. Your brother's belief is typical of a Winner. It is open, expansive and encourages personal growth.
All of your beliefs, your beliefs about yourself, your abilities, your potential, your "place" in the world, and so forth, affect how you live your life. In fact, beliefs are so powerful that they can even affect whether you live or die. Dr. Bernie Siegel, the well-known surgeon who works primarily with cancer patients, discusses how critical beliefs are to one's survival. One of his patients, Edith, a frail woman who weighs only 85 pounds, told Dr. Siegel she didn't need him or his "Exceptional Cancer Patients," a group Dr. Siegel started to help patients deal with emotional and psychological issues underlying their cancer. Edith said, "I don't need you and your group. My mother always told me when I was a youngster, 'You're scrawny, but whatever happens, you'll always get over it. You'll live to be ninety-three, and then they'll have to run you over with a steamroller.'" Edith, Dr. Siegel reports, "has survived a heart attack, a bleeding duodenal ulcer. the death of her husband, and breast cancer invading the chest wall. She is now alive more than half a dozen years after her surgery. Every time something happens, she hears her mother's words." Edith believes her mother's words. By all rights, Edith shouldn't be alive, given what she has gone through! Yet, because of the power of belief, what Edith holds as truth directly impacts even something as basic as her health. "If we all programmed our children this way," Dr. Siegel goes on to say, "we'd be creating survivors." (1)
Your beliefs about the Future will determine how you live your Future. The good news is, that if you find that you have beliefs which limit your ability to create the Future you want for yourself, you can change them. One of the major focuses of Dr. Siegel's Exceptional Cancer Patients Group is the changing of patients' beliefs, so he can help them become "survivors." By changing your beliefs, you take the first step towards changing the way you live your life. No matter how difficult or wonderful your past has been, no matter what your life is like now - good, bad or indifferent, by changing your beliefs about the Future, your Future life can be better. That's how important beliefs are. The bad news is, you can't change your beliefs unless you know what they are. Even though our beliefs run our lives, most of us have little if any conscious awareness of what those beliefs are. Because the Future is something few of us look at until it is upon us, our beliefs about the Future tend to be even more unconscious. So the first thing to look at in creating a successful Future for yourself is "What are my beliefs about the Future?"
DISCOVER YOUR BELIEFS ABOUT THE FUTURE
In going about discovering your beliefs about the Future, start by looking for your "core beliefs." These are beliefs that make broad sweeping statements about life. Core beliefs have the greatest impact on your life because one core belief will generate a whole host of secondary beliefs. For example, "Man is inherently good" is a core belief. If you believe that "Man is inherently good," then you will hold a number of secondary beliefs consistent with your core belief, such as "People are generally trustworthy," or "When you give people the benefit of the doubt, they'll usually rise to the occasion." If you have a core belief stating that "Man is inherently evil," your secondary beliefs will be quite different, for example: "If you give people an inch, they'll take a mile," or "People will take advantage of you every chance they get." These secondary beliefs are what determine how you see life and how you live it on a day to day basis.
If you hold a core belief that "The Future is a wonderful realm of immense opportunity" your secondary beliefs will be positive and attract the kinds of experience that support your vision of a joyous and success filled Future. "The Future is wide open, it is whatever you make of it," for example, is a typical Winner's core belief. It is a core belief which stresses the enormity of possibilities available in the future, and the degree to which an individual is in charge of his or her own future. From this belief, Winners will generate secondary beliefs such as; "Where there's a will, there's a way," "Every cloud has a silver lining," "As one door shuts another one opens." These secondary beliefs determine how Winners evaluate their experiences and what they are willing to do or not do. Winners' beliefs imply a Future full of positive possibilities, and support Winners' ability to go into the Unknown with confidence and hope.
Your core beliefs about the Future directly impact how you will or will not go forward successfully into the Unknown. Unfortunately, many of us do not have such positive core beliefs. Most people's core beliefs about the Future tend to fall into 1 of the following 4 categories, all of which will potentially hamper your ability to create a successful Future for yourself.
* The Future is a great big yawning pit of nothingness.
* The Future is a terrifying and fearful place.
* The Future is all rosy and wonderful.
* The Future is controlled by forces outside yourself.
The easiest way to find out what your core beliefs are about the Future is to ask yourself:
"When I look out there, in the Future, what do I see?"
This was the first question I asked of four individuals - Paul, May, Kathy and Jim - whose lives had been disrupted for various reasons, and who suddenly had to create new Futures for themselves, Futures totally different from what their lives had been up to now. Each of them was facing the Unknown. Each of them came to me to help them through this unexpected and often frightening life-change.
* Paul, a middle manager for the past 30 years with a small company specializing in business supplies and office copiers, had been squeezed out of his job when his company merged with a larger company. He felt lost, a fish out of water, confounded by the lack of available jobs and worried that his age (mid fifties) meant he would stay jobless.
* May, a 32 year old single Mom, had survived her cancer despite all predictions to the contrary. Although this was great news, May was overwhelmed by the debts she'd incurred and the total change of lifestyle required if she was to continue to survive.
* Kathy had been successful all her life, yet now at 50 found that as much as she wanted to keep working as a hair stylist in television and movies, the "biz" no longer wanted her. Wanting with all her heart to deny the reality of what was happening to her up-to-now-safe world, Kathy nonetheless had eventually to come to grips with the question: "What am I going to do for the rest of my days? Am I now just a throw-away person forever stuck on the sidelines of life?"
* Jim, 44 years old and proud owner of his own rig, lived by the phrase "Once a trucker, always a trucker" - until his ailing back made it clear that something was going to have to change. Jim had no idea where to start creating a different life for himself; as far as he was concerned, life was something that just fell in your lap and you deal with it.
Paul, May, Kathy and Jim's names, of course, have been changed, as well as other details to protect their confidentiality. However, Paul, May, Kathy and Jim's stories are very similar to many other people's stories, and can help us a great deal by serving as examples through each of the eight steps of becoming a Winner.
Paul, May, Kathy and Jim each had different core beliefs about the Future, which in turn impacted their vision of what was and wasn't possible for them.
Paul's vision was of an empty Future, one which held no hope.
The Future is a great big yawning pit of nothingness
When Paul came to see me, he was profoundly depressed. At 57 years of age, Paul was out in the marketplace, beating the pavement, and he couldn't seem to find a job. "There are just too many middle managers out there," Paul told me, angrily. He was morose about the direction his life would take from here on. In addition, Paul felt betrayed and abandoned. He couldn't believe that the company where he had spent his entire working life would boot him out just like that, regardless of his years of service.
Recruited straight out of business college, Paul had started as a junior assistant, rising steadily until he achieved his middle management position, where he expected to stay until he retired at age 65. A typical career-path in his line of work. Paul loved his job, and he was good at it. Becoming a "casualty of the merger" was something he never expected.
When I asked Paul, "When you look out there, in the Future, what do you see?" he replied despondently: "Nothing. A great big nothing. Up until a year ago, I knew what life was about, I knew what my future held: keep my nose to the grindstone, tow the line, work steadily until retirement and then enjoy the rest. But since I got laid off, I don't see a future. No one's hiring middle managers, my retirement fund is just enough to cover the basics, and that's if I do everybody a favor and die by the time I'm 70. What's to enjoy? Frankly, I don't see anything when I try to see ahead. Just a great big empty hole."
I nodded. I was only too familiar with this story, having heard similar tales from so many others. To see the Future as a great big pit of yawning emptiness is tragic. Paul cannot conceive of a positive Future for himself, his beliefs preclude that. Seeing nothing, only emptiness, in the Future gives Paul nothing with which to guide him to success. The very living of life becomes a burden.
"It makes doing everything so hard," Paul said, getting up from his chair, pacing restlesly as he continued. "You have no idea. It's all I can do to get up in the morning - if you can call it morning. Some days I don't make it out of bed until 10:00, 11:00 - me! Who always used to rise with the birds and made fun of anybody who was still in bed at 7:00 am. Well I'm eating my words now. My wife complains that I drag around all day, and she's right. I shuffle to the kitchen, shuffle to the living room, shuffle back to the bedroom, I feel 102 years old, and I'm only 57! Oh, I do all the "right" things - I comb the paper for ads, send in resumes, I even worked with a headhunter for a while. Doesn't matter, nothing works - and nobody cares. They should cart me off to the glue factory. There's nothing left for me to live for, nothing." Paul sat heavily back down in his chair, his energy spent.
Paul's depression is profound because he has lost all hope, and it is the loss of hope, more than any other single aspect, that keeps us from moving forward into the Future. We need something in that vast darkness of the Unknown, something to light our way into the Future, and that "something" is hope.
Hope is the ability, among all possible outcomes, to see glimmers of positive possibility. If you don't see the glimmer of a positive possibility ahead, you won't move forward. It just won't happen. Winners' beliefs are hopeful beliefs, beliefs which affirm the continually renewed opportunities for happiness, growth, transformation, meaning, abundance and success life offers. Winners are capable of holding such beliefs in the face of the most horrific appearing Futures.
Viktor Frankl, for example, well-known psychologist and survivor of the German concentration camps, realized that the individuals who did the best in the face of the unspeakable horror of the camps, were those who were constantly reaching out for a meaning to fulfill, for something which would allow them to transcend themselves. (2) Seeking for meaning is only possible if you first have a belief that meaning exists, that there is a reason to reach out, and that reason is called "hope.". Hope is very much what keeps human beings alive and seeking a better Future, for themselves as well as for succeeding generations.
The Future becomes empty, as it has for Paul, when you cease to believe there are any positive possibilities "out there." He cannot even begin to create a successful future for himself with such a belief as his foundation.
Unlike Paul's, May's vision was of well-filled Future. The only problem was, May's Future was full of fear.
The Future is a terrifying and fearful place
When May first started coming to see me, she was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. May had been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier. Despite the mastectomy, her cancer had metastasized, and May wasn't expected to survive. Lo and behold, after more surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, rigorous changes in diet and lifestyle, and all sorts of alternative health modalities, May did survive and her cancer is in remission. Her doctor not only pronounced her well, but more than likely able to live a long and healthy life.
"Which is great," May said, "And I'm tremendously grateful, but what am I supposed to do now?!" As please as she was with her astonishing recovery, May was in a state of complete panic. A 32 year old single mom, May was raising her 11 year old son on her own. Her ex-husband was unfortunately a "dead-beat dad," and neither she nor her son, Thomas, had seen hide nor hair of his Dad for over 5 years. "I'm it," May said. She was the only means of support for herself and her son, who she loved dearly.
May had done financially well as a pattern maker, but she couldn't go back to pattern-making because of the demanding hours and constant pressure characteristic of the garment industry. "My doctor says I just wouldn't survive it, but what else can I do?" May asked, "I have to work, or we won't eat!" May had spent all her savings, insurance, and what little pension she had accumulated on medical bills. She'd taken out loans wherever she could. May still owed lots of money and had barely enough to live on for a couple of months. She couldn't get disability anymore because she was no longer really disabled. May was desperate. She knew she had to do something, but had no idea what.
When I asked May, "When you look out there, in the Future, what do you see?" "What do I see?" May replied, "Starvation! Me and Thomas, ending up homeless somewhere. Horrible images." May stopped a moment, trying to keep her already rapidly beating heart from speeding up on her. "Take your time," I said, "Breathe. It will help." "I'm OK," Mary replied, "I just get so upset every time I think about the Future. I'm scared to death. I mean, I wasn't expected to survive, I've spent my life's savings - and I'm here! I'm alive. And it looks like I'm going to live, knock on wood, for a long time. I mean, let's face it, I'm only 32. Which is great, except I don't know what I'm gonna do. I can't go back to work as a pattern maker, I don't have any other skills, the best I can probably do is a burger-flipping job, but that'll hardly pay the rent and besides, they'll probably say I'm overqualified." May shook her head, her brow furrowed and creased with worry as she continued. "I'm at my wit's end. I can go on welfare for a while, but then that'll stop, I'm not really disabled, so I can't get disability. No matter where I turn, the Future looks awful! I'm worried sick all the time, and then I get these panic attacks. The Future? I'm petrified!"
It is awful when all you see in the Future is a collection of life-threatening, terrifying possibilities. No wonder anxiety kicks in at that point. Anxiety, which usually starts with worry, can eventually progress to full-blown panic attacks, such as May's, agoraphobia, where you're too scared to even leave your home, or a variety of other debilitating responses. When you believe that the only possibilities in the Future are frightening ones, it is very difficult to build towards a positive Future. You have no basis from which to do so. Your beliefs freeze you in place, limiting your ability to see beyond the negatives to a possible positive. A fearful Future is no better than an empty one.
If, for example, you believe that the Future is a nightmarish place, where crime, terrorism and random violence abound, your beliefs will lead you to closing your doors, restricting your ventures into the Unknown or the New, for fear of your life. "But Dr. Noelle," you say, "There are already lots of criminals, terrorists and violence in our world. I can't make myself believe that tomorrow I'll wake up, and presto! no more violence. It's just not going to happen." I agree. It would be foolhardy to believe such a thing, and that's not how Winners operate. A Winner, fully aware that there are criminals, terrorists and violent people in our world, will hold beliefs that despite such people there is plenty of room for goodness and joy in the Future, and therefore will remain open to a positive Unknown.
There is a world of difference between acknowledging the existence of violence in the world, and holding the belief that the world is a dangerous and violent place. Acknowledging the existence of violence in the world can lead to many positive acts, which in turn can lead to many successes; leading a Neighborhood watch, becoming a police officer, becoming a spiritual healer, being a teacher to disadvantaged youngsters, being a prison counselor, to name but a very few possibilities. Holding the belief that the world is a dangerous and violent place just makes people want to hole themselves up somewhere safe and try to last it out as best they can. You will not venture out into the Unknown if your beliefs make it too fearful to do so. Holing yourself up is the opposite of moving forward into the Future.
But what about those who see a rosy Future? Wouldn't it seem that believing in a rosy Future would guarantee safe and successful passage into the Unknown? Well, it depends what that "rose" is based on, as Kathy soon found out.
The Future is all rosy and wonderful.
"When you look out there into the Future," I asked Kathy, "what do you see?" Kathy, a bright vivacious 50 year old, was grappling with an uncertain sense of identity and self-esteem. When she came to see me, she hadn't been hired at her chosen profession, hairstylist to performers on television shows and movie sets, for quite a while. Given her age, Kathy felt a true change of life coming on, not just hormonally, but in every way. As much as she didn't want to think about it, and often denied it, Kathy had an underlying fear that her age made her a "has-been" in the TV and movie business and that she would soon have to create a totally different life for herself. Given her level of denial, I wasn't surprised by her answer:
"Oh, I never think about things like that," Kathy laughed, "the Future? Everything always turns out just fine, it always does. I'll get hired on a film, something will turn up, and everything will be fine." I point out, as gently as I can, that Kathy hasn't been hired on a film, a series, or even had a "day call" for over 18 months, and that despite a wonderful resume she is regularly being passed over for hair stylists who have far less experience but are 20 years her junior." "Oh, that's a phase, just a phase, you'll see!" she explains, "Nothing to worry about."
As tempting as it is to say that Kathy's beliefs about the Future are those of a Winner, they aren't. First of all, her "rose" is based on denial, not reality. You can no more build a positive Future for yourself by believing that the Future is full of only positive possibilities than you can by believing that the Future is loaded with only the ghastly negatives. Winners are uncommonly good at seeing both the positive and negative possibilities in there Futures and then making choices which are clearly focused on the positive, thus firmly supporting their likelihood of success. Believing, for example, that "every cloud has a silver lining" acknowledges that there are clouds and that there is a benefit to be derived from every mishap. Believing that "Life is a grand adventure" expresses a willingness to see the whole of life, ups and downs, as an experience worth living. Winners are realists in their ability to acknowledge all aspects of life, and they are optimists in their choice of beliefs to guide and direct them.
Secondly, Kathy's assumption that everything will turn out fine because it always has, is fallacious. The last thing we can expect the Future to be is whatever was true in the past. The very thing that makes our individual and collective Futures so different than the futures of previous generations, is the far greater proportion of "Unknown" that lies before us. Our grandparents could look ahead into their Future and be quite confident that what they foresaw, based on past experience, was what would come to pass. Your parents thought that they could do the same. And until fairly recently, they could. But as of the 1990's and from here on in, your past is no longer a reliable predictor of your Future. "Oh, that's terrific," you say sarcastically, "So if I've had a good track record in the past, that means I won't in the future?" you ask. No, that's not what it means. It means that your track record in the past, in and of itself, is irrelevant to your success in the Future. You may have fantastic success in the Future, indeed, this book is dedicated to helping you achieve such success, but it won't be because you've been successful (or not been successful!) in your past.
Resting your Future on the belief that "things will turn out fine because they always have in the past" is foolhardy at best and likely to lead to disaster. This is not to say that the belief "Things will turn out fine" is problematic, it's resting that belief on past history which is the problem. Winners often believe that "Things will turn out fine," such a belief is frequently what sustains them through long periods of challenge and difficulty. However, their belief is based on seeing the positive possibilities which lie within the Future, not within their past.
If seeing the Future through the rose-colored glasses of denial won't help you create the Future you ardently desire, nor will giving that Future away to someone or something other than yourself. Jim's vision of the Future was virtually non-existent, since he didn't see himself as having much if anything to do with the creation of that Future.
The Future is controlled by forces outside yourself.
At 44 years of age, Jim had been a long-distance truck driver for over 20 years, proud of having bought his own rig before he was 30. Trucking had served Jim well over the years, but it was time to quit. When he began his sessions with me, Jim had been having back problems and various stress-related ailments for over 2 years. Jim would say to me "I've got to get out of trucking, Doc, it's going to be the death of me." The problem was, Jim couldn't retire as he didn't have any savings. "I never really thought about it," he told me, "I thought I'd be trucking all my life, like most truckers." He didn't belong to a Union, so he has no pension plan, and what little he can claim from workman's compensation doesn't even "feed the dog," according to Jim. "So I guess I'll just keep on trucking," Jim says, "There isn't much else for me to do."
"Well, maybe, maybe not," I say. "Let me start by asking you, Jim, when you look out there, in the Future, what do you see?" I ask. "I dunno" says Jim, "What do I see - umm, I guess I'll be doing pretty much what I'm doing, unless something comes along and I get to do something different." "Get to do something different?" I ask, not understanding. "Yeah, you know if the economy changes and maybe someone offers me a good job, you know. The Future is just what happens to you tomorrow, and you know, whatever happens is whatever is going to happen. Why sweat it?"
Why, indeed? Because if you don't direct your Future, if you don't actively take charge of it, "whatever happens" is indeed what you will get. When you believe that the Future is just "what happens to you tomorrow" you're no longer in charge of your life. You can't create the Future you desire unless you're willing to be in charge of it. Believing, as Jim does, that the Future happens to you, rather than the Future being something you create, is very disempowering. It limits your ability to be proactive, to seek out and thus actualize your chosen Future. With this type of belief as the foundation to your Future, you will only see those possibilities that others open up to you - and that is a very limiting set of possibles, indeed. Your Future - your future happiness, success - then becomes dependent on the whim of others. That's a chancy road to personal success, at best.
Your Future is going to be created by someone or something. When we're young, by default it's our parents or other caretaker. At 10 years old, you don't get to make decisions such as "I'm not going to school next year," or "I'm moving to Omaha to make a better life for myself." Kids don't have much choice in such matters. But by the time you're grown, it's you - or whoever/whatever you're allowing to do the job for you. Winners are adamant in their belief that they are in charge of their Futures, regardless of how dependent they may be on others. Winners firmly believe that it is up to them to run their own show, even if they need a great deal of help and support to do that.
CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEFS
Once you know what your beliefs are about the Future, then you can start taking charge of the success in your Future by deliberately looking at those beliefs. In other words, challenge your beliefs.
How do you do that? First of all, by understanding the nature of a belief.
A belief is not a fact.
A belief is a statement about something. A belief is a conclusion we reach about how life works, based on what we've observed, or what we've been told about how life works - by parents, primarily, as well as by schools, churches, friends and society at large. A belief is not a fact. Yet belief is what we act upon, and more often than not, what we assume is fact. If you believe that all dogs are dangerous, you're not likely to have one as a pet. If you believe people are basically dishonest, you'll count your change very carefully and eye any stranger with great wariness. If you believe that you have to be very intelligent to be a chiropractor, and you believe you are of limited intelligence, you won't try to get into chiropractic school, even if that's your heart's desire. The possibility that a number of fine chiropractors are of average intelligence, or that you are intelligent enough to make it into chiropractic school never occurs to you. You don't even try. Your actions are dictated by your belief.
Beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Thomas Rollerson's "Dalmatian Dreams" was born out of a single belief: that every human being, regardless of age, deserved to realize one final wish. Frustrated when his lover, dying of AIDs, was told he was too old to have his final wish fulfilled, Rollerson, then twenty-nine years old, created "Dalmatian Dreams," the only national wish-granting foundation for adults. As of 1998, the foundation had, in its short four-year existence, granted some 700 final wishes to terminally ill people. It is utterly amazing what Winners can accomplish when fueled by positive belief. (3)
You use your beliefs as you would an instruction manual, your personal "How to go about living life." What you believe is what will determine what you are and are not willing to do. "Fact" has little to do with it. Most "facts," as scientists have long ago discovered, are variable and change as we are better able to measure, explore, observe and discover. The world was flat, until we discovered it was round. Man can't fly, until the Wright brothers did. Women can't bear children after menopause, until medical science found a way for women to do so. There was no life on Mars, until scientists found traces of the elements which are the basis for life. For a very long time, it was believed that it was impossible to run a 4 minute mile. Now athletes do it all the time. There are very few "facts" which do not change. Rather than assume that something you believe is fact, question it. You will radically alter your concept of what is possible for you in the Future with that one simple change.
Knowing how beliefs work will allow you to choose beliefs that work for you. If the first thing to understand about beliefs is that they aren't the same thing as facts, the second life-altering realization about beliefs is that beliefs attract experience.
Beliefs attract experience
What does that mean? That what you believe directly impacts the experiences you will have in life. The experiences you have in life are a result of the information you receive in any given situation, and how you respond to that information. For example, you're walking along, you see a big burly man waving his fists and muttering to himself. Based on this information, which you receive as evidence of an angry and therefore potentially dangerous man, you respond to the situation by crossing over to the other side of the street to avoid a confrontation. Another individual might receive the same information as evidence of a slightly mentally disturbed man, caught up in his own private turmoil and unlikely to harm anyone, and respond to the situation by feeling compassionate towards the man and just walking on by.
How you received that information and how you responded to it was determined by your beliefs. Beliefs determine what you will be open to, what you will pay attention to, what you will pick up among all the stimuli bombarding you at any given moment in the environment. This happens through a process known as "selective perception." You couldn't possibly pay attention to everything going on around you all day long, so you "selectively perceive" what is relevant to you, what is of interest to you. The beliefs you hold directly influence the kinds of information and stimuli you will pay attention to.
We all have a sort of radar, a scanning system which helps us select and weed out what we will pay attention to. Your beliefs behave much like radar, which lets in certain information that crosses its screen, and rejects other information as being unworthy of attention. If, for example, you have a belief that "The world is out to get me," your "radar" will scan the environment for "proof" that that is the case. You will interpret the various events of your day in a way that upholds and supports the belief "The world is out to get me." For example, when a car cuts in front of you on the freeway, you will ascribe it to "They are out to get me." Another individual, who believes "I'm a lucky person," looks for "proof" which substantiates a "lucky" belief, and will interpret the same event as "Wow, was I lucky that car didn't hit me." Your beliefs directly influence how you experience your world.
Lani Guinier, forty-eight years old, believes that power comes from moving on, from choosing to move forward even when life hits you upside the head. Such a belief empowers winners like Guinier to succeed where others might fail. In 1993, Guinier, who was teaching law at the University of Pennsylvania, was nominated by President Clinton to be in charge of the Justice Department's civil rights division. A heated battle ensued over her nomination, spurred by some of her academic writings. Guinier was not allowed to answer the criticism, and soon thereafter Clinton abruptly withdrew her nomination. Despite enduring humiliation and public embarrassment, Guinier chose to move forward, and in July of 1998 became the first black woman ever named to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School. Her belief in the possibility of a positive Future is what enabled her to move forward and create that Future for herself. (4)
Beliefs are enormously powerful. How you experience your world dictates much of how you respond to that world. If your beliefs about the Future are limiting and constricting, you will respond to your Future accordingly. By challenging your beliefs, you will see whether you are setting yourself up for a successful Future, one full of joy and abundance, or a miserable Future, one filled with despair and scarcity. From there you can choose beliefs which work for you in your pursuit of Future success rather than against you.
As I helped Paul challenge his beliefs, he came to see how much he had confused belief with fact, which both depressed him and stunted his ability to create the Future he wanted. Our starting point was examining Paul's conviction that "there is nothing out there."
I asked Paul to look a little deeper and see what possibilities other than complete emptiness might be "out there" in the Future for him. "OK, so I'm looking. And what I see is - there's nothing out there for me. That's really all I see," Paul said, despairing. "That's a belief. Paul," I said gently, "It is not a fact. It is a statement about something, and that statement may be true or false - or anything in between." "Semantics!" Paul cried out, "I'm in hell here and you're playing semantics with me!" "No, I'm not, Paul," I reply, "If I'm playing anything at all, it's the truth game." "What do you mean?" Paul asks.
"You believe that there is nothing out there for you," I reply. "But the truth is that there is an infinity of "things" out there for you," I said. "Like what?" Paul asks. "Like finding some kind of work that totally enthralls you," I replied, "Work that fulfills you in ways your previous work never did, like finding whole new areas of interest, ways of contributing to society while doing good for yourself that you've never thought of." "OK," Paul said slowly, "All right, that might be out there, but for me? I don't have any marketable skills, apparently, and I don't know where I'd even begin to look for 'new areas of interest'." "I can appreciate that, Paul," I said, "But you see, it isn't your Future that is bleak. It's your beliefs that are making it seem bleak. Your beliefs are limiting your view of what is out there. And beliefs can be changed." "I don't get it" Paul said.
"OK," I say, continuing, "You concede that you might be able to conceive of positive possibilities in the Future - but you don't have any marketable skills with which to make those happen, right?" "Right," said Paul. "That's a belief, Paul, that's not a fact," I continue, "The fact is, you don't know if you have marketable skills. You believe that you don't. You may fear that you don't. But in truth, you don't know. The same with 'areas of interest.' As it stands right now, you don't see any that attract you. You may fear that there aren't any. But the only true statement is - you don't right this minute see any other interesting 'areas of interest.' That doesn't mean they don't exist."
"So what do I do now?" asked Paul, somewhat sarcastically, "Just say to myself 'I believe I have marketable skills' and that's it, my Future is now magical?" "No," I replied, smiling, "What you do now, is open yourself to the possibility that you don't have all the answers, that there may be many as yet unknown joyous possibilities in your Future, and be willing to start with that belief as your foundation, rather than clang the door shut on future happiness by choosing to believe there's none out there. The truth is, there's none out there that you can see right this minute. That doesn't mean it isn't out there."
The Future is the Unknown.
The Unknown is just that - unknown joys, woes, happinesses, failures, successes, highs and lows. Unfortunately our tendency is to think of the Unknown in terms of the negatives. Quite frankly if babies thought of the Unknown as solely filled with negatives, they'd never leave the bassinet! We fear the Unknown greatly, yet at one time everything is Unknown. Your next breath is unknown, until you've breathed it and then it is known. Being willing for the Unknown to be at least as full of positives as it might be of negatives, as Winners are, is simply a more realistic view of life, and a far more empowering belief with which to go into the Future. Once you open that door for yourself, positive Futures become possible.
Sometimes, however, it is difficult to see how a positive Future could possibly exist. May's fears were so overwhelming, she had difficulty seeing past them to a better life.
When I introduced May to the concept of positive and negative possibles equally available in the Future, she sighed and said, "It sounds real good to me intellectually, Dr. Noelle, but I just don't buy it." "Why not?" I asked. "Because when I look out there, it's pretty dismal," May replied, unhappy with this whole conversation. "When you say 'dismal', May, what do you mean?" I asked. "I mean dismal, as in scary. I'm afraid I won't get a job, and if I do, I'm afraid it won't pay nearly enough to take care of us. I'm afraid we'll have to live in some awful cramped place, just eking out enough to live day to day, and that life will be reduced to outrunning the cockroaches. Not a pretty sight," May concluded.
"So basically, fear is running your Future," I said. May shook her head. "I hate to admit it," she said ruefully, "But in a word - yes." "And you could be right about every single one of your fears," I said. May looked shocked. "Oh please don't say that, Dr. Noelle, I'm terrified as it is," May pleaded. "You could also be completely wrong," I continued. "It is possible, after all that you could get a job. It is possible that you could get a job which would pay more than your last job. It is possible that you could get a job which would enable you to easily afford a comfortable home for you and your son. The problem is that by letting your fearful beliefs run the show, you're not even allowing in the possibility of a bright and hope-filled Future, which means you are highly unlikely to attract positive experiences into your life."
No matter how grim your present seems, no matter how despairing your Future appears to you, be willing to accept the belief that the Future holds positive possibilities. Fear isn't the only human reality. As difficult as it may be sometimes to believe that you'll ever get to a satisfying and happy Future, it is critical to allow the possibility that such a Future exists. Once you've admitted the possible existence of a positive Future, no matter how impossible the way there looks, you open the door to the possibility of manifesting success for yourself.
Lithuania's current President, seventy-one year old Valdas Adamkus, was forced to flee his homeland when the Soviet Union seized it after World War II. Adamkus emigrated to the United States and lived here 50 years, all the while dreaming of the day his homeland would be free and he could return. Little did Adamkus know he would return as its President! Yet his profound belief that one day, his country would be free is what led Adamkus to take the steps that would make him President. Adamkus began by joining the Lithuanian independence movement. Then, during his 30 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, Adamkus visited his homeland as often as possible on environmental projects, addressing fellow Lithuanians over the Voice of America radio broadcasts. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the impossible became possible, and not only could Adamkus return, but his frequent visits to his homeland were judged sufficient to establish residency. Adamkus's work with the independence movement and Voice of America made him well-known in his country so he could successfully run for
President. All this, starting with Adamkus's simple belief--contrary to all evidence at the time--that one day Lithuania would be free. He then built on that belief by taking concrete steps that led to its realization. (5)
The wonderful thing about possibilities is they can be turned into probabilities, and from there into actuality. If, however, you remain unwilling to even conceive of a positive Future, then indeed, you are in all likelihood condemning yourself to a negative Future. Don't do that to yourself. Be willing to believe in the possibility of a bright Future as your first step to getting there.
The reverse is also true. Being a "cock-eyed optimist" will not serve you. Seeing the Future as only full of bright promises is setting yourself up for a giant fall. If you don't allow for negative possibilities, then you have no protection, no way of dealing with such possibilities should they manifest. Then you're suddenly at the mercy of these negative events: having never considered that yes, you might lose your job, yes, your spouse might up and run away with the local beautician (of either sex), yes, your skills might be totally worthless in today's job market, you have no way of dealing with these events when they occur.
Kathy's denial of any negative possibilities in the Future became clear as we examined her beliefs.
"Are you telling me I'm in trouble?" Kathy said, aghast. "Are you telling me I'm headed for some awful Future I know nothing about?" "No," I said, "I'm telling you you're headed for a Future you know nothing about. And that if you want it to be a wonderful Future, then you have to be willing to entertain the possibility that your Future could hold negative situations, and therefore it is necessary to create your Future actively, purposefully, rather than leaving it up to "everything always turns out." Leaving "luck" or "chance" or "fate" in charge of your Future is what is scary.
Too often, we choose the belief "Everything always turns out just fine" because we're terrified of looking at what the Future might actually hold. Kathy was scared that if she really looked into the Unknown ahead, all she'd find was loneliness, unhappiness and poverty. Her belief in a "rosy" Future had no real basis, it was just her way of pushing away the monsters. I spent some time with Kathy helping her look into what she feared would be a miserable Future. As she did so to her great surprise, Kathy found that she saw much hope and genuine brightness in the Unknown as well as pockets of potential misery and unhappiness. With the two possibilities in mind, Kathy was able to return to her original belief, "Everything always turns out just fine," but from a very different perspective.
"I can see the way things might turn out badly," Kathy said, "and I can choose to believe that even if there are bumps in the road, things still do turn out just fine." Her belief was no longer based on denial. Pretending that the Future will be great by closing your eyes to reality isn't the same as having a grounded belief that the Future holds lots of possibilities for success. Winners aren't afraid of looking at negative possibilities. They know that a realistic assessment of possible dangers and pitfalls is how you avoid those. Kathy's belief was now capable of guiding her to success.
You can't get to a positive Future with beliefs that deny positive or negative possibilities, nor can you get to a positive Future with beliefs that deny your power, the part you play in creating your Future. In challenging Jim's beliefs, the first thing that came to light was Jim's profound conviction that he played no part in creating his Future.
I started by asking Jim directly if he believed he was in charge of his Future. "In charge of my Future?" Jim asked, shaking his head. "I don't know where you get such ideas, Doc," he said. "The Future is one big political-economic-social mess - and ain't nothing you or me can do about it." "So what you're telling me, Jim, is that no matter what you do, you have no impact. You aren't running the show. Someone or something outside of you is responsible for how your life goes," I commented in return. "Well, maybe not how my whole life goes every minute of every day," Jim replied, "but certainly for the Future." "What's the difference?" I asked, curious. "What's the difference between how your life goes every day and your Future?" "Well," Jim said slowly, "The Future is out there somewhere - I can't see it, taste it, smell it or touch it. My day to day is in front of my nose, thank you very much." "But the breath you breathe now was in your Future just a minute ago," I said, "so how is that different today than next year?" "Well, I'm talking about the big things, you know like getting a decent job outside of trucking, making something of my life, things like that." Jim continued, "I have no impact on the big things. Whoever has the money or the guns has the power, and that's who runs the show. They'll decide if I get a job or whatever. It's that simple. It's out of my hands." "So you see your personal Future as something you have very little control over," I said. "You're darn right I do. No matter how hard I try nor how hard I work I'll never end up on top," Jim stated flatly.
With that belief in place, I dreaded to think what Jim's Future would look like. One thing was for sure, he'd never end up on top. His selective perception, his "radar" would never pick up the opportunities for him to get ahead regardless of his efforts, no matter how present those opportunities might be. He would be systematically guided away from such possibilities by his own belief. The thought appalled me. I continued working with Jim.
"Have you ever known anyone to end up on top?" I asked, challenging Jim's belief which he was taking for fact. "What do you mean?" he asked, warily. "Well, did you ever know a trucker, for example, who started out as a trucker and ended up owning a trucking company?" I asked. Jim thought briefly, "Sure, my first boss," he said. "But what does that have to do with me?" "Did your first boss come to own that trucking company because somebody gave it to him?" I asked, ignoring Jim's question for the moment. "No," Jim said slowly, "But the bank gave him the loan he needed." "Did he have any particular leverage with the Bank? I mean did his wife work there or his Dad own the bank or anything?" Jim laughed. "Not exactly," he replied. " My boss's Dad was a migrant farmer and his wife worked with him, doing his books and such." "So he put his trucking company together pretty much on his own," I said. "Yeah, I guess so," Jim said, eyeing me strangely. "What are you getting at?" he asked.
"Well, Jim," I replied, "If one person can do something, anybody can do it. You say your Future is out of your hands, that no matter how hard you work or how hard you try, you'll never come out on top. But here's your old boss, someone you know well, who did come out on top, and who didn't get there by having all the money or guns to do it with. Anything he did, you can do. Your statement 'Whoever has the money or the guns has the power, and that's who runs the show' is just a belief. It isn't fact. If it were fact, your boss couldn't have owned his own company. It would never have happened." "So what you're saying is because he did what he wanted to do for himself, I can accomplish what I want for me," Jim said. "In a nutshell?" I said, "Yes."
Observing how other people have done things which are contrary to whatever belief it is that you hold is a compelling way to challenge your beliefs. It also demonstrates clearly how a belief is something you choose to accept, not a fact.
The belief that the Future is controlled by others takes away your power. It is a defeatist attitude towards the Future. When you believe you are not in charge of your life, you lose the ability to create an abundant and successful life for yourself. All doors look closed to you, and thus, they are. Challenge such disabling beliefs and take back your power. In the process you will also claim your rightful success in the Future.
HOW TO DEVELOP BELIEFS THAT WORK FOR YOU
"So how do I do this? What's the solution?" you ask. "I'm not sure what my beliefs are about the Future. What if they're awful? Surely you're not just going to leave me here with a bunch of imprisoning beliefs?" No, not if I can help it! Start, as I did with Paul, May, Kathy and Jim, by asking yourself the following questions, as you begin your first Personal Success Log.
Answer the questions in the Log to the best of your ability. Think of the Personal Success Logs at the end of each chapter as an opportunity to get to know yourself better. This knowledge will then give you the key elements to creating a successful Future for yourself. You may find that your answers to these questions change over time. That's great! Come back to your Personal Success Logs as often as you like, to help you grow and change in the direction of continual success.
PERSONAL SUCCESS LOG #1: YOUR BELIEFS
Step # 1: What are my beliefs about the Future?
Most of us go through life without ever asking ourselves what those beliefs are, and thus are powerless to work with them. Ask yourself, what do I believe lies "out there" in the Future? Do I see the Future as a void, a big empty pit of nothingness? What kind of nothing? Be descriptive with yourself.
Do you believe the Future is scary, full of hazards and dangers? And if so, what are those hazards and dangers? Be specific. Is it that the economy will just get worse and worse? That crime will be increasingly rampant? That getting a decent education will be impossible for all but the very wealthy and thus not for your children? What specifically are your fearful beliefs about the Future?
Do you believe that "luck" or "fate" determines your Future? That as long as you work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone you'll be fine? Do you believe that if you just "follow the rules" you'll be OK? These are disempowering beliefs, because they don't take into account that if you're working hard at something that's going out of date, you won't be successful. If you're following the rules, what happens to you when the rules change?
Do you believe someone or something else is in charge of your success? Is it the economy, or the politicians, or your crummy family that never gave you anything in life which stands in your way? Do you believe that the unpredictability of the world stands in the way of your success?
An easy way to discover your beliefs about the future is to write a stream of consciousness starting with the words "I believe the Future is ... " and then writing anything and everything that comes to mind. Don't censor yourself, just keep writing. When ever you get "stuck," repeat your beginning prompt, "I believe the Future is ... " until you've written about 2 pages worth. More is fine, just try to get at least 2 pages written. Then go back, and pinpoint what your different beliefs are. You may surprise yourself! Make a list of your beliefs, without judging or censoring them as "Oh that's a terrible belief." Just make your list. It will become the basis of your power.
Step #2: Transform your disempowering beliefs into empowering beliefs
Now it's time to transform your disempowering beliefs into empowering beliefs. Beliefs aren't set in cement. Beliefs are simply habits, ways you are used to thinking about things. You can change your beliefs, just like you can change your habits, any time you want.
First, sort out your empowering beliefs about the Future from your disempowering beliefs. Empowering beliefs are those which support your growth into a positive Future. Disempowering beliefs are those which either limit your growth, or support a negative view of the Future. An empowering belief, for example, is one which says "Money is the root of much good." Such a belief supports your desire for abundance in a positive Future. "Money is the root of all evil," is a disempowering belief. It limits your monetary growth if you wish to be a good person, and thus supports a negative view of the Future (you'll be poor). The empowering belief that "The Future is wide open, full of opportunities" clearly supports growth (opportunities) in a positive Future. The belief that "The Future is dark, scary and full of pitfalls" is a constricting one. It both limits your growth - people tend to advance very cautiously in dark scary places full of pitfalls, and fosters the perception that the Future holds only negative experiences.
Take the list you created in Step #1 and pull out the disempowering beliefs. Write those down separately. Then next to each disempowering belief, write out what might be the empowering belief you could replace it with. For example, replace "The economy is only going to get worse" with "No matter what the economy does, some people always make money, and I intend to be one of them." Replace "I'll never get anywhere, I have no marketable skills" with "I have all the marketable skills I need to get wherever I want to, I just don't know what those are yet - and what I don't have, I can acquire." Then make a list out of all your empowering beliefs, put it up on your bathroom mirror (or the fridge!) so you can see your list frequently, and read your list several times every morning and every night, until your new empowering beliefs as much a part of you as your old disempowering beliefs were. Habits are formed out of repetition. Use repetition to form new habits - new beliefs - which serve you well. You will start to perceive your world differently, and as you do so, you will experience your world differently. Eventually, you will begin to act differently, in line with your new beliefs.
Let the Unknown of the Future work for you rather than against you. Accept the belief that there are at least as many positive possibilities in the Unknown as there are negative ones, and choose, as Winners do, to hold those beliefs which open you to those positive possibilities.
Once you've opened yourself to positive possibilities about the Future, you're ready to open yourself to positive possibilities about yourself. For if you are to create a new Future, there is first the creation of a new you.
(1) Bernie S. Siegel, M.D., Love, Medicine & Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients, Harper & Row, New York, 1986, p. 87.
(2) Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Pocket Books, New York, 1959, 1980.
(3) Alex Tresniowski, Ron Arias, "Wishful Thinkier," People Magazine, July 6, 1998, pp. 117-118.
(4) Christina Cheakalos, Elizabeth McNeil, "Talking Back," People Magazine, July 13, 1998, PP. 115-117.
(5) Anne-Marie O'Neill, Craig Mellow, Barbara Sandler, "Prodigal President," People Magazine, June 29, 1998, PP. 129-132.
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