The Strange Case of the Disappearing Belief

Full disclosure: I’m writing this article to shake up your thinking.

Are you sure, really sure, about what you believe?

Beliefs are usually something we observe and judge in others, yet very seldom examine in ourselves.  That’s why – by our nature and in order to remain comfortable – we unconsciously surround ourselves with people who believe as we do.

What is a belief, really?   We are not born with beliefs. We absorb by osmosis the beliefs of those nearest to us.  We are actually conditioned.

A “belief” is a simply programmed suggestion, which triggers the imagination.  Good or bad, positive or negative, we define ourselves by our beliefs and often defend them to the end UNLESS something upends our world and we choose to examine our belief system.



What is a belief, really? We are not born with beliefs. We absorb by osmosis the beliefs of those nearest to us. We are actually conditioned.


In addition to being a business speaker, I have been both a clinical and stage hypnotist for more than three decades.  My demonstrations are not typical.  They are designed to challenge, entertain and educate about the power of the mind.

Buckle up for this:

Every election cycle, I have included a unique, often unsettling demonstration about the mercurial nature of belief systems.  Picture an audience consisting primarily of 1000 college students.

During the program, I demonstrate the nature of belief systems by hypnotizing people and having them say or do something that goes totally against what they consider to be their “real” belief systems.

This is one of my most edgy demonstrations and, over the years, has never failed to amaze.

Working with several volunteers, I discover one individual who is a staunch Democrat and another who is a diehard Republican. Through deep hypnosis, I suggest that the Democrat is now a Republican and the Republican is now a Democrat. I further suggest they have been that way all their lives, believe strongly and can defend their positions with logic.

After temporarily “reprograming” or “switching” their beliefs, I have them open their eyes, set up a short debate between them and hand each of them a microphone.

The result is truly mind-boggling!

Each individual absolutely believes his or her role and debates brilliantly, passionately supporting beliefs that – only a few moments before – they would have shunned.

Of course, these two debaters now possess these switched beliefs only because I temporarily programmed them to do so. And they will retain those beliefs only as long as I am there to reinforce the suggestion or some other reinforcement mechanism is put in place.

If I were to leave the auditorium, their reinforcement system would be taken away and both debaters would revert to their original, ingrained beliefs.  The same holds true for all our beliefs.

Yes, of course, I do remove the suggestions before they leave the stage.

Reinforcement is the key to imprinting any belief or making a suggestion “stick” in the subconscious.  The more a belief is reinforced, the stronger it becomes until – to the person – it becomes their reality.

The less reinforcement, the weaker a new belief becomes until, eventually, it is muted.

It takes patience, consistent practice, and the right tools to make a new, positive belief stick. But it can be done. Developing a new belief and making it stick requires constant strengthening through the imagination with visualization, self-talk, affirmations, action, and support.

Among many, the result can be improved self-confidence, cessation of smoking, weight reduction, pain management, motivation, enhancement of creative skills and improved athletic performance.

Look at the process of developing an early belief or implanting a new belief as a form of self-hypnosis.  Through reinforcement, that new belief builds on itself and takes on a life of its own.

Although this is beneficial when the belief is positive and empowering, the sword can cut two ways. When you re-live grievance scripts in your imagination or verbally complain about how you have been hurt in the past or what bad luck you have had or how someone betrayed you, you reinforce that belief and reignite the original emotional distress.

Let me leave you with a suggestion:  If you are into developing personal awareness and emotional maturity, you might choose to examine your own beliefs (write them down) and decide if they enhance your life or create negative stress and take away from your joy.

If you discover a belief that is not working for you mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally or socially, simply write a sentence describing what new belief you would like to form and, specifically, how it would change your life for the better.

This is the first step to discovery.  Only then can you learn the tools to manage your thinking and live an exceptional life.



James Mapes is a keynote speaker, best-selling author, coach and hypnotist. His most recent book IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance is the first web-supported book with access to 21 video-coaching clips.