Understanding the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This blog is a continuation of last week’s chronicle of the self esteem workshop that I ran as part of my research dissertation into the power of NLP as a change agent.

 Today’s blog explores the middle part of the workshop in which I challenged participants by asking them to consider how they know what truth is! In particular I asked them to consider beliefs, where they come from and how we decide to believe them.

 To provide a framework for discussion I introduced three different types of belief for consideration:

  •  Global Beliefs- This describes a belief that is held by a large number of people. This could be a community, a country even an entire planet. Sometimes this kind of belief may be a shared belief system within a family structure.
  • Operational Beliefs – This type of belief refers to what we believe to be true about the way things work.
  • Self Beliefs – Beliefs we hold about ourselves, our abilities, qualities, values and worth as a human being.

As mentioned last week, Joe and I continued to use NLP language patterns and metaphors to pre-frame the interventions we would be using in the workshop. As part of this process I encouraged people to consider well established global beliefs, for example the shape of the earth.

 We quickly established that almost everyone based their belief on information supplied by other people and some experiences such as travelling. We looked at how it might be possible to challenge a belief that is seemingly backed up by science. We also discussed how culturally there may have been a different belief about the earth at other times in history in certain parts of the world.

 All of this laid the groundwork that allowed people to open up to the possibility that beliefs may not be true, we just choose to believe certain things. This is extremely powerful and means that at an unconscious level people may already be challenging their own limiting beliefs.

The next part of the session involved understanding how we take on beliefs, particularly those we have about ourselves. Most people in psychology would agree that much of our belief system is formed at a very early age and is largely a result of conditioning. The people we rely on give us both direct and indirect feedback and we absorb this feedback as truth.

 Perhaps even more startling however is the way we ourselves re-enforce both limiting and empowering beliefs by collecting evidence. The self-fulfilling prophecy is how we do this; first we talk to ourselves, then we make pictures of what might happen, this creates a feeling which influences our body language which in turn generates behaviour.

 We then collect evidence to support our theory or belief about ourselves. Here is where it gets interesting! If the external evidence supports our internal dialogue, mental images and feelings we accept this as evidence that our belief is true.

If, on the same hand, the evidence is conflicting we reject it, telling ourselves and others it was a fluke, luck or some other explanation.

By sharing a few personal examples with the group we were able to encourage them to entertain the notion that perhaps beliefs are neither true nor untrue! Perhaps we get to choose what we want to believe once we accept this concept!

By this point the participants were ready for the intervention! This next process is called “Change Beliefs”. It is remarkably simple and yet seems to regularly get amazing results. In simple terms each person selected a limiting belief they held about themselves. We then facilitated them in identifying the “sub-modalities” of where they kept this particular belief.

 We then had them consider a belief that used to be true but is no longer. It was important to ensure that they chose something appropriate so we made a suggestion for this one, something that was likely to be “true” for everyone. Again they identified the sub-modalities of this belief.

 The next step was key, we had them construct a belief they would prefer to believe about themselves to replace the unwanted, limiting belief. The wording of the replacement belief is critical and required careful individual coaching. For example, if someone chose a belief worded “I can fly a jumbo jet!” and they have not even had a flying lesson it could result in dangerous consequences. A more appropriate wording might be; “I can learn how to fly a plane with the right training, coaching and practice.”

 We also checked to ensure that people were not accidentally re-enforcing  the original limiting belief. For example, “I am not stupid” would re-enforce a limiting belief about stupidity. A more appropriate wording would be “I am intelligent” or “I am an intelligent person.”

 The process itself was straight forward and simple. Firstly the internal representation of the limiting belief was moved to the location of the used to be true belief. Secondly the new empowering belief was also placed in this location temporarily. Having checked to ensure that any learnings associated with the limiting belief had been retained the empowering belief was finally moved to the location of the old belief.

As with last week’s blog here are some quotes from participants about their experience:

Participant 1: “The opportunity to consider self-limiting beliefs and positive self-beliefs was very ‘balancing’ and enabled me to see that I am far more than the sum of my self-limiting beliefs!”

Participant 2: “At the workshop the thoughts that spoke most to me were that each of us has value and worth, that another person’s opinion of us is subjective –not objective – and we don’t have to ‘own it’, that changing ourselves changes the world around us, and that if we challenge our self-limiting beliefs and vision new outcomes we can create them.”

Participant 3: “In the workshop I put the statement “I am a good business woman” into my place of certainty (although whilst doing it I had an immense urge to throw up – it took 4 goes to get it to stay down!).  I’ve been re-affirming this since the workshop and now feel more confident in my abilities as a business woman – I am now able to recognize those things I do well and acknowledge (and work on) those things that I would like to develop, I’m certainly less critical of myself in this respect.  This has been really useful as I was almost at the point of giving up my business and now I see that it does have a future which I am capable of driving forward.”

 Next week we will look at the final process used on the workshop. For more information about my dissertation click on the link below.


About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
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One Response to Understanding the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

  1. Pingback: Self-fulfilling prophecy: The power of crystal ball thinking « Multum in Parvo

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