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The Power of Belief

Estimated Lesson Time: 3 minutes

Many think that the benefits and the seemingly miraculous results of belief are based on speculative or abstract reasoning, or the metaphysical. However, this is not the case. The power of belief is proven almost daily in the medical and scientific community where it is demonstrated in what is known as the placebo effect. When researchers test the effects of new drugs on humans, they give the drug to a group of participants, and they give a placebo, or an inactive substance or preparation, to another group of participants. In virtually all cases where the effectiveness of the drug is measured subjectively (e.g., pain relief), the placebo group will report positive effects from the “drug.” Even in the cases where a third control group is added who are not given anything, the placebo group does better than the control group, indicating a placebo effect, or an effect that is the result of belief in the drug’s efficacy.

Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, believes that the effectiveness of Prozac and similar drugs may be attributed almost entirely to the placebo effect. He and Guy Sapirstein analyzed 19 clinical trials of antidepressants and concluded that the expectation of improvement, not adjustments in brain chemistry, accounted for 75 percent of the drugs’ effectiveness (Kirsch 1998). “The critical factor,” says Kirsch, “is our beliefs about what’s going to happen to us. You don’t have to rely on drugs to see profound transformation.”*

Remember, thought and imagination are about the only things in this world that are limitless. The body and human spirit often are limited by what one believes is possible. Prior to Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute barrier to running one mile in 1954, no one else was able to achieve this goal and many thought it was not humanly possible. Shortly after Bannister’s new record, many other runners broke the self-imposed mental barrier and broke the 4-minute mile as well.

There is a metaphysical aspect that is often associated with belief. Those who believe this aspect claim that when you truly believe in something, the forces of the universe work toward making that belief a manifestation, or giving physical form to the belief. Psychology explains this not through metaphysics, but through science. Beliefs lead to actions, and it is the actions that bring about changes in the real world—not magical thinking.

Believe you will succeed. Believe in your own abilities and have faith in yourself. As Napoleon Hill, one of the early 20th century experts in success wrote, “Whatever the human mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

* Source: Kirsch, Irving , Ph.D. and Guy Sapirstein, Ph.D. “Listening to Prozac but Hearing Placebo: A Meta-Analysis of Antidepressant Medication” Prevention & Treatment, Volume 1, June 1998.


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