Beliefs are the compass and maps that guide us toward our goals and give us the surety to know we’ll get there. Without beliefs or the ability to tap into them, people can be totally disempowered. They’re like a motorboat without a motor or rudder. With powerful guiding beliefs, you have the power to take action and create the world you want to live in. Beliefs help you see what you want and energize you to get it.
In fact, there’s no more powerful directing force in human behaviour than belief. In essence, human history is the history of human belief. The people who have changed history – whether Christ, Mohammed, Copernicus, Columbus, Edison, or Einstein – have been the people who changed our beliefs. To change our own behaviour, we have to start with our own beliefs. If we want to model excellence, we need to learn to model the beliefs of those who achieve excellence.
In his wonderful book, “Anatomy of an Illness”, Norman Cousins tells as instructive story about Pablo Casals, one of the great musicians of the twentieth century. It’s a story of belief and renewal, and we can all learn from it.
Cousins describes meeting Casals shortly before the great cellists ninetieth birthday. Cousins says that it was almost painful to watch the old man as he began his day. His frailty and arthritis were so debilitating that he needed help in dressing. His emphysema was evident in his laboured breathing. He walked with a shuffle, stooped over, his head pitched forward. His hands were swollen, his fingers clenched. He looked like a very old, very tired man.
Even before eating, he made his way to the piano, one of the several instruments on which Casals had become proficient. With great difficulty, he arranged himself on the piano bench. It seemed a terrible effort for him to bring his clenched, swollen fingers to the keyboard.
And then something quite miraculous happened. Casals suddenly and completely transformed himself before Cousin’s eyes. He went into a resourceful state, and as he did, his physiology changed to such a degree that he began to move and play, producing both in his body and on the piano results that should have been possible only for a healthy, strong, flexible pianist. As Cousin’s put it, “The fingers slowly unlocked and reached toward keys like the buds of a plant toward the sunlight. His back straightened. He seemed to breath more freely.” The very thought of playing the piano totally his state and thus the effectiveness of his body. Casals began with Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier, playing with great sensitivity and control. He then launched into Brahams concerto, and his fingers seemed to race above the keyboard. “His entire body seemed fused with the music,” Cousins wrote. “It was no longer stiff and shrunken but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils.” By the time he walked away from the piano, he seemed and entirely different person who had sat down to play. He stood straighter and taller; he walked to the breakfast table, ate heartily, and then went out for a stroll along the beach.
We usually think of beliefs in terms of creeds or doctrines, and that’s what many beliefs are. But in the most basic sense, a belief is any guiding principle, dictum, faith, or passion that can provide meaning and direction in life.
In short, Man is what He Believes.