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Self Belief Not Required

Why you don’t even need to believe in positive thinking to benefit from it

Believe It or Not - It Makes No Difference

I first read about this phenomenon in the best-selling book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. To be honest, on first reading, I was sceptical. What it suggested seemed so unlikely and so counterintuitive. So I put it to the test myself, fully expecting to find that I could not reproduce the results. I was wrong however. Whenever, and on whomever, I carried out the test, I always got the same results – the ones that Susan Jeffers reported. Here’s how it goes.

The Experiment


Find a volunteer and have them face you. Check that they have no problems of any sort with their arms. Assuming all is well, ask them to clench one of their fists and then raise up the same arm to shoulder height so that their arm is at ninety degrees to their body. Then tell the volunteer to resist with all their strength whilst you stand in front of them and attempt to push their clenched fist and arm back down from the raised position with your outstretched hand.

You will be extremely unusual if you can push down the person’s arm with your initial attempt. Even if you manage it, it is unlikely to be easy.

Now ask your volunteer to put their arm down, shut their eyes, and to repeat to themselves ten times out loud the negative statement “I am a weak and unworthy person”. They don’t need to attempt to believe the statement, only repeat it. After this, get them to open their eyes and raise up the same arm as before with fist clenched. Tell them to resist with all their strength exactly as before, and then try to push their arm down.

Your volunteer will be amazed (as will you the first time you try this!). You will be able to push their arm down to their side with ease and they will offer little in the way of resistance. Assuming that somehow you started pushing before they were ready, some volunteers will ask you to repeat the experiment, thinking that the next time they will be able to resist your downward pressure. But they will be wrong – try it a second time and you’ll get the same result.

To continue to experiment, now get the volunteer to close their eyes and repeat the positive statement “I am a strong and worthy person” ten times. Having then opened their eyes and raised their arm, it is now up to you to push the arm down again. What you will find is that you are now unable to budge the arm at all – if anything, the arm seems stronger than the first time you attempted to push it down. Again, you can repeat this with the same results – an inability to push the arm down.

Ah, But You Could be Cheating...

Sceptics might argue that, because you are the one doing the pushing, you are changing the pressure you use to push the arm down, depending on the statements repeated. This is very easily disproved though. Tell the volunteer to select either the positive or negative statement and repeat it to themselves ten times once you have left the room, then leave. When you re-enter the room after a few minutes, you can attempt to push the volunteer’s raised arm down as before. If they chose the positive statement, you will not be able to move the arm; if instead it was the negative they chose, the arm will move with little resistance. This is proof that you couldn’t have been cheating. You didn’t even know which statement they had chosen.

The Implications

I make no apologies for stating that in my opinion, the inferences that can be drawn from these results are staggering. Not only do the things we tell ourselves clearly have an affect on our performance (positive thoughts leading to an increase in strength, negative thoughts having the opposite effect) but, and here’s where the staggering part comes in, it doesn’t even matter whether we believe the things we are telling ourselves or not.

What can we draw from this that is useful for our purposes? Simply this. The power of the mind really is that, a power. We need to ensure we harness it and use it productively. And we need avoid negative self-talk – it seems that somehow the subconscious is unable to filter out fact from fiction and believes all you tell it. Give it those negative thoughts and it will act accordingly. Your performance will suffer as a result.