What We Believe Changes What We Can Do

What we believe not only changes how we see the world, but it also changes what we can do.

Hook Movie PosterHave you ever seen the movie Hook? In that movie, the legendary Peter Pan has left Neverland and has forgotten his former identity. He grows up and becomes a successful corporate lawyer with a wife and two kids.

After Captain Hook kidnaps his children, Peter is forced to return to Neverland and rediscover his identity. This proves to be difficult as few people believe that this middle-aged man is the Peter Pan.

After confronting Peter for the first time in years, Captain Hook whispers in disbelief, “Is it you? My great and worthy opponent? But it can’t be. Not this pitiful, spineless, pasty, bloated codfish I see before me. You’re not even a shadow of Peter Pan.”

Peter nods in agreement. He doesn’t believe it either.

It isn’t until one of the smallest of the Lost Boys believes he’s Peter Pan that things begin to change.

From that point on, Peter starts to remember things about his past. Once he realizes who he is (and believes it) he regains his ability to fly, fight, and crow.

Although it’s just a movie, I find it interesting that even though Peter had come face-to-face Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and Tinkerbell, he still finds ways to disbelieve he’s Peter Pan. But when he believes he’s Peter Pan, everything changes: his abilities, his perception of the world, and his place in it.

Real cute, Seth. But that’s a story—a made up movie. Are you suggesting that if we just believe in ourselves we can all fly? Sounds like drug talk to me!

Hold on, hold on! Let me explain this idea by telling you about a girl I met while working at a wilderness therapy program. We’ll call this girl ‘Maggie.’

Maggie was in her mid-twenties. After reaching a breaking point with her family, Maggie decided to try and overcome her addictions by spending six weeks at a program in the Arizona wilderness.

Maggie maintained a level of optimism during her first few days on the trail. After listening to the stories of several other employees (those who had overcome addictions themselves) she became more confident that she would be able to overcome her own addictions.

However, somewhere along the trail, Maggie started to doubt herself. The hikes were difficult and painful and her withdrawals intensified. During her struggles, Maggie’s mind latched onto something that someone had once told her: “Maggie, you’re just a screw up. You’re never going to succeed at anything.”

Having known Maggie for just those few days I knew that what that person had told her wasn’t true. Maggie had incredible potential. Maggie could do great things. But despite our best efforts to convince her of that, Maggie wouldn’t believe in our words. She became sad and despondent, then irritable and angry. She cursed the wilderness, rejected our help and eventually abandoned the program.

Because of what others had said, Maggie essentially had been given two things in which she could believe: 1) that she had the power to overcome her addictions, or 2) that she would never succeed at anything. Both statements, in and of themselves, had no power until she believed in one of them. It was her belief that gave power to the words and changed her perception of what she could and “couldn’t” do.

I know from personal experience that what we believe not only changes how we see the world, but also changes who we are. I’m a witness to it. As someone who struggles with depression, I am daily bombarded with choices to either believe the best about myself, or the very worst.

For two straight years I believed the worst about myself. Two days before my suicide attempt, I remember spending hours furiously scribbling in my journal (in large letters) the thoughts I was having—things like “I hate my life,” “Nobody loves me,” “God hates me,” and “I’m a mistake.”

My suicide attempt was a direct result of believing the worst about myself.

But my recovery was the direct result of believing the best about myself.

Arizona, Neverland…same thing.

When I woke up in the hospital, my circumstances (and the world itself) hadn’t necessarily changed. In fact, you could argue that things were worse: many people found out that I had tried to take my life, rumors were beginning to spread, and not only were my parents worried sick about me, but they also had to pay for my expensive visit to the ER.

I could’ve continued to believe the very worst about myself. But during that time, I saw my family rally around me—giving me words of comfort, support, and love. My family believed the best in me. Shouldn’t I do the same?

Since that time, I’ve tried my best to focus on the good—to believe the best and disbelieve the worst. While it’s absolutely essential to honestly acknowledge your faults and work to improve your character, it’s equally important to recognize what things build you up and what things tear you down.

I personally feel that we possess the mental ability to damn or liberate ourselves by what we believe. Believing the worst about ourselves will bring us down and damn our progression. But believing the best about ourselves can help us to fly, fight, and crow.

Now if we could only use the power of belief to make food appear out of nowhere…

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  • Yet again, your column is spot on. Your words don’t diminish the difficulty of redirecting ones’ self-defeating thoughts into positive, expectant assurance of a happy life. Yet they reinforce our own innate power to influence our destiny; further, you underscore how important it is to lift up those around us. Keep doing what you’re doing!