The Power of Belief


Audio Link

Rod: Well there are things like ‘bad hair days,’ or days where we feel kinda scattered and ineffectual. But there are also days where we feel ‘in the zone,’ or confident , or capable. Our Wellness columnist Scott McPherson is here now to help us know the difference and how we can turn one kind of day into the other. Hey Scott.

Scott: Hey Rod.

Rod: Good to have you with us. So when we feel mentally weak or overwhelmed with the world, and everything that’s happening, what’s happening from a mindfulness perspective?

Scott: Well it would depend on the nature of the weakness. If it’s something like Exhaustion or Decision Fatigue, then we’ve literally worn our brain out. The only thing that will help that is some good rest and nutrition. But even a healthy, well-rested person can enervate themselves with negative thinking. In that case the sense of weakness is generated by the mind. Then what we need is some form of psychological help. But only some of us will ask for it.

Rod: Right, yeah. What prevents people from asking for help?

Scott: Well in fairness, some innocently and sincerely don’t know they need it. So it makes sense that they’re not asking for help. And that’s also why they reject other people’s offers to help. It feels inappropriate.

Rod: Hmm. Okay, so, what can be done to help those t hat are in those kind of situations?

Scott: In those cases we’re better to lovingly point out the issues everyone feels are warning signs. And then patiently trust the person’s natural wisdom. But that only works if there is suitable help available, eventually. Fortunately that’s becoming less of an issue thanks to online resources, although connectivity and cost can still be major issues. But that still leaves us with a group that feels like they don’t deserve to be happier, and another that feels they are so screwed-up that they feel no one can help them.

Rod: Right. So how do you help that person–the person who doesn’t feel deserving?

Scott: That’s an example of how negative thinking can cut off access to our natural strength. The folks who think they aren’t deserving just need some unconditional love to help them recognize their natural value. Once that happens, we all know that things that have value should be cared for.

Rod: And then you mentioned the other group; just the ones feel that they’re just so screwed up they’re, they’re past the point of no return.  For those that believe that –that they are beyond help– what’s,what’s a way of helping them?

Scott: That’s a really large group. And again, that’s just a lot of negative, debilitating thinking. But those are like clouds compared to the bright light of the sun. That thinking can obscure our power. But those thoughts can’t take our power away. That always resides equally in all human beings.

Rod: So how do you find that –how do you find that power, in yourself?

Scott: We have to really recognize that the power isn’t fictional or figurative. Busy, agonized thinking exhausts us because it uses up a lot of scattered, spinning energy. That energy is a very real force in the universe. We can feel it pulling us this way and that. That’s when we’re wasting our power and we’re getting nowhere. But we can also clear our consciousness. Then we can focus it on meaningful things, in meaningful ways. And when we do that we activate a form of power in ourselves that we actually know well. We just know it by other names. And those names can tend to make us think that the power is in others but not ourselves.

Rod: What are some examples of that?

Scott: One is basic religious ‘faith.’ Atheists would say there’s nothing there. But science would disagree. Belief is a powerful force for the human mind. The previous talk we did on Confirmation bias demonstrated that power. It can render visible things invisible just because we find it very hard to believe things that run contrary to our existing beliefs. That’s why the belief that we are weak or undeserving is strong enough to stop an otherwise powerful human being. And yet a belief that some higher power is involved in our effort can imbue the very same person with fortitude, courage or strength that they otherwise live without. But they wouldn’t have access to that power without that external belief in something other than themselves, like God for instance.

Rod: Another example is the Placebo Effect…explain that ?

Scott: Despite the fact that there’s no drug company pushing the research, that effect has now been documented many times by science. That means people improved in measurable ways, just by believing they took a medicine they did not take. A recent study on micro-dosing psychedelics showed that the same positive effects could be generated with just the belief that the drug was present when it wasn’t. We have to really stop and think about that. Then we might also recall times where we ‘bucked ourselves up’ to go to work, even if we didn’t feel up to it.

Rod: Right.

Scott: That is an excellent example of us casually using this power without us realizing that we could also use it for more important things than powering our way to work when we have a cold.

Rod: Yeah right. So, how can we see that power working?

Scott: Focused use of that power is what happens when sports or business make use of visualization. That’s when we actively build a positive belief that an ideal performance is possible. A skier can imagine their entire run and their brain won’t know the difference between the imagining and the doing. Then, when they ski the actual run, their brain is in a state where it is calmer and more focused because it’s repeating a positive experience rather than trying to build a new one, in real time, on the way down the hill. It’s no  coincidence that we see this kind of positive, intentional use of the mind in everything from golf, to weight lifting, to curling. It works really well in sports. It’s just that no one thinks to use it for a marriage or a job interview.

Rod: Yeah, you hear somebody like a Tiger Woods, you know, who would say –and has said for years– you know, you visualize the shot, and then you step up and make the shot that you visualized. So, certainly that –that holds true for sure.

Scott: Absolutely.

Rod: What’s the best way to make this happen for ourselves?

Scott: Well, the only thing in the way is our own busy thinking, and our unfamiliarity with focusing that energy intentionally like Tiger does. But that is the point of mindfulness. It helps calm our busy minds. Tiger’s had training. It takes –uh, that training helps us take what was whirling, unproductive energy, and we can learn to focus it on some task or role. We can use it to reinforce our confidence, steel our courage, or expand our resilience. That’s all the strongest people like Tiger are doing. They aren’t better people. They’re just using their power more consciously, so they end up being more being productive. Or they’re just happier and more relaxed because they feel more confident. Either way it’s a win we give ourselves. So people should be very wary of any personal thinking they do that creates that weaker sense of self. That makes no sense when we can just as easily use that same force to create a sense of strength.

Rod: Scott, really appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks. 

Scott: I enjoyed it. Have a great day Rod.

Rod: You too. Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at, and Twitter and Facebook.

Hi everyone.

I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me for CBC Radio Active‘s Wellness Column, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. I’m normally interviewed by Adrienne Pan, who does a great job, but she away this week. So Rod Kurtz will be doing the interview (he’s also excellent) and we’ll be running on Wednesday not Tuesday, but we’ll run at the same 5:20pm time.

You can listen to the show from 3-6pm, via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at If nothing external impacts us, we are usually on every second Tuesday, at 5:20pm.

Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. I will also attach a transcript of the column to the top of this post within a week or so of airing.

Today’s topic: 

When we say we feel ’empowered,’ what power are we referring to? Where can we see examples of this power, and how can we marshal it in our lives in useful ways? Today’s column is all about recognizing our strengths, and then using them with wisdom.

That’s what we’ll be covering today. If you get to hear the show and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It’s on from 3-6pm, and they have a great team.

Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.

peace. s