The Power of Belief

Splashing the cold, chlorinated water over my right shoulder once and then over my left shoulder twice. Flipping my swim cap inside then out exactly three times before putting it on my head. Making sure my goggles were tightened to the exact same measurement of two finger widths on both sides. These were the habits of the provincial-level swimmer I once was.

Like any good athlete, I had buns of steel, razor sharp focus and my share of superstitions! I believed that if I had the water throwing, cap flipping, and goggle tightening just right, I would win the race before me and shave ample time off my speciality, the 50 meter freestyle.

I was the Wade Boggs of the Crescent Town Swim Team. Now, I didn’t eat a big chicken dinner before every game or write the Hebrew letters for the word “Chai” (meaning “life”) every time I had to perform athletically like the great American ballplayer did. But I had my fair share of superstitious habits that I believed would make me push the water harder, hold my breath longer, and hit that time board faster!

When it comes to the superstitious behaviour and athleticism, Boggs and I are in good company. Recently, a spat of  today’s top athletes including pro basketball player and reality TV star Lamar Odom have taken to wearing colorful silicone bracelets produced by a company called, Power Balance, believing this rubber jewellery will give them super athletic abilities! The makers of these bright stretchy rings claim that electrical frequencies are emitted by a mylar hologram disk embedded within each bracelet. The promise? That these trinkets will “resonate with and respond to the body’s natural energy field, maximizing balance, strength and flexibility.” Those are some pretty big claims! I would imagine if they are true these little rubber suckers are going to be everywhere in no time and we are going to to see them on the wrists of everyone from senior citizens struggling with balance to babes learning to walk.

There is no substantiated scientific proof for the effectiveness of Power Balance bracelets so how come some claim they work? Perhaps the proven scientific phenomenon, the placebo effect, has a little something to do with it. What is the placebo effect? It’s simple. The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon in which some people experience some type of benefit after the administration of a placebo, a substance with no known medical effects, such as sterile water, saline solution, or a sugar pill.

Scientists use placebo’s all the time in case studies to prove the effectiveness of medications. They will covertly give one group of volunteers placebos and another group of volunteers the actual medication they are studying. More often than not, the placebo-laden participants will claim to derive the benefits of the medication in question. Scientists then compare the physical effects and benefits each group is claiming to be experiencing to determine the efficacy of the medicine being studied.

So what’s happening when a placebo causes an individual to believe she or he has been treated with an effective medication because they are experiencing relief from uncomfortable symptoms. Anne Harrington, a professor for the history of Science at Harvard and a specialist on this subject notes that, “A person’s belief that they have been given a pain reliever can actually cause the pituitary to release the endorphins which are the brain’s natural painkillers.” In other words, a placebo is a fake treatment that can produce a real response.

Okay, so is it just me or is it notable that in the field of science, the mecca of logic and rational inquiry, the power of belief has come to be depended upon to determine scientific conclusions. It seems the connection between belief and what becomes our reality is undeniable even in scientific circles. Whether we call it superstition, the placebo effect, spiritual mumbo jumbo, there is no denying the power of belief. Science cannot explain it, psychology cannot pinpoint it, and I, for one, cannot get enough of it.

Every human being on the planet knows that belief is inextricably linked to the human experience. When we believe in something, good or bad, it has a way of creeping into our lives and taking over. What comes to pass, what comes to be for our lives, it is all connected to our beliefs.  Put the power of belief to good use and there are often amazing results. “I believe that I will finish school and work as a teacher like I have always dreamed.” “I believe that this marriage will last and we will have a good family life.” “I believe that I will live a long and healthy life.” Put the power of belief to bad use and it can often capsize our lives. “I don’t believe I am smart enough to accomplish my dreams.” “I don’t believe that relationships work out.” “I don’t believe I have the ability to live in a healthy manner.”

There is so much evidence for the fact that belief plays a key role in the human experience. What we believe about the world around us, about others, about ourselves really does seem to come to pass in more ways than one. While some capitalize on this, (ahem, The Secret), the reality is that this gift is not to be used to believe ourselves into power, prominence or prosperity. If that were the case, the world would not be able to sustain the 7 billion mansions, Mercedes, and manicured lawns we would all demand. I know, I’m assuming the entire world is as shallow as I am!

So what is the power of belief meant for you ask? Well, I think it is meant to lead us to the source of why we desire to believe in the first place. The creator of the universe, the original arbiter of good, created each one of us with the power of belief embedded within our DNA so that eventually we would come to believe in Him, come to know Him, come back to Him. The power of such belief is the calling card of the divine, reminding us that God has made each of us, that He has gifted us with unique abilities and that He has a distinct plan for our lives. The key to unlocking these realities is to unlock our belief in the one who created us. Then, as we believe in our creator, we come to believe in all that He has planned for us and guess what, those plans can actually come to fruition.

“You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse…Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies”
Philippians 4:8, The Message

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