I saw Santa and Mrs. Claus this past week. Was it the real Santa Claus? Well, there are a few ways I can answer that. I could tell you that it was. “How could that be?” you say. Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called magic? I could tell you that it was a Helper Santa—one of many who listen to our wish lists and take our requests back to the real Santa. Or I could ask, “Do you believe it was the real Santa?”
Belief is an amazing thing. We know that culture is an organic result of the beliefs of an organization. While the claims that beliefs can, on their own, determine or change our health, financial status, or love life are clearly overstated, we do know that beliefs have a significant impact on our reality.
Your beliefs influence your behavior.
If you believe you are capable of something, you are more likely to accomplish it. If you believe you are competent and deserving of a particular job, you are more likely to do well in an interview. If you believe you can achieve a life goal, you are more likely to notice and seize opportunities that help get you there. In fact, research suggests that overconfident people tend to appear more socially skilled and higher in social status.
What we believe about our basic character can be especially powerful. While guilt (which is the feeling that you did a bad thing) can motivate self-improvement, shame (feeling like you are a bad person) tends to reduce hope and undermine efforts to change. Interestingly, praising character as opposed to behavior is a more effective means of encouraging positive behavior. So, who you believe you are affects who you become.
Your beliefs influence other people’s behavior.
Even people you do not know are impacted by your beliefs about yourself and about them. Research shows that our expectations about other people (beliefs) shape our perceptions and then elicit behavior that confirms our expectations. To say it simply, if you believe someone is mean, they are more likely to act mean around and to you. Of course, the converse is true. If you see others in an idealized light, it tends to instill confidence in others which causes them to behave in generous and constructive ways.
Numerous studies have shown that when an authority figure like a teacher or parent or boss communicates that they see us as worthless or incapable, we often meet that expectation. Just as critical, when those same people communicate that they believe we are valuable and have great potential, we likewise rise to that lofty expectation.
Your beliefs may impact your health.
People who have a positive attitude (another form of belief) about aging live an average of 7.6 years longer than those with negative beliefs. Optimistic people also have lower incidence of heart disease. When people believe they are capable of impacting their own health, they tend to engage in better behaviors, like eating well and exercising. Some negativity is useful too. When people believe they are susceptible to serious illness, they tend to take better care of themselves.
Studies on the placebo effect indicate there is a strong correlation between belief and health. Often, just the expectation that a treatment will work makes it work, even if it is simply a sugar pill. While the placebo effect is strongest for subjective symptoms, there is measurable evidence of physical effects. In fact, placebos alter the patterns of brain activity associated with processing pain.
Since your beliefs have strong and measurable effects on you and the people around you, it is worth spending some time thinking about what you believe. I believe that God created me to be loved and valued by him so that I could love and value others. I believe that most of my problems are self-generated, and when I am disturbed, the disturbance is in me. I believe that there is beauty and grace and good to be found everywhere if I am willing to look. I believe that while I cannot change the world, I can (and should) change someone’s life for the better.
All I want for Christmas is for people everywhere to believe they are valued and loved. First, by a God who knows them and second, by people around them, starting with me. If you will join me in wishing ourselves and those we meet a blessed Christmas full of grace and love, then I think we can say we have found, not just the Kimray Way, but THE WAY.