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The Meta-State Structure of a Belief Part I


Source: taken from L. Michael Hall, Meta-Relfections #50, October 24, 2011,

Sometime after discovering the Meta-States Model, I got thinking about the structure of a belief. It was from that reflection that I experienced a new realization about beliefs. Thinking about the systemic interplay of applying one state to another, I realized that a belief involves applying a confirmed thought (one state) to a previous thought (a previous state). A belief is not just a thought, it is a particular thought; it is a confirmation thought about a thought.

“Wow! This is great!” When we confirm something, we do something so simple. We simply say yes to something. It’s that simple! How amazing. If you tell me something, and I say, “Hmmm. Yes!” I confirm what you say. I agree. I may even validate what you say, “Yes, that’s right.” “Yes that’s true.” “Yes, that’s real.” Yet in this these very simple statements are doing something very profound. That’s because in confirming a thought, they are transforming a mere thought, a mere representation, a mere idea into a higher level phenomenon—a belief.

And that realization naturally and immediately led to the next. If we confirm and validate a belief into existence, we can disconfirm and dis-validate a belief out of existence and sent it back to being a mere thought. “No, I don’t agree.” “No, that’s not the way it is.” “No, that’s not real.” And of course, this provide a clear definition of a doubt: “Well, maybe it is that way; no, I don’t think so, but then again maybe it is, but that would have this or that problem.” And so we go back and forth confirming and disconfirming. We are in doubt. Unsure.

Immediately upon discovering this in 1996, I sent an email to Bob Bodenhamer and gave him a short process to use in his work with people. He had a client that day which gave me the opportunity to do a belief change. So using “No” and “Yes” and the states that each word elicits as well as the set of ecology questions for confirmation and disconfirmation, Bob was the first person to run the pattern explicitly. In this way the Meta-State Belief Change Pattern was born.

Belief Exercise

Think of a belief, something that you believe that’s important to you, that makes your life richer and more enhanced. Here are some examples of beliefs that may cue you for ideas:

I believe that human experiences have a structure that can be discovered and modeled.

I believe the map is not the territory. My mental models are just that, models.

I believe that people are innately creative and have all the resources they need to live life effectively and healthily in solving their problems.

I believe that people have a lot more potential than they actualize.

I believe that I can find a way to become financially independent.

I believe that we can do much more together than alone or apart.

I believe that if I support with care and listen with presence, clients will tell them the real problem and the solution.

I believe that my value as a human being is unconditional and absolute.

What do you believe? The fact is— you have thousands of beliefs— yes, thousands. Maybe tens-of-thousands. You have beliefs about yourself, your value, your skills, your relationships, your purpose. You have beliefs about others, about human nature, about emotions, about fear, about anger, etc. You have beliefs about money, budgeting, saving, working, career development, communication, criticism, rejection, etc. So think about some of them and write them down. In fact, see if you can find ten of your most highly valued beliefs, those that make your life fuller and more enjoyable.

After you have written down several of your best beliefs, choose one and write that one out fully.

After you’ve completed this task, now step back and notice the words you used to express your belief. Here’s my prediction— your words are not see-hear-feel words, not sensory-based words (the VAK of NLP). Your words include conceptual words, abstract words, evaluative words, and nominalizations.

The Point

All of this brings me to my point:

Beliefs are sentences. Beliefs are coded in language and cannot be coded in sensory-based representations.

Now do you find that to be a bold assertion? It is indeed a bold one! And yes, it goes against the way Bandler and Grinder presented “beliefs” when they first created NLP. Okay, here’s my challenge: Try to disprove it.

To do that, all you have to do is to identify a belief that is just a picture, some sounds, sensations, smells and tastes. Present sensory-based information, brute facts about something without any conceptual terms without introducing interpretations, explanations, or concepts.

Since you have identified a set of very powerfully positive beliefs that enriches your life, begin with one of those. See if that belief can be stated, can be coded with just see-hear-feel words. See if you can denominalize all of the nominalizations and bring the “belief” down to a mere set of sensory-based terms. I bet you can’t! I tried to do it with this one and completely failed to state it in pure see-hear-feel terms:

I believe that my value as a human being is unconditional. I have unconditional value as a human being. My self-esteem is a given, I am a somebody.

I can see a picture of myself or another human being, but how do I code the higher ideas of “value, unconditionally, self-esteem, given, a somebody?”

The Structure of a Belief

There’s a reason for this distinction:

There’s a distinction between thinking and believing. When we have a thought it is at the first level, a primary level of see-hear-feel. When we have a belief we move to a higher level and entertain a thought of confirmation of the first thought. A belief is a confirmation about a see-hear-feel term.

The primary level thought is made up of the VAK, the brute facts that you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. The “belief” is made up of conceptual terms, nominalizations at a meta-level and so is a meta-state of confirmation or validation of the thought that you believe. The belief does not occur “out there,” the facts do, but that only makes up a thought. The belief is a second-thought, a thought of confirmation by which you validate the first-level thought that it is real, true, and the way it is.

When you say confirmations about the first-level thought, “That’s real.” “That’s true.” “That’s the way it is.”, then regardless of your reasoning that led you to that confirmation, regardless of your convincer strategy (what convinces you that it is real), you thereby bring a state of confirmation to the thought. And presto! the thought becomes something more, it becomes a belief. In Meta-States, we recognize a belief as a meta-state or as a gestalt state of several meta-states.

Now yes, you can certainly represent things with see-hear-feel terms. You can encode facts with sensory-based language. But what does it mean? So what? What’s the point? To make your point you have to construct a concept about the facts. You have to take the brute facts of the senses and make some assertion about them—some conclusion, interpretation, or explanation.

Brute Sensory-based Facts:

Visually: bright, red strawberries in a dish.

When strawberries bitten into, juice flows out. Face of person smiling.

Auditorially: sound of biting into strawberryand person saying, “hmmmmm.”

Olfactorially: smell of strawberries.

Question: Is that a belief? If it is, what does the person who plays that movie in his or her mind actually believe? We have the facts, but they mean what? What do you believe about eating ripe juicy strawberries? Do you believe they are good? Delicious? A reward? The good life? A source of an allergy? Sweet? Going to give you gas?

Now the little movie of the brute facts certainly suggests and invites us to draw some conclusions: “I believe that bitting into strawberries are good.” It implies that. It sets you up and primes you to believe that. Yet is that little movie the code of a belief? No. What do you actually believe about eating ripe strawberries? We don’t know. You could believe any one of those ideas or concepts or none of them. The meaning you give as to what is real, true, and valid to you about this is not seen in the movie. All we see and hear in the movie is eating and “hmmmm.” But what does the sound “hmmmm” mean? Good, pleasure, reward, luxury, health, treat, I’ll pay for this later with allergic symptoms, etc.?

If we add “hmmmm good” to the movie, we have added an evaluative term, a concept. And “good” implies a standard, a criterion— good for what? Good by what standard or values? And this movie is about as simple as they come. What movie did you make for your highly valued positive belief?

So what?

• You can much more easily change a representational thought than a belief thought.

• Beliefs are made out of VAK details and a sentence by which you interpret, explain, and draw conclusions about the representation.

• Beliefs are changed at the meta-level, not the primary level.

Now you know about the structure of a belief. Next time, working with belief to change them.