• John Pates

Mind over Matter - The power of beliefs

Updated: Jul 25

The double-slit experiment in quantum physics provides empirical evidence for the mind over matter effect. In this famous experiment, physicists observe that when photons or electron particles are fired through a double-slit interferometer the particles somehow interfere with each other and form a wave-like pattern. This means, at a quantum level, particles can become waves, and waves can become particles, this is referred to as wave-particle duality. If this was not strange enough physicists have shown photon or electron particles only behave like a wave until they are observed. When photons are observed going through the slits by the experimenter, particles do not manifest as waves, instead, the wave interference pattern breaks down and they strangely remain as particles. This is known as the observer effect or the measurement problem and has perplexed the founders of quantum mechanics for more than 70years. Bohr, Planck, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Einstein, all wrote about the perplexing epistemological and ontological challenges presented by the measurement problem.

The implications of these findings are the mind has some influence over matter and uses consciousness to form our reality. Matter, subjective experiences, including life itself, appears to be an emergent property of consciousness. The research findings described above imply the mind influences performance more than any other variable. It is the mind that influences biology rather than biology influences the mind. The idea the human mind can affect biology appears sensational. However, scientists exploring placebo effects have known this for many years. Consequently, all experiments involving clinical trials have placebo control groups.

The placebo effect is any physiologically evident healing effect that originates from the mind (Crane, 2016). In classical experiments demonstrating the placebo effect patients given a sugar pill get relief from their ailments if they believe the pill is a cure. Recent reviews suggest that the placebo effect (the recipient's expectation of healing) yields beneficial clinical results in 60–90% of all ailments and diseases (e.g., Finniss, Kaptchuk, Miller, & Benedetti, 2010; Release of endogenous neuropeptides such as opioids, cannabinoids, and dopamine arise in conjunction with placebo responses. In more remarkable studies that involve people who have the desire to heal others, research shows statistically significant placebo effects on cancer cells, red blood cells, fibroblasts, tendon cells (tenocytes), and bone cells (osteoblasts) have been observed (see Beseme, Bengston, Radin, Turner, & McMichael, 2018; Radin, Taft & Yount, 2004; Bengston, 2017; Schwarz, Pfister, Buchel. (2016). Wang, Hall, Giulianini, Passow, Kaptchuk, & Loscalzo, 2017; Price & Fields, 1997; Medell & Colloca, 2015). The studies reported here by Henry Bengston, Dean Radin, and others show unequivocally there is a mind-body interaction and beliefs, intentions, affirmations, and positive thoughts, have the power to change our biological systems. As Radin and Lobach, (2007) articulated ‘Beliefs become biology’.

The beliefs athletes hold about themselves and the mindsets they adopt about winning and achieving are fundamental to understanding success and optimal performance in sport. Often our own beliefs about what we are capable of severely limit us. By pushing our boundaries of what we believe we are capable of, we can aspire to new levels. I call these boundary-breaking beliefs quantum thoughts. They involve creating a new reality. Quantum thinking can lead to transformations and enlightenment if the thoughts are positive. Positive quantum thinking are thoughts that evoke hope and a life with a better future. When these thoughts are consistent and fuelled by passion, confidence, and intensity, they work through the belief system of the athlete and transform into reality. In other words, what athletes think will happen does happen. This phenomenon is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy which was first observed by Merton in 1948.

In a series of important psychological studies that examined the self-fulfilling prophecies in high school children, Rosenthal and Jackobson (1968) found teachers who had high expectations about their students produced students who performed better than students with teachers who held low expectations. This so-called ‘self-fulfilling prophecy effect’ has been observed on numerous occasions in both education, business, and sport. Taken together this body of research suggests self-fulfilling prophecies occur through a sequence of events that involve social interaction. First, the athlete must hold a belief about his/her potential, and second, coaches, athletes, and support teams must treat the athlete in a manner that is consistent with the belief.

I have observed this effect upon golfers who play on the PGA Tour. In a consultancy service lasting more than 18 years, I have had the privilege to work with four major winners and 7 Ryder Cup Stars. I have also worked with players who have won PGA tournaments and World championships. Additionally, I have worked with players who made a lot of money but have won nothing and I have also worked with players who have struggled. The differences between these players were their thoughts and beliefs. I found Major winners were only thinking about winning majors, tournament winners were only thinking about winning tournaments, players who earned lots of money were only thinking about making lots of money and the players who struggled did not think they were good enough. My observations suggest beliefs control our behavior and determine what we ultimately achieve in life and in sport.

The careers of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods support this opinion. Jack won 18 majors and holds more major championships than any other man in history. He came second in Majors 19 times and got into the top five 72 times. Tiger has produced a similar record winning 15 times. It is worth noting, in 2008, Tiger won the US open with a torn anterior ligament in his right leg, and in 2019 he won the Masters after numerous back surgeries that have severely affected his posture, power, and mobility. When you trace their past, you realize both Jack and Tiger won majors because from an early age they set the prophecy of winning majors. They also had a support team around them that bought into that belief. Jack and Tiger, for example, both had fathers and coaches who believed in their major winning potential. Interestingly when their fathers died, they stopped winning majors for a number of significant years. Jack Nicklaus wanted to emulate the history of Bobby Jones, Tiger wanted to match the history of Jack Nicklaus. As a child, Tiger even had the history of Jack Nicklaus’s records written on his bedroom wall. In essence, both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger believed they could win Majors and change the history of their sport. This quantum jump in thinking became a reality.

I never met Jack Grout, Jack Nicklaus coach, but I did have the pleasure to meet Tigers coach Butch Harmen. From my experience, I can understand why golfers wanted him to coach them. Butch was one of the most charismatic figures I have ever known. He made everyone around him feel good about themselves and he believed all of his players could win majors. Not surprisingly, many of the players he coached did become major winners. Another coach that believed his players could be major winners was Peter Cowan. Peter introduced me to the Tour in 2002. He told me on many occasions certain players would win Majors. Remarkably, the ones he pointed out, such as Henrick Stenson and Darren Clarke did.

In 2010 Grahame McDowell won the US Open at pebble beach, the next major winner was Louis Oosthuizen, the next major winner was Charl Schwartzel, the next US open winner was Rory McIlroy and the next major winner was Darren Clarke. The interesting thing about this sequence of events was the fact all of these players were best of friends, they were all supported by ISN Chubby Chandlers players management company and they were all coached, apart from Rory, by Peter Cowan. Peter won the BBC coach of the year for this achievement. This was a classic example of a Pygmalion effect. In private conversations the players named above told me when Grahame won the US Open, they all began to believe they could win majors. The managers and coaches treated the golfers in a manner that was consistent with the belief. The result of this quantum shift in positive thought was magical. In my last example, I would like to highlight a moment in the career of Annika Sorenstam. In 1998 Anika started to work with a team of mental coaches Lynn Marriot and Pia Nillson. They asked her to make a quantum shift in thought and play with the intention of shooting a score of 54. The goal of shooting a score of 54 was part of her mental training program called VISION54.

The idea behind VISION 54 was to make Annika believe she could make a birdie on every hole. The proposal that one can shoot 54 for eighteen holes was a positive quantum shift in thought, overriding the belief that par is perfection and that every green requires two putts. Shortly after her mental training, Annika shot a 59 at the Miami Valley Open. This is the lowest score in LPGA history. She went on to win the event and in that year she won 7 titles and became the first player in LPGA history to finish a season with a sub-70 scoring average of 69. Annika’s story emphasizes an important point. Quantum thoughts in the form of beliefs, expectations, and intentions have the power to transform athletes into champions. In essence, if we hold a thought long enough, what we think will manifest in reality. The following case study shows how beliefs affect the performance of a professional golfer. It also highlights the methodologies I used to change beliefs that are detrimental to performance.


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