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As I walked up to the microphone in the aisle of the large auditorium in Seattle, I waited for my turn to ask the venerable speaker a question. I was feeling very self-conscious because, even though I’d spoken to audiences of a similar size, this 77-year-old man was one of my heroes and he was the expert while I was just another attendee sitting at one end of row 12. His books had been a revelation to me, and he was one of my top role models.

I was particularly nervous because I couldn’t quite think through exactly how I wanted to phrase my question to Stephen Covey. For fifteen years – ever since I’d first read his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – I could not for the life of me understand a key point in his book. In it he stated that we all had the ability to choose our attitudes and choose our own way even when all our freedoms had been taken away from us.

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Covey cited this fundamental truth that Austrian psychologist Victor Frankl had learned while surviving the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and described it in his own book Man’s Search for Meaning. That afternoon I again heard Covey reference Victor Frankl’s epiphany. I just couldn’t take it anymore that I didn’t understand this key point he was making yet again when it mattered so much. Even though I feared I might be the only person in the huge audience not to understand what he was talking about and that I was about to make a fool of myself for being so dense, I had to try and get some clarity.

When it was my turn at the microphone, I just started talking: “Can you help me understand what I’m missing about Victor Frankl’s comment? I can’t relate to his point. I’ve never experienced anything like a concentration camp or even fighting in a war. It feels too far removed from anything in my own world. How am I supposed to understand what he was trying to say?” I highly doubt I was that eloquent or succinct, but I will never forget how Covey responded:

He bored his eyes into me from quite a distance on the stage to where I was standing halfway up the auditorium and I felt completely rooted to the spot. With a moving intensity as if I were the only person in the room, he said: “My friend, what Frankl was trying to say was this: You can choose your beliefs. You can do anything you set your mind to.” He paused to let me digest this a little.

“That was what Frankl learned. He discovered that your brain has the freedom – has the capacity – to make that choice and no one can take it away from you. It was an epiphany for him that he learned from being in the worst possible human circumstances. But you don’t need to go through what he experienced to learn what he had to learn. Your job is to apply his hard-earned lesson: And first, you just need to believe it.”

Then he refreshed his intense stare and repeated to me: “YOU can do anything you set your mind to,” and continued his stare as if to say, “and don’t you dare doubt it.”

That was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience and, while I felt like I’d just been handed the Holy Grail, I didn’t think I was quite worthy to do anything with it. Yet. But I still remember lying in bed that night knowing he had shared something monumentally powerful. I think I was too scared to carry the torch.

Have you ever had this happen? Someone tells you: “You ‘just’ need to believe in yourself to succeed!” Or you hear a motivational speaker say it on a video or at a conference. It was really moving to hear Covey tell me I could do anything I set my mind to, but the sad truth is that inspiration – even knowledge – like this doesn't last. It became a fond distant memory.

I wanted to believe him. For a fleeting moment, my instinct told me he was right – I think we all have moments when we sense that we have a vein of gold inside us that we could achieve the remarkable – but to believe it was really true for me felt like too much of a stretch at the time. Easy for the bestselling author of an iconic book on stage to get paid $50,000 to believe it. But I do anything I set my mind to? Exhale. Really? So, I did what Churchill once observed: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
I couldn't get myself to believe it, so the next day I got on a plane to England for a speaking engagement, got busy with my life, and forgot about all it.

Looking back, on the rare occasions I thought about it, I told myself it was too far-fetched, and I didn’t know how to build my self-belief. The weird part about this is I had worked diligently on influencing my subconscious mind for months prior to this; I can’t understand why I ‘forgot’ this when it had led to so many remarkable outcomes. Covey probably believed that if you followed his seven habits and were so clear about your life purpose, you could do anything you set your mind to. But if it were that easy to ‘set goal – follow the plan – achieve success,’ then everyone would do it. But we don’t. We are inconsistent, fearful, and have brains hardwired to talk ourselves out of anything that looks like change or risk.

The truth is, knowing isn’t doing. It doesn't work to just tell someone: “You have to believe it” or even “you just have to believe in yourself.” Beliefs are developed through repetition generally from personal experiences. Remember: beliefs aren’t facts. They are simply neural patterns that have been reinforced over time. You can believe anything you want.

How do you change your beliefs?

You do it through frequent repetition of the beliefs you want for as long as it takes, and you do it with such emotion that your body can feel it too.

You feed the beliefs you desire into your subconscious mind through meditation and visualization (you have to get out of your typical beta brainwave flow and away from your analytical mind). This builds new neural pathways and synaptic connections and has two effects:
a) These thoughts can change your feelings, so you want to take new action that feels congruent with your new thoughts. This will ultimately get you new results that align better with your new thoughts and feelings.
b) The second effect is that these thoughts also make their way into the Quantum Field and, when there’s an energy match, align in a way that they turn into matter (something tangible in the physical world).

I’m grateful to Stephen Covey for telling me what he learned and believed: you can do anything you set your mind to. He was living proof. But to get from knowing to doing, yes you have to take new action to get new results but preceding this, you need to change your thoughts and influence your feelings in the subconscious to get you to take the new actions.

To doing anything you set your mind to!
Matt Anderson
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121

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