A young, clean-shaven Irishman sits in front of a camera crew. With a tilt of his head, he grins as he speaks about the future he has imagined for himself. He’s a professional mixed martial arts fighter, but he’s competing in one of the smallest promotions in Ireland. “I’m an up and coming fighter, and without a doubt, you will see me in the UFC in the near future. Without a doubt,” he says. Years later, after earning world titles in two UFC weight classes, and accolades that make your grocery list look empty, this man is set to shape history. He will jump from mixed martial arts to boxing to fight Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers of all time. This man is Conor McGregor.
McGregor is a useful case study for the power of faith. The power of what LaVar Ball recently called “speaking things into existence,” when he proclaimed that his son would be drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers—which did happen. This is similar to what Conor McGregor cites in the law of attraction. This is a concept that encourages visualizing and meditating on a desired future.
But despite the mysticism and untestable factors of such hypotheses, is there any truth to these ideas? Does our faith in matters actually impact the likelihood that we will succeed?
What Can Recovered Alcoholics Teach Us About Faith?
In the “Power of Habit,” business reporter Charles Duhigg explains how humans build habits and how we can change them. He shows that something interesting happens in the habit altering process of alcoholics. But before we explore what happened, let’s understand habits.
Duhigg shares that to change a habit, one must first understand the habit loop. It basically works like this:
First humans experience a cue. This is an event that triggers our brain to go into the automatic mode of action where we use a habit.
Then we act out the habit (routine). It may be physical, mental, or emotional. Something as simple as grabbing a chocolate due to the cue of boredom, or something deeply psychological like contemplating the meaning of life due to the cue of boredom. In some context you act out the habit based on a cue. The habit is the hardwired response that the cue elicits.
Lastly, you experience reward. Here you are satisfied with the result of cue and routine, because you like the reward. The reward can be anything from pleasure and comfort, to success and result.
This is an important process to understand for many reasons, though these reasons are better explained by reading “The Power of Habit” by Duhigg, and those reasons are separate from the purpose of this post in understanding faith. This habit process is important to reference for another reason.
The system of understanding our cues and routines can help us change our habits, but only up to a certain point. For instance, with the example of alcoholics, when a life stressor happened and the recovering alcoholics could not cope with the simple cue, routine and result process, they reverted to old habits. But as we learn in “The Power of Habit,” despite stressors, some alcoholics did not revert back to their old habits. Why’s that? This occurred when one important factor was present—faith.
What researchers learned is that the difference in those who sustained their new life vs. those who didn’t was “the belief that they can cope with stress without alcohol.” Whether the faith these people were implementing was a God-figure or not, as long as they had faith that they could override their previous habit, they succeeded. The researchers themselves weren’t too happy with this finding, because faith is not the most testable of hypotheses.
Why Is this Important For Us?
You may be sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic and I’m not trying to quit drinking, so what’s in this for me?” And that’s a great question. What’s in this for all of us is that these rule can be applied to anything that we do.
If you’re embarking on a new project, a lifestyle change, or a seemingly insurmountable hurdle has presented itself in your life—understanding the cue, routine, reward system AND knowing the power of faith can help you reach your goals.
How many times do we all give up when a new stressor presents itself? How easy are we to revert to our old ways when we don’t see results in time? We’re more likely to succeed if we have faith that our goals will work. And remember, this faith does not have to be religious.
We simply have to believe that we can achieve what we’re setting out to do. In the case of the alcoholics, they had faith that they could cope with stress without drinking. Simple as that.
But do remember that faith works better with community. The alcoholics in our example had AA and other community building tools. So embrace a group of people that will encourage the faith in your process.
Be Careful, Too Much Visualization Can Lead You Astray
We’ve referenced the mystical aspect of the “law of attraction,” and we’ve learned from Charles Duhigg that faith is important to reach out goals. So the law of attraction must be correct and we should continuously meditate on our goals and have faith we’ll automatically reach them, right? Wrong.
Something interesting happens when we are too deep into goal visualization. As Ryan Holiday explains in Ego is the Enemy, “after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.”
This makes sense. If we’re so focused and transfixed on a goal, our brain is receiving the same pleasure from the fantasy as it would from goal completion, so why would we need to get out there and do the work anymore? In our heads the work is already accomplished. We’re good to go.
How To Remedy Over-Visualization
So what’s the remedy? How do we have faith without letting it intoxicate us and skip over results?
I believe it’s simple. Ignore the outcome. Ignore the goal. The goal is already in your brain and you probably have it written somewhere, so move forward with the process. Meditate on the work. Fall in love with the process. Fall in love with the hours and the time spent actually producing and doing. Don’t fantasize about what life will be like when you reach the goal, but maintain the sobriety of process and action.
And within this process and action, have the faith that you will one day reach the goal. Because as we learned from Duhigg, without faith, our habit process—which we need to succeed—won’t work. So trust the process and learn how to have faith, because your faith may be just as important as your work.