What Muhammad Ali Can Teach Us About Belief Systems

“I am the greatest”.  The catchphrase which is synonymous with Ali may well be the first words which came to mind for many when on hearing the news that Ali had died on June 3 2016. Repeated throughout the years the powerful words reflected the unshakable confidence of this heavyweight champion boxer.  The benefits of this belief system in addition to his unique skills as a boxer have been well documented.

Words have enormous significance in the field of sport psychology and Ali’s words speak volumes. Belief systems are a frequently underestimated means of predicting success.  They are also  the starting point for many sport psychologists. Belief systems are like the foundations of a building. If the foundations are unstable or shaky then problems are likely to arise in the rest of the building.  Often it is possible to gain a great deal of insight in to someone’s belief systems in general conversation. Some will argue that it is impossible to alter belief systems because of the grip which parental conditioning and past sporting failures or successes will have on belief systems.   I and others would challenge that argument. By selecting competitions carefully and ensuring several successful wins, a belief system can be moulded positively. Additionally, in cases where an athletes’ self- doubt is the sum of repeated exposure to negative conditioning or negative feedback, hypnotic age regression can alter perception of the emotions attached to the events contributing to the current belief system and appropriately devised hypnotic suggestions can build up a newfound sense of confidence in very little time.

Other strategies used to build self-confidence and to instil a winning belief system include intelligent goal setting. One example might be where the athlete is assigned tasks with increasing levels of difficulty and a high chance they will succeed on each stage of the ladder.

When our belief systems are ingrained we start to see, hear and filter information which corresponds with those belief systems. So, when you decide to purchase a particular brand of car you start to see that type of car everywhere on the road. The cars were always there. All that has changed is your focus and awareness. Similarly when you believe you are the greatest you start to see and hear everything that affirms you are the greatest. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Muhammad Ali had a strategy designed to reinforce his unerring self belief. Repetition. By consistently and repeatedly reaffirming what he believed i.e. “I am the greatest”, he was making that belief system stronger and thus increasing the opportunity to filter in the information which aligned with this belief system.

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