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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Mind  /  Feelings, Thoughts, and Beliefs  /  Creating Healthier Beliefs

Creating Healthier Beliefs

By Jeannine Walston

“We are not upset by what happens to us, but the view we take on them.”
-O. Carl Simonton, MD, a radiation oncologist, international leader, and pioneer in mind-body treatment of cancer

Creating Healthier Beliefs contains some of the work and teachings of O. Carl Simonton, MD. This section explores how to create healthier beliefs when dealing with cancer. Dr. Simonton’s mind-body strategies support health and healing in an integrative cancer care model.

What is a belief?

A belief is a habitual state of mind in which some construct of ideas and perceptions is placed in some person or thing.

Your thoughts and feelings are defined by your beliefs through your ego.

How important are people’s beliefs?

Hippocrates, the ancient founder of medicine, referred to the brain and its ability to choose its perspective—healthy or unhealthy—as the greatest human power. Whether or not the brain has all of these almighty powers, the brain possesses a high level of influence on the human experience.

What are foundational beliefs?

Our foundational beliefs profoundly influence all aspects of our lives.

Foundational beliefs are about the nature of ourselves, our universe, God, and the nature of our relationship to ourselves in our universe. This includes the meaning of life, the meaning of illness, health, death, and purpose.

How are beliefs formed?

Beliefs are formed through the thoughts people create about their life experiences and the world around them. Your beliefs are personal and cultural.

  • Beliefs are personal based on life experiences, family and friends, education, personal inclinations that may or may not be related to an identifiable source, and more.
  • Beliefs are cultural based on where people have lived and any other cultures they have strongly been exposed to.

Regardless of the events or circumstances, the human brain has the capacity to choose its own beliefs.

What is the impact of a person’s beliefs?

Beliefs define how people think and then feel. Beliefs create our interpretations.

Beliefs form mental scripts that are always running on the subconscious level.

Beliefs can either be healthy or unhealthy.

Healthy beliefs support health and vitality.

“When the crucial beliefs that have created the blockage in a healthy, forward flow to life are discovered and dislodged, the full energy of life can flow smoothly once again. And with that flow can come the vital force that will restore the body’s natural defenses to normal potency.”
-O. Carl Simonton, MD, Getting Well Again

Strength and vitality are supported and partially sustained from the mental and emotional competency to develop stability and profound peace of mind that is not shaken by the events of life.

What are some examples about how beliefs impact people?

The mind often develops scripts about situations, people, places, and everything else. A basic example is what people believe, or how they perceive, the weather. For a person that does not like rain, after several weeks of it, they might come to expect rain daily. Their negative reaction also illustrates a judgment of bad versus good compared to a neutral reaction for what is.

Another example relates to how people interpret unexpected events. This is inevitably influenced by what people believe about themselves and the world. One person might dwell on what they characterize as misfortune, while another may see challenge as opportunity. Self-awareness helps people to deconstruct their life experiences to track reactions and identify the content of their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Stages of the Cancer Journey provides insights into some of these dynamics through the cancer experience.

Beliefs define each person’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. Your beliefs about what you can and cannot do define what you think and feel. These mental constructs are very important to explore when you are dealing with cancer. Write down your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself the source of those thoughts and feelings. Are you defining your strengths and weaknesses, or is how you think and feel about yourself defined by another person or specific life experiences? You have the power to choose what you believe you can and cannot do through your cancer journey.

What is the relationship between beliefs and words?

Each person has beliefs about words. People have positive and negative connotations associated with words layered in many thoughts and feelings. Pick any word. If you cannot think of a word in this moment, some suggestions are hope, sadness, cure, health, healing, death, God, family, friends, and community. Start with only one word to focus on your beliefs for that word alone. What are your thoughts and feelings around that word? Where do your thoughts and feelings for that word come from? Do you like how you relate to the word? If not, what would you prefer to think and feel related to the word?

Another exercise is to explore how you think and feel about the word cancer. Consider doing an exercise where you write the word cancer in the middle of a blank sheet of paper and then add any language that you associate with cancer. What are your thoughts and feelings around cancer? Where do your thoughts and feelings for the word cancer come from? Do you like how you relate to the word cancer? If not, what would you prefer to think and feel related to cancer? Along with cancer, consider exploring your thoughts and feelings related to the words healing and curing for more information about yourself and perhaps how you are approaching your challenge.

Remember that beliefs are defined personally and culturally. If you do not like how you think or feel about a word, you can change your belief around it. A next step toward creating healthier beliefs involves writing affirmations for a new belief and reading them daily.

How do people identify their beliefs?

Our emotions are always appropriate to our thoughts and beliefs. Feeling better is supported through thinking healthier. Therefore, the experience of focusing on and going into the feelings allows people to identify their beliefs.

The following ABC’s of emotions help to deconstruct this process.

  1. The activating event and your perception of it (what you see, hear, physically feel, etc.)
  2. Your sincere thoughts (only the ones you believe) about your perceptions.
  3. Your emotional feelings or the response to your thoughts. (“C” is always appropriate to “B”)

In order to create this competency, people must identify and separate the healthy beliefs from the unhealthy beliefs.

How do I distinguish between healthy and unhealthy beliefs?

It is important to identify if your thoughts/beliefs and the resulting feelings are healthy or unhealthy. To determine this, you will need to honestly answer the following 5 questions developed by Maxie C. Maultsby, MD.

1. Are your thoughts/beliefs based on fact?

2. Do your thoughts/beliefs help to protect your life and your health?

3. Do your thoughts/beliefs help you reach your short and long-term goals?

4. Do your thoughts/beliefs help you avoid your most undesirable conflicts?

5. Do your thoughts/beliefs make you feel the way you want to feel?

If you answered “no” to any three of these questions, your beliefs/thoughts are considered unhealthy and needs to be changed.

How do people cultivate healthy beliefs?

  • Cultivate the belief that you are healthy by nature

How do you move most effectively to your nature?

  • Focus on activities of joy and deep fulfillment
  • Conscious breathing
  • Move the mind into a non judgmental way of thinking
  • Move through movement practices, including the 5Rhythms
  • Increase your energy

How do you increase your energy?

  • Focus on activities of joy and deep fulfillment
  • Use the imagination—with imagery a powerful system to transform thinking

◦                     Imagine the disease process as curable

◦                     Imagine the treatment is helpful

◦                     Imagine the body as capable of healing itself

  • Embrace any perceived suffering as a teacher

◦                     Perceive the suffering as a life enhancing tool

◦                     Ask what the illness is trying to teach you

◦                     Recognize any messages as desirable and compassionate

What else can people do to support healthy beliefs and create greater emotional competence?

To change a belief is not a simple matter. Changing a belief requires hard work and practice.

The most effective time to do belief work is when you are experiencing the greatest emotional pain. This is when unhealthy beliefs will be the easiest to identify. The most effective time to explore unhealthy beliefs is when undesirable emotions are interfering with your life.

Example: Fear is interfering with my sleep

Step #1—Identify the undesirable emotion. (Example is fear.)

Step #2—Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, from top to bottom.

Step #3—In the left hand column, list five or more beliefs that produce the emotion.

Step #4—Evaluate each belief with Dr. Maultsby’s questions.

Step #5—In the right hand column, write out healthier, incompatible beliefs.

Step #6—Stop and notice how you feel. Effective work at this point results in significantly improved emotions!

Step #7—Keep the paper with you. When you feel the undesirable emotion, refer to the list. (This may be two to twenty times daily.)

Step #8—In a calm and relaxed state, focus on your breathing. Imagine the healthier belief. Do this 3 times daily. Continue until these new beliefs become your subconscious attitude. Changing your belief system is a process that will vary with each individual. This process will generally take three to six weeks.

What are some common examples of this belief work?

Unhealthy Belief Healthy Belief
I may be able to get well, but I would never be able to maintain this and keep it away.It’s doable but I can’t do it.I don’t have the help to get well.I need to hurry up and make these changes—and I don’t have enough time, especially since I don’t know how to do it.All my unhealthy beliefs are making me worse and I can’t change this. I can get well and maintain this and keep it away.It’s doable and I can do it.I have all the help I need and can explore my options for more.I have all the time I need to make the changes I need to make and I know what to do today.All my unhealthy beliefs and feelings are making me worse and I can change this.


What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy beliefs, and positive or negative beliefs?

This process is referred to as healthy thinking and not positive thinking.

The biggest difference has to do with the factual aspects of the belief.

Unhealthy—I will be dead within two years regardless.
Positive—I will be alive and healthy two years from now.
Healthy—I can be alive two years from now and what I do makes a big difference.

Positive thinking is healthier than negative, unhealthy thinking. However, positive thinking does not necessarily align itself with the facts of nature or with real life. The goal is to be in harmony with nature, and therefore the beliefs must be factual.

What are some central tenants from the Simonton Cancer Center?

  • Our emotions significantly influence our health and recovery (which certainly includes cancer).
  • Our beliefs and attitudes influence our emotions, thereby influencing our health.
  • We can significantly influence our beliefs, attitudes, and emotions, which can influence our health.
  • Ways of influencing our beliefs, attitudes, and emotions can be readily taught and learned using a variety of accessible existing methods.
  • Our emotions are a strong driving force in our immune system and other healing systems within our bodies.

What are some of the healthier core beliefs according to the Simonton Cancer Center?

  1. Nature of humans is that we are good by nature.
  2. Nature of the universe is that the higher power knows us, cares for us, and loves us.
  3. Life is a loving teacher and we are here to learn who we are.
  4. Illness and pain is negative feedback that brings us back to our nature.
  5. Health, happiness, joy, and love are positive feedback that we are moving in the direction of who we are, including our purpose.
  6. Death is the end of this existence just as birth is the beginning. Some believe that our essence continues after death and that continuation is desirable.
  7. Purpose is our own unique and individual unfolding that is built into each of us. We are guided into our unfolding by desire, passion, joy, love, happiness, and fulfillment.

What are some other articles relating to Creating Healthier Beliefs?

You can learn a lot more about aspects of your beliefs with connections between thoughts and feelings in some of our articles. Support yourself with this information and applications to improve your mind-body connection.

Imagery and Cancer


Cancer As a Turning Point

Emotions and Cancer

Stress and Cancer

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Posttraumatic Growth

Stages of the Cancer Journey

For More Information