The BELIEFS we hold so dear, are often, indirectly holding us back from chasing down our goals. The way we use beliefs to make decisions, and to interpret the world around us, can result in, both positive and negative consequences for us as individuals.
Our beliefs are the core of how we evaluate the world we live in. They determine, often on a subconscious level, who and what we pay attention to, or ignore. They influence what we do, or don’t do. They shape how we interact with others. They inform our choices about what groups we decide to join, or not. They affect who and what we are drawn to and who and what we avoid, who and what we disagree with and whether we take action or stay put.
I like to think about beliefs like bullet points that form the backbone of a story we tell ourselves, which we believe with some certainty, that we use to navigate the world around us.
For instance if you believe the following…
- The world is a dangerous place – The news is full of horrible, violent events, I can’t remember it being this bad when I was younger
- People are more violent these days than they used to be, I can’t remember all this knife crime and shooting I hear about now
- People only care about themselves, and are less likely to help others, than they used to be
- Community spirit is long gone, people aren’t as friendly as they used to be
So these beliefs form the backbone of a story that depicts the world as a lonely, scary place, with danger at every turn, where people are out to get you or rob you. – okay I’m exaggerating for effect here, but you get the point. The stronger you hold these beliefs, the more powerful the resulting emotions you will fear.
So how do you think this thought process is going to shape your behaviours? You might go out less particularly at night, or avoid certain places altogether because you see them dangerous. For instance, you might turn down the opportunity to go on holiday to somewhere you’ve heard has had problems in the recent past.
You might be less trusting of strangers when you interact with them, coming across as unfriendly and uncaring from their point of view. This impacts how they react to you in return. You can see how we can easily get the wrong opinion of someone and vice versa.
If you see someone in distress you might rush by, for fear of falling into a trap. It might well be a trap, it does happen, but it might also be someone that desperately needs your assistance.
You might prefer to keep yourself to yourself, rather than seek the company of others in social situations, making you seek aloof and unfriendly.
It’s not hard to see that these underlying beliefs are impacting the way you might make decisions, how you interact with people and places and how others see and interact with you. This shapes your relationships and directly impacts the quality of your life.
Life’s experiences are a combination of interpretations, emotions, behaviours, reactions and interactions which act like a feedback loop; all of which, are built on top of our core beliefs.
So what can we do about beliefs that are spoiling the quality of our lives? Surely we can’t just change our beliefs to suit us, after all, they are based on truths and reflect how the world actually is, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be our beliefs in the first place, would they?
Well, let’s consider what a belief is. My definition of a belief is ;
“It’s a thought (which is a mind constructed abstraction) we hold with some certainty to be true.”
The dictionary definition is;
“An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.”
The directory definition is interesting because it adds “with proof” at the end. Yet I’d bet few of us consider our beliefs not to be based on proof, we might not even contemplate this possibility. When in fact, many beliefs we hold are based on nothing more than assumptions, inferences, and the testimony of other people.
Beliefs are absorbed through social conditioning. We learn them from people around us, from the media, from influential people like teachers, parents, authority figures, experts, from peers, work colleages and friends. Increasingly we are strengthening such beliefs through social media algorithms that are designed to feed us more information that we have “liked” in the past.
Okay our personal experiences shape our beliefs to some degree, of course, but consider than our beliefs are underpinning how we even interpret our experiences.
We see or hear something and almost instantly give is some meaning. This meaning is based on our beliefs. At the same time we are filtering out incoming stimuli and data that we aren’t interested in. For instance we buy a red Mini, we suddenly start seeing red Minis everywhere. Where there no red minis around before we purchased one, or were they always there but we just didn’t notice? Check out this video, follow the instructions, and see the power of our minds to filter out unnecessary stimuli.
So beliefs are core to what we pay attention to and what we filter out.
Something else that’s important to understand about our beliefs are they are often invested with our sense of self. This means we psychologically attach to them. They become our belief, we and the belief become one. Because we do this particularly with strongly held beliefs we fall into a couple of traps.
The first trap we fall into is we notice evidence that supports the belief, and ignore anything that contradicts it. This is known as confirmation bias.
The second trap we fall into is we find it hard to change a belief because we’re invested in it. To change the belief we must first accept we were wrong to begin with, and this can be unacceptable for our fragile Egos.
The way to avoid these traps is to avoid investing our sense of self in them. How? Well, use a scientific approach, consider beliefs like a best guess (hypothesis) that you actively try to disprove. That way you don’t fight for them, instead you’re open to hearing contradictory evidence. You suddenly stop trying to be right, and instead try to find the truth.
So the question becomes, which beliefs should we keep and which should be abandon? In truth, we should, as I’ve said previously, turn all beliefs into best guesses. But specifically it’s the beliefs that are holding us back from going after our goals we should target first. If it’s not serving you, drop it or change it.
Beliefs that hold you back tend to be self-confidence focused. Consider these common beliefs…
- I’m not capable of doing [blank]
- I don’t have the experience/resources/skills/ talent to do [blank]
- You need to be [blank] to succeed at doing [blank]
We often allow these beliefs to put us off even trying to make progress, due to fear of things like disappointment, failure, loss, embarrassment, etc.
Changing such beliefs or incorporating new beliefs that empower us will help us to overcome such limiting beliefs
- The best way to learn is by doing
- Failure is a necessary part of learning and making progress
- I am capable of doing this, I might have to learn something new or develop a skill further, but I can do it
- If I lack a particular skill, I can find someone who I can hire to help me
- Where there is a will, there is a way…always
- I can only truly fail if I give up completely – I will not be beaten
- You are never too old to learn new tricks
- If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change
These are empowering beliefs, but they are also very true, and more grounded in reality than simply saying “I can’t do this”. Why can’t you do it? Who says so? Based on what, the past? Remember the past doesn’t equal the future, how’s that for a belief.
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