World peace, lucky pennies, second chances, reincarnation, Santa Claus.
This is a short list of things you probably either believe or believe in. But, what is a belief? Where did it come from?
It is widely thought that our beliefs don’t just make our lives more colorful, but rather they create our individual realities. If this is true, we need to start taking a long hard look at what we actually believe in.
We need to understand how we come by our beliefs and how we apply them in our lives. How some beliefs serve us and some hold us back. What are the different types? And what do they ultimately require of us?
If, indeed, our beliefs construct our reality, we owe it to ourselves to be vigilant. We have to make sure the right ones are steering the ship, taking us where we want to go in life.
How are beliefs applied?
At all times there are two versions of reality you are experiencing. Objective reality, that is reality on its own terms. And then there is your subjective reality that is filtered through your perceptions and beliefs (a.k.a. your “story”). You’re always creating your own story and solidifying your beliefs.
If who you say you are doesn’t line up with who you think you are, you will create cognitive dissonance in your own mind. This lack of internal integrity can wreak havoc on every aspect of your life. For example, if you say you’re a brave person but you feel weak and overwhelmed by your boss, there’s a disconnect.
It’s important to examine your beliefs so you can create a clear coherent story about yourself. You need to dig deep to work out where the inconsistencies might be in the story..
Your “story” can be the answers to questions like:
- What labels do I use to describe myself? (Helper, leader, follower, sexy, dumb, smart, etc.)
- What are my values?
- What do I believe in?
- What am I grateful for?
- What do I despise?
- What are my goals in life?
- Who am I?
- What am I good/horrible at?
- What do others think of me?
The answers to these questions determine how you fit into your environment. The answers to these (a.k.a. your “story”) are then spread, like jelly on toast, across reality. You chew on this constantly, creating your version, mixed with what reality is on its own terms.
Take the dollar bill for example. On reality’s terms, it is nothing more than a green piece of paper. But because we believe it has value, and our “story” tells us it is important, we can create an entire financial system out of paper.
Amazingly, for all intents and purposes, these ideas are both right.
Why are beliefs necessary?
Beliefs act as an energy saving mechanism for our brains. According to brainfacts.org an average adult brain can consume up to 20% of our body’s energy in a resting state. It will also take 20% of our blood to function. All while accounting for only 2% of the body’s total weight.
The brain has vast amounts of information to process. Dr. Joe Dispenza and modern research tells us that our brains are receiving close to 400 billion bits of information per second. While consciously we are only aware of about 2,000 bits of info per second. The majority of this information is being processed by our subconscious.
That’s understandably overwhelming.
Beliefs are a way for your brain to recognize patterns, categorize things quickly, distill complex information, and jump to conclusions. These shortcuts often involve connecting dots and filling in gaps, based on incomplete and/or biased information.
In its desire to conserve energy your brain prefers familiar conclusions that don’t rock the boat or create a kerfuffle. 99.9% of this is going on behind your conscious awareness. Your subconscious uses your beliefs to filter this information as quickly as possible. This inevitably leads to some errors being made. A concession: efficiency over accuracy.
This is how your “story” about reality and reality itself can co-exist.
So, most of your beliefs are a matter of convenience and self-confirmation rather than truth.
When are beliefs created?
Most of our belief framework is instilled into us during childhood.
At first, you are new and fresh to this world and know nothing but the basics. How to breathe, how to digest food and poop, etc. At first, you are strongly influenced by your parents. Examples of their beliefs that are thrust upon you could be:
- Rich people are evil/poor people are stupid.
- Money doesn’t grow on trees.
- Anything is possible.
- You’re naturally good at sports.
- You are outgoing/shy.
Hearing these things over and over at a young age, by people in authority, constructs your earliest beliefs. These beliefs go into your subconscious in order to filter all new information/experiences. And thus help you to make sense of your world. No matter how right or wrong, good or bad, these early beliefs will define you and your “story” for most of your life.
These beliefs run along in your subconscious, in the background. Just like that window A/C unit from your apartment. When you first moved in, that noise kept you up all night. As the weeks turned to months you got used to it. Now you don’t even notice it at all although it’s running. Constantly.
As you get older, your beliefs start to shape your thoughts and create a mindset. Even one simple experience can alter how you see your world.
Let’s say your neighbor, who was the same age as you, had a dog. One day, when you guys were 7 years old, this normally pleasant dog bit you. This experience has now made you terrified of dogs. The slightest growl, stare, or sudden movement from any dog frightens you. You’ve come to believe dogs are dangerous.
Meanwhile, in the house next door your neighbor loves this dog. It cuddles with him at night. It licks his face when he’s had a bad day. Never having any bad experience this guy grows up to believe all dogs are a gift from the heavens.
Same street, same age. Different experiences, different beliefs.
Beliefs are not just cold mental premises, but are ‘hot stuff’ intertwined with emotions (conscious or unconscious). Perhaps, that is why we feel threatened or react with sometimes uncalled for aggression, when we believe our beliefs are being challenged!
Unfortunately a lot of your beliefs about yourself (am I good enough, smart enough? etc.) and about the world you live in (dogs are evil, dogs are awesome, etc.) are formed early and locked away tight. To be carried within you, without even noticing how they affect your life. Like a softly humming air conditioner, in the background.
As you start to think something over and over.
Life is hard.Or life’s a breeze. Your subconscious is taking dictation and turning these thoughts into a strong belief.
Your subconscious processes billions of bits of information. Your Reticular Activating System is sifting through all that data finding evidence to back up those thoughts. You take actions based on the information. These actions produce results. These results back your thoughts. Then these thoughts calcify into a belief. Regardless of truth or merit, your brain has given you a belief.
The way others see us also deeply affects our beliefs about ourselves. If a parent or teacher sees and encourages expression of our potential, we are likely to rise to that potential. If they don’t believe in our capacity to change and grow, we probably won’t either. This has been termed the Pygmalion effect.
Research in 2020 on college students showed that if they thought their professor had a fixed mindset about intelligence, the students felt more vulnerable and less engaged in class. The students’ behaviour was adversely affected because they didn’t think their teachers believed they could grow.
When you are a child your beliefs are instilled in you. When you get older and become more self-aware, fortunately, your beliefs become a choice.
Facts, certainty, and the tooth fairy. Beliefs create reality.
“For some of our most important beliefs, we have no evidence at all, except people we love and trust hold those beliefs. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous—and it is also essential.”
If beliefs create our reality, isn’t it worthwhile to examine whether or not our beliefs are actually true?
And what is certainty? Is it an illusion? Can we ever really know something for sure?
For years, I knew the tooth fairy left money under my pillow. I knew thunder was caused by angels bowling. And I knew that those pennies I threw in the fountain were wishes surely to come true.
For generations, we were certain that the earth was the center of the universe. We were certain gum takes years to digest, dropping a penny from the top of the Empire State building will kill someone, pee on a jellyfish sting, UFO’s exist.
You are born good at certain things and not at others.
Every religion since the dawn of man believes it and only it knows the truth about God.
You get my point.
But do any of us know for certain that any of these are 100% right, 100% of the time, without a doubt, under all circumstances?
Short answer: No.
This question about truth, reality and certainty has fostered a philosophical debate through the ages.
The double-edged sword of belief is that you can choose to believe absolutely anything you want to, regardless of truth or evidence. You will find validation for your beliefs, no matter what. Some people think ghosts are real. Others think those people are crazy and stupid.
Your mind wants to create a cognitive homeostasis. We have a natural resistance to change. To completely restructure your belief system and build a new worldview takes a lot of time and energy. You will easily explain away contradictory information. It can be embarrassing to be proven wrong. So you stick to your guns. You double down defiantly in the face of facts. Mired in muck of our own making.
This tendency to see reality our way (based on our beliefs) is well understood in psychology. Alex Lickerman M.D from Psychology Today puts it like so,
That is, we cherry pick the evidence that supports a contention we already believe and ignore evidence that argues against it.
Disconfirmation bias causes us to expend disproportionate energy trying to disprove ideas that contradict our current beliefs.
The power of belief fuels someone to persevere, despite obstacles. That power gives the world things like the light bulb. No matter how many times Edison failed, he believed he could do it.
“I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Likewise, Roger Bannister knew he could run a 4-minute mile. Even though it was thought to be physically impossible. They thought your heart would explode. No one had ever done it before. No one thought it could be done.
Until, he did it.
In the 2 years after Bannister shattered that belief, 37 other people broke the 4-minute mark. The power of belief kept people from doing it for so long, only to turn around and fuel them through it once that belief was changed.
Research shows that our brain network changes according to our beliefs. If we think we learn from mistakes, next time we try a task, we will try harder and be more likely to succeed. If we think we cannot learn and change, we likely won’t and will continue at our current skill level.
That is the double-edge of the sword of belief. There can ultimately be no certainty. Yet certainty is required to create a lasting belief.
Our beliefs are our own making. They entangle with reality to form our own perception of reality. Reality exists separately and yet simultaneously with our beliefs. This can be a blessing and a curse depending on what you believe. Whew!
Reality has no obligation to make sense to us. And through our beliefs we have no obligation to make sense to it.
No matter what you believe, you’re right. If you believe in ghosts then they are very real to you. If you don’t think they are real, then they are not…to you.
The law of expectancy states that what you expect to happen will come to pass. If you expect to fail, you will find ways consciously or unconsciously to fail. If you expect to succeed you will find a way to succeed. Period.
Somewhere, I believe, Neil Armstrong just dropped the mic.
Identify and Investigate Limiting Beliefs.
So now that you know that you can choose to believe anything, and in turn, those beliefs will create your version of reality, what a wonderfully daunting task you now have of doing just that.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the magic happens.
First we have to become aware of those limiting beliefs that have been holding us back for years. We have to train ourselves to hear that soft humming of the A/C unit in the background again. Mindful meditation coupled with the right questions is a perfect exercise for this. Keep in mind you are trying to go deep and shed light on thoughts that have been directing your “story” for a long time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What story am I choosing to believe?
- Is this true?
- Who would I be without this belief?
- When was the first time I had this negative thought?
- Does this thought serve me now?
- If I don’t change this thought, what will my life look like 10 years from now?
- What am I afraid of if I do change this thought?
- What am I committed to?
- What will I have to do/give up to attain this?
- Whose permission do I need?
- How am I enabling that person to control me?
- Are my choices supporting my growth or my misery?
- How big can I dream?
Knowing the answers to these questions pulls the curtain back, exposing the real Wizard of Oz. Giving you the power to get rid of him and install a new one.
This may seem uncomfortable and scary, but this is a chance for you to get excited. Fear is the only thing that gets smaller the closer you get to it.
Remember, regardless of the truthfulness or validity of our beliefs we can still choose to believe them. And they WILL have an impact on our reality. Use that to your advantage. Why not choose to believe in things that will bring you joy? Love? Contentment? Relief? Sanctuary? Productivity? Empowerment? Peace?
Forming New Beliefs
Meditation can help get you past the curtain hiding your beliefs. Now you need constant and consistent repetition to install new ones.
“One comes to believe whatever one repeats to one’s self, whether the statement be true or false.”
Despite what you’ve seen on TV and in the movies, self-hypnosis is exactly what Napoleon Hill is describing. You go into your subconscious, pull back the curtain and install your new belief. Over and over. Repetition is how that limiting belief got there in the first place.
Eventually the new empowering belief will be running in the background on autopilot. And your new reality will glaze over reality itself with the beliefs you choose to put there. Believe it or not.
How does that new way of being sound?