Beliefs: your friend or foe?

Jay Pinara
Sep 7, 2017 · 6 min read

From the day we are born, we start to inherit beliefs. As a child, we inherit a vast quantity of beliefs from our family that enable us to navigate through this complex world.

According to Frank Krueger, a neuroscientist from George Mason University, Virginia: “We are social beings. Beliefs are learned from the people you are closest to.”

Additionally, as we grow older, our surrounding culture, our biology, and our psychology shape our beliefs further. Moreover, our life experiences reinforce the beliefs that we carry within.

Paradoxically, some of the beliefs that we inherently believe to be true may not be true. To clarify this, we need to understand the difference between belief and truth.

Belief, Truth, and Knowledge

According to the Oxford dictionary: A belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof.

Whereas a truth is something that can be proven.

Sometimes, you have a belief, and you have insufficient evidence to support this belief. This inadequately justified belief does not make it a truth. It is still a belief: a semi-justified belief that has a potential to become truth.

When you do have a belief that is entirely supported by truth, this becomes knowledge.

Knowing something is true is different from believing it to be true.

Knowledge is objective whereas a belief is subjective. Such knowledge has the power to transform: change our beliefs change our lives.

Beliefs: your friend

As human beings, we conceptualise the chaos of the world around us by formulating generalised beliefs about the way things work. This understanding, in turn, gives us stability.

Secondly, beliefs are mind’s shortcuts. They enable us to sail through the complex world we live in. We wouldn’t be able to go far if each of us had to create a set of beliefs, purely based on our experiences.

Thirdly, it is our beliefs that enable us to quickly identify a potentially harmful situation and trigger us to take a course of action to protect us from harm. These are one of two responses: either flight or fight.

Fourthly, beliefs give us a moral framework that allows us to make decisions confidently. They help us identify what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a given situation.

And, lastly, beliefs guide and sustain our relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

These are just a few reasons of how beliefs help us. With these in mind, how can such helpful beliefs be harmful?

Beliefs: your foe

Although beliefs have contributed to human survival, unexamined beliefs can be extremely harmful. Categorically speaking, there are two aspects to this:

1. Beliefs about the world around you
2. Beliefs about yourself

Beliefs about the world around you

For a moment, imagine yourself back in time: 3000 years ago. Someone tells you — that is to say, gives you a belief — that heaven exists at the bottom of the ocean and that if you do x, y, and z, you will go there after you die. Everyone around you believes in this. You have no reason not to believe this. You unconsciously inherit this belief. This belief quickly becomes the primary focal point of your life’s purpose. You do everything you possibly can to ensure you attain a place in heaven. One day, someone gives you a magical vehicle that enables you to travel to the bottom of the ocean (welcome back to the 21st century).

“Oh, bugger!” You discover the truth: heaven doesn’t exist.

How do you feel?

This analogy gives us an insight into how we could be living an illusory life by inheriting beliefs without consciously assessing their legitimacy.

If you live your life based on such a belief, and if you are lucky, you may realise after 10, 20, or 50 years that your belief was an illusion. You would have incurred a significant waste of your time, money, and efforts. If, however, luck is not on your side, you may never come to this realisation. Consequently, you would not have been able to live life according to your fullest potential.

Coupled with inheriting harmful beliefs, a lot of people unconsciously hold inflicting beliefs about others in the form of labels: good or bad. Research carried out by Mathew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California discovered how beliefs enabled human brains to categorise others and see them as good or bad, unconsciously. Lieberman’s research explains why the world is filled with so many social and political problems.

Beliefs about you

“I would love to give public speeches, but I can’t do it as I am not that smart.” This is an example of a belief about yourself, one that holds you back from progressing, from doing things that you dream to do. A limiting belief.

So, how do I identify and transform the self-limiting beliefs and the beliefs about the world around me?

The way out

Begin with assessing each belief.

You will realise, in most cases, underneath a belief, will be a set of other underpinning beliefs. Dig deeper until you gain more clarity.

‘I am not smart’ is a belief. Well, what does being smart mean to you?

You may say:
- someone who gives public speeches confidently
- someone who earns more money than you
- someone who has multiple degrees

This is a revelation of further beliefs that you hold.

Continue to interrogate each of those beliefs by asking:

1. What makes me say that?
Your response may reveal deeper beliefs. In some cases, you will discover the sources from which you inherited those beliefs (friends, family, loved ones).

2. Is this a fact?
If, for example, if you equate smartness with being able to give a public speech confidently, then do you know that it is a fact that the majority of people feel anxiety and a lack of confidence during their first few speeches? It is after delivering a few speeches that they feel the confidence that is visible to you when you see them speaking in public. Have you given enough attempts to giving speeches before concluding this? If not, how can you get to the bottom of this limiting belief and transform it into an empowering belief?

Once you have gone through a few such questions, you will be able to gain a better clarity. This clarity will weaken the roots of existing limiting beliefs.

You can now create new, positive beliefs. For example, ‘I have all it takes to be an influential public speaker.’ This shift in belief will enable you to take necessary steps to turn that belief into reality. And, in most cases, it will be a life changer.

If you skip the step of evaluating your existing limiting beliefs and jump to creating the new beliefs, then in most cases it will be ineffective or transient. Superficially, you may witness a change, however, in most cases, this will be temporary. The mind tends to quickly go back to the old and deeply rooted beliefs — the voice in the head that says: I am not enough.

Act now, or never

Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do. — Leonardo da Vinci

Take a few minutes to write down your self-limiting beliefs that are not letting you attain your dreams. Illuminate the roots of those beliefs by an honest assessment. Once you gain clarity, plant new positive self-beliefs. Feel good by being part of your transformation.

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