We all have friends that grew up with siblings, under the same roof, with the same opportunities, but turned out drastically different. One pursued a career, family, and personal aspirations, while the other pursued crime, drugs, or alcohol.

What accounts for the radical difference in these two people? How can two people grow up in virtually the same environment, yet turn out so differently? What makes some people give up when the going gets tough, while others look deeper into themselves than ever before to overcome almost any level of pain?

What’s the answer?

Beliefs

Your beliefs influence everything in your life. Your beliefs have the power to open your mind and your heart; to steer you to a life of contribution and fulfillment; to motivate you to connect with others; or to smother you in a life of misery and isolation. Beliefs are why some of us rise up and relentlessly pursue a life worth living, while others live in quiet desperation.

What are beliefs?

The word belief is thrown around a lot in conversation, but what is a belief? A belief is a feeling of certainty about something. When you say you believe something, you’re saying that you feel certain about it. It’s this feeling of certainty that gives you the drive to accomplish your goals.

Think about the last big thing you accomplished in your life. If you’re like me, you saw yourself achieving your goal long before accomplishing it. It’s like you were just putting in the time necessary, but your results were guaranteed. Your feelings of certainty guaranteed an answer to any question. That’s the power of believing in yourself. That’s the power that beliefs have to bring out the best in you.

Unfortunately we don’t use this power enough. It’s our lack of belief that ends up taking the spotlight and limiting our capabilities. We don’t realize that we can have anything we want if we’re willing to give up the belief that we can’t have it.

Beliefs give us the motivation, certainty, and resolve to take action; or the self-doubt, self-sabotage, and reluctance to do anything. Beliefs can strengthen your abilities or dissolve them.

Let’s say you’re a good husband. Chances are you’ve made your mind up to be a good husband far before you were even married. You decided what you’re going to do, raised your standards, got certain, and made it happen.

Global beliefs have the ability to filter our entire lives. Global beliefs are the wide sweeping generalizations we make; the broad assumptions we make about other people, work, money, life, and ourselves. Global beliefs affect every aspect of our lives, whether thoughts or actions, either positively or negatively.

What’s great about beliefs is that they’re really just habitual thought patterns. They’re ideas that you’ve developed a sense of certainty around. Therefore they can be changed with consistent effort. You just have to make it a habit to empower yourself instead of limiting yourself.

As time goes on you’ll see that changing only one or two limiting beliefs creates a snowball effect in which your entire thought process changes for the better. You have the power to transform everything in your life, including your future, by changing your beliefs.

How are beliefs formed?

Beliefs are built from ideas. Tony Robbins uses a terrific metaphor to illustrate this. Robbins says to picture an idea as a tabletop with no legs. Without any legs, this cognitive tabletop, doesn’t stand on its own.

But a belief on the other hand, is the idea (tabletop), strengthened with legs. Robbins calls the legs references. He says that if you really believe something (ex: I’m a good student), you have some references to support this idea. You have some experiences to draw from that strengthen the legs and make your tabletop sturdy. Experience builds references, references build ideas, ideas build a feeling of certainty, and certainty strengthens your beliefs.

Personal References

When you’re aware of how beliefs are formed, you have an idea of how to change them. Beliefs can be formed about anything when you connect enough references.

Some of us believe that people from certain areas, religions, political affiliations, or even entire races are not to be trusted. Some of us believe that people in general are good and will always do the right thing.

I say this because isn’t it true that you could convince yourself of both of these viewpoints? If you tried, do you think you could believe that people are bad and not to be trusted? I’m sure you’ve been wronged or taken advantage of sometime in your life. Do you think you could also believe that people are good and trustworthy? Think of the times in your life where people really came through for you. Picture these references in your mind.

Your references are based on personal experience, information from the news, books, other people, or even your imagination. How much pain or pleasure are attached to these references? The stronger the emotional intensity to a reference, the stronger you’ll feel about it; the stronger your belief will be. Is it possible you’re emotions are clouding your perceptions?

We run into 3 problems with our beliefs:

  1. We don’t consciously decide what we’d like to believe
  2. We develop beliefs based on false interpretations or limited information
  3. Once adopted, we treat our beliefs as fact

We can believe anything we want to believe. Over time our beliefs become unquestioned facts to us. This is terrific when we’re planning our future or envisioning our success, but it can also be a huge roadblock to progress when we’re convinced of something negative or disempowering. Given enough time, emotional intensity, and repetition, the brain literally becomes convinced that what you’re imagining is true.

Choosing more empowering beliefs

It’s extremely liberating when you realize that you can change the meaning around any experience you’ve ever had to an empowering one. This capacity to draw meaningful experiences is available to us all. We simply never notice it or use it.

If you want to succeed in changing long-term, you have to identify what beliefs are disempowering and change them.

Use these 4 methods to shake your associations and references and choose more empowering beliefs.

1. Pain and Pleasure

Pain is the most powerful way to change your beliefs. Drastic changes are possible when you condition yourself to associate immense pain to any behavior you’re trying to avoid.

Any personal breakthrough you’ve experienced started with a change in belief. If you read my post “Want Lasting Change? Make Pain Your Friend,” you know that the quickest and most effective way to change is to associate enough pain with the behavior you’d like to change, while also associating enough pleasure to the behavior you’d like to adopt.

If you’re able to realize how much this belief has cost you; how much pain it’s brought and will continue to bring; and how much better you’d feel to get rid of it; you’ll change in an instant. If you’re able to leverage your emotion by realizing that this belief is robbing you of your life in the present moment, you’ll be eager to let it go.

Everything we do, is to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. The bottom line is that we’ll change anything if we associate enough pain with it. Do this while envisioning all the good that will come from your new belief, how much less stressful life will be, and how much more at peace you’ll feel.

2. Doubt

All of us have beliefs we used to be certain were true, but have now long been abandoned. What caused this change? Perhaps more life experience, more information, or different reasoning. Whatever the reason, something caused you to start questioning your references. If you question any of your beliefs long enough, eventually doubt will creep in.

New beliefs don’t automatically arise from new experience though. All the evidence in the world won’t make a difference unless it causes you to question your beliefs. In fact it can have the opposite effect. You can be presented with countless information in contrary to your belief, yet interpret it to confirm what you already believe. This is called the backfire effect in psychology.

We rarely question our long held beliefs, but they influence everything we do. We have a habit of forming beliefs based on information we’ve received from others, often failing to evaluate them ourselves.

3. Modeling Others

Spending time around others that share your goals and are producing the results you want is essential. At bottom, all great achievers have adopted a set of empowering beliefs. Modeling those achieving the results you want is vital to shaping your life. Getting around others that are motivated to improve will help you to realize what they believe that you don’t. You’ll find out what’s separating them from others.

Who you spend your time with is who you become. Let’s say you’ve decided to diet and lose weight. Getting around other people with the same goals with strengthen your associations and increase your motivation. You’ll be raising your standards by spending time with others looking to raise theirs. Talking to people with the same goals will help you to relate when they have the same reasons for wanting to lose weight as you do. You’ll also hear about the pain being overweight is causing in their lives, strengthening your pain/pleasure associations even further. You’ll begin to seriously question the consequences of not losing weight. You’ll imagine it over and over and start to visualize the consequences. You’ll see yourself not fitting into your clothes, getting winded from everyday tasks, ending up diabetic, and not attracting relationship partners that you’d like. Take it as far as you need to. This will create the emotional intensity you need to develop the conviction to lose weight. But this isn’t where it stops. Now you have to act. Take your goal public. Tell your family and friends. Put some pressure on yourself to follow through. Take action, develop a daily ritual, condition your thought patterns and behavior, and you’re home free.

We must evaluate or beliefs, what they’re costing us, and make sure they’re empowering us. Your beliefs control your decisions and your future.

4. Belief Examination

We accept our beliefs as reality, but they’re merely ideas that we’ve developed a sense of certainty around. It’s often useful to examine the advantages and disadvantages of continuing to hold a given belief. You can then discover what beliefs are empowering you and what beliefs are limiting you.

When reviewing your beliefs, ask yourself:

  1. What would I have to believe in order for this belief to be true?
  2. What is the evidence supporting this belief?
  3. What is the evidence opposing this belief?
  4. What would I tell a friend or loved one with the same belief?
  5. What will my life be like in a year if I keep this belief?
  6. What will my life be like in 5 years if I keep this belief?
  7. What will my life be like in 10 years if I keep this belief?
  8. What experiences will this belief cost me if I keep it?
  9. How much happiness am I denying myself if I keep this belief?

Take some time to answer those questions and really let the answers sink in. Realize how much these beliefs are limiting you and will continue to limit you if you don’t change them. Associate enormous amounts of pain to holding onto these beliefs. Use this pain to get rid of them.

What are the beliefs you should abandon? Build your references and emotional intensity towards the empowering beliefs and associate pain with holding onto the disempowering ones.

Replace your old limiting beliefs with empowering beliefs

Just getting rid of your disempowering beliefs isn’t enough. You have to replace them with empowering ones. Focus on the belief that you feel is limiting you the most. Write down the polar opposite of this belief. If you thought “I’m not good enough,” replace it with “I am too big of a gift to the world to sit around wasting time worrying about my imperfections.” What references do you have to support this new belief? I bet you could find them if you wanted to. As you strengthen this new belief, your mood and behavior will change for the better.

Finally, notice your feelings when evaluating your beliefs. Do you feel good or bad, empowered or disempowered? Condition yourself to choose beliefs that make you feel good. Realize that if you’re able to take what life gives you, and find an empowering meaning, you can transform your quality of life. Decide to consciously choose what things mean to you, and your beliefs and actions will help you tap your fullest potential.

Conclusion

All of our actions stem from our beliefs, whether consciously or unconsciously. Some of us believe that external events control our lives. Some of us believe that our environment makes us who we are. This is not true. It is not the events in our lives that make us who we are, it’s the meaning we associate with them. It’s our interpretations that determine who we are and who we’ll become.

Featured photo credit: ruslan.gorsky via flickr.com

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