“It ain’t what a man don’t know that hurts him
. . . it’s what he knows that just ain’t so.”
~ FRANK HUBBARD ~

Some people think that they have no chance of ever living the kind of life they want. Maybe someone in their past told them that they would never make anything of themselves. Children are very impressionable. They easily believe whatever they’re told, especially by parents and others in authority. So they go on living with this message. Something in their heads keeps telling them that it’s not worth making much effort, because they’ll never succeed. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As we near the end of another year, it’s a good time to stop and ask yourself whether what you have always believed about yourself is true. Was it ever more than an opinion picked up from others? Has it become a self-fulfilling prophecy in your life? Most self-beliefs are true only as long as people believe that they are. The minute you tell yourself that you don’t have to be limited by them any more, you’ll discover that you can do, or become, something different. That belief will be true instead. Try it.

Inherited and mistaken beliefs like these have power over you simply because you treat them as the truth. Any belief is no more than a thought or opinion that you’ve come to treat as automatically correct. In reality, none of them has any greater likelihood of being right than any of your other thoughts. Yet once we give them the label “belief,” we convince ourselves they’re different and must not be questioned. Whether they’re our own beliefs, or ones we’ve accepted from others, or the commonly-held beliefs of the society in which we live, they aren’t necessarily true—even if that’s how we’ve come to treat them.

Don’t fall prey either to the idea that something must be true because that’s what lots of people believe. However many share a belief, it’s not the slightest bit more or less likely to be true as a result. The number of believers has no bearing on how correct it is. There was a time when just about everyone believed—indeed, knew for an obvious fact—that the world is flat and the sun went around it every day. Guess what? That didn’t make them right.

Question your beliefs constantly. It’s so tempting to take comfort in beliefs when life is difficult and the future is uncertain. Beliefs help you feel stable. You’ll feel uneasy about recognizing that the ideas you trust could be false; but, if you’re thinking clearly, you’ll see that a true belief will always stand up to the closest scrutiny. It’s the false, outdated beliefs that won’t— and they must be moved out of your way. It is always worth asking yourself, “Is this true? How do I know that it is true? Is it still to be trusted?” Unexamined beliefs are no better than fairy tales: sometimes pretty, sometimes comforting, often funny, and invariably based on what you want to be true, not what is.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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