Do You Determine Your Beliefs or Do Your Beliefs Determine You?

Where do our Beliefs Come From

Have you ever wondered why you believe what you believe? Have you ever considered where your beliefs came from? How they got there? Was it an intentional process? Did you embrace those beliefs consciously or did you just wake up one day and there they were; curiously stuck inside your head? Possibly with a big “do not remove” sign on them. Do you ever question them? Doubt them? Resent them? Are you even aware of them, or do they exist independent of your conscious self? Did you intentionally choose them? Did you learn them via your experiences? Did you adopt them from someone that you respect and trust? Or perhaps you had them rammed down your throat by an authority figure somewhere in your past? Do your current beliefs propel you towards greatness or do they keep you trapped in mediocrity, monotony and misery? Do they serve you, or do you serve them? Who’s really running the show?

Under-Achievement Central

Do they help you achieve your dreams and goals, or do they keep you in your own private mental and emotional prison? Do they enable you to explore your potential and do amazing, or do they keep you in your safe, familiar, predictable little box (Under-Achievement Central)? Do they help you see things clearly and objectively, or do they predispose you to looking at the world through a very (very) small window? Are your beliefs flexible and subject to change depending on your experiences and your life lessons? Or are they set in stone? Do you determine them, or do they determine you?

But What if it Ain’t True?

Have you ever thought about living your life with a different set of beliefs? Have you ever considered the possibility that perhaps some of your life-long, firmly-entrenched, non-negotiable beliefs… could be completely wrong? May even be the very things that have caused you to inhabit an existence that you don’t enjoy? Does it make you uncomfortable to consider the possibility of having to completely change the way you think and believe about certain things in your world?

“Our ability to effectively change a belief, will be largely determined by our level of emotional investment in that particular belief.”

In other words, there are certain beliefs that we desperately want to be true and when we’re presented with information, ideas and/or situations which challenge or contradict those beliefs, then we will typically react negatively and possibly, irrationally. Of course you don’t want to believe that Dear Old Dad has been having an affair for the last five years, after all he’s Your Dad; the poster boy for morality, stability, integrity and family values. You know (believe) he would never do anything like that, yet now you’re presented with a situation that throws your stable, predictable and comfortable internal world (your mind) into turmoil. It completely messes with your belief system. You’ve just walked in on Dear Old Dad kissing Mrs Granger from over the fence in a non-neighbourly manner. Your non-negotiable belief (that Dad is the high-watermark for moral behaviour) has been smashed in the face with reality. You feel sick, repulsed, hurt and betrayed because something you’ve believed for so long has just been ripped out from under your feet. One of your core beliefs (that Dad is an honest, reliable and moral man) has been shattered. Even though you see it with your own eyes, on some level you can’t believe it. It doesn’t match the reality in your head. You frantically try and reconcile what you’re seeing with your belief about your Father. You desperately try to create a scenario in your head which will keep your core belief in tact and allow you to stay in your delusion. “I’m hallucinating. I’m drunk. I’m imagining things. I must have mis-interpreted the situation.” Yep, that’s right Junior; Mrs. Granger has hijacked your Father’s lips against his will.

Is Religion an Emotional or a Spiritual Thing?

Religion is a great example of being emotionally invested in a set of beliefs. While most people would consider religion to be an essentially spiritual thing, I would suggest that more often than not it’s also largely an emotional thing. For some, it’s an entirely emotional thing. You and I both know people who have been going to church (synagogue, temple, etc.) for years, with little or no spiritual understanding or awareness. Their ‘religion’ is based on a bunch of emotions (guilt, fear, anger) and rules that need to be complied with (that’s what their beliefs tell them anyway). People who have life-long religious beliefs typically won’t even consider that perhaps there’s something else. Option B. They have too many years and too much emotion invested, to even entertain the notion that they could possibly be misguided, misinformed or even completely wrong in their thinking.

What do You Believe about that Whole Messiah Thing?

Let’s take Jesus for example; either he was the Son of God… or he wasn’t. I can’t really see the Jewish and the Christian communities getting together any time soon for an informal, open-minded chat on the matter. “Hey what do you guys think about that whole Messiah thing?” Nup, not gonna happen. Both religions know that they’re right, so it’s not up for discussion. Their beliefs are non-negotiable. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, none of us were. We don’t actually know, we just believe. If we categorically knew that Jesus was the son of God, then we wouldn’t need faith because we would have indisputable knowledge, and faith is all about believing in something that we can’t prove. With me?

A Different Truth

He may have been the Messiah, he may have been a gifted prophet, or he may have simply been a great bloke. I don’t know, but I do know that just by writing this paragraph I will alienate and offend some people because their level of emotional investment in their religious beliefs won’t even allow them to consider something different. Some people will get angry, disappointed, resentful and even hurt; all emotional reactions to a logical discussion and some reasonable questions. But we feel like guilty betrayers (more emotion) if we even dare to consider another truth, or sneak a peek over the spiritual fence. So we cut ourselves off to the possibility of learning something different or new. By the way, this is not an article about spiritual exploration, I’m simply using the religious example because most of us can relate in some way.

There are things we know to be true (the sky is blue) and there are things we want to be true (my partner would never cheat on me). When we’ve believed something for a long time, we have (knowingly or not) an emotional attachment to that belief. That belief is familiar, comfortable and safe for us; three things we enjoy. It gives us a level of predictability and certainty. It could be said that “who and what we are, is because of what we believe”; our beliefs shape us. For some anyway. For others it could be said that “who and what we believe is because of who we are”; we shape our beliefs. For far too many people, their life simply becomes a process of conforming to pre-existing (often negative and destructive) beliefs. Kind of like living out a pre-determined script for our life. Which is why many people become clones of their parents.

So Where do our Beliefs Come From?

1. Our influences. From the moment we’re born, we are constantly being bombarded with information from a myriad of sources. Our beliefs are often heavily influenced, if not shaped, by the people in our world – especially those closest to us. Those we love and respect the most. Or perhaps just those we spend the most time with. Both our conscious and our unconscious minds are continually absorbing, interpreting, filtering and processing information. Much of what you and I absorb in a typical day happens without our conscious awareness; it happens despite us. From infancy, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our teachers, our heroes, the TV we watch, the music we listen to, the books we read, the places of worship we attend and in 2008, even the websites we frequent, have been influencing us to think, behave and believe a certain way. If you grew up in a situation or environment which taught you that education and academic excellence is paramount, then there’s a fair chance you’ll demand that your kids finish school and go to college.

2. Our experiences. What happens to us, teaches us. Some of us see ourselves as poor students when we’re actually not. We all have an amazing capacity to learn (we do it constantly) but most of our learning happens unconsciously and unintentionally. Sadly, not all of our ‘lessons’ empower us or put us in a better place. Some of our lessons teach us that we’re stupid, ugly, undesirable and incapable. Some experiences are the basis for many of our disempowering (or totally debilitating) beliefs. For many of us to move forward and into a better place (mentally, emotionally, physically, practically), we need to unlearn much of what we’ve made ‘truth’ in our world. That is, we need to change our beliefs. We’ll talk about how to do that in part two.

Different Types of Beliefs

Types of beliefs have been classified in various ways by various people over the years, but I’m going to dumb it down and lose the psycho-babble because I’m not nearly as clever as them. For practical reasons I will break beliefs down to three simple categories:

1. Positive Beliefs. These are Beliefs that enable us to stay in a positive, productive, creative and empowered headspace. Beliefs that allow us to explore and fulfil our potential. Beliefs that push us through the discomfort of life, allow us to deal with our fears and to come out the other side stronger, wiser and better equipped. Beliefs that give us the confidence to do what we need to do to create our best life.

2. Negative Beliefs. Obviously, the polar opposite of the positive kind! They will destroy your potential, your happiness, your relationships, your career, your confidence, your mental health and your life… if you let them.

3. Incidental Beliefs. Exactly as they sound; not typically life-shaping or changing, just there. I believe Tasmania is a beautiful place. I believe a Lexus is a better product than a BMW. I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. I believe boxing is one of the most effective cardio workouts. We have thousands (millions perhaps?) of beliefs that just exist somewhere in the recesses of our brain. Mostly they don’t live in the conscious realm unless we are required to wheel them out for a particular conversation or situation.

That’s enough for now… my head hurts!

See you next time with Part Two.

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