The Power of Beliefs
“We cannot choose whether or not to believe; but we can choose what to believe” Unknown
Our personal power is dependent on the actions we do or do not take. And before we do or do not take an action we consult a belief to see if what we are contemplating doing will create mental peace or mental conflict. If our mind says “okay”, we may proceed with a reasonable expectation that we will be rewarded with pleasurable feelings; if our mind says “nuh-uh” we can likely count on an emotional scolding.
A belief is confidence in the truth of a person or thing.
That person or thing does not need to be true for us to believe in it and cause us to act accordingly. For example, on Halloween evening of 1938 millions of Americans tuned their radios to Orson Wells’ broadcast of “The War of the Worlds”. In it, an alien army from Mars invades earth and sets about conquering the planet with incinerating heat rays. The program was broadcast as a series of news bulletins and there were no commercials which added to the authentic nature of the program. It is estimated that 6 million people heard the broadcast and that 1.2 million of them were presented with enough convincing evidence that they were genuinely frightened. It was, of course, a hoax.
Beliefs are little warehouses of data we’ve collected on specific topics.
Before we take an action related to that topic we check our inventory to evaluate how we’re going to feel after the action is completed. This assumes that we’ve taken that action before and have established what attitude or feeling will result; as such, beliefs serve as shortcuts that prevent us from having to intellectualize every action we take every time we take it. When a friend calls and asks me to come over and play music I don’t have to weigh the pros and cons of loading up my gear and driving across town to join him. I just unlock my “play music with friends” warehouse and there on the shelves are all the reasons why I may or may not want to do it.
The shelves are stocked with the yeses and no’s, whys and why-not’s, inputs and evaluations that establish our feelings and dictate our actions toward everything we encounter. And the more inventory on the shelves the stronger the belief. But sometimes we encounter a person or thing we’ve not met before and have to go through the “belief establishment” process; we need to stock the shelves.
As I write this I am witnessing an historic time in this country’s political history.
In two months the US will have elected either its first black president or its first female vice president. These are new paradigms and millions of Americans are stocking new warehouses with “references”, or bits of data that will serve to construct their beliefs about the candidates. When assembling a belief system about each of the candidates I might include my beliefs about their party’s stated values, the individual’s platform and past performance, my opinion of how they dress, the way they speak and of course, how I feel about their gender and race.
It’s important to remember that nothing I evaluate comes with a pre-assigned meaning; how I feel about Barak Obama’s attire is strictly my own opinion. But my opinions and beliefs about each of the candidates, though they may be different than someone else’s, create my reality.“That candidate is an inexperienced bigot whose party exists only to serve the needs of special interest groups who pad the party leader’s pockets at the expense of the wealthy homeless!” My belief may be ludicrous but to me it’s real and I will defend it with vigor until I have reason to believe otherwise.
There is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny; at least that’s what I believe now. But there was a time when I was equally certain that these beings did in fact exist. And I had a lot of compelling evidence, references if you will, to support my beliefs. My parents, brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends all told me they were real; where is a 5-year-old boy going to find more credible sources than that? There were colored eggs and chocolate bunnies and presents under the tree to bear witness to their existence. And let’s not forget about the fairy that pays for teeth.
There is a “self fulfilling” nature to beliefs.
We tend to notice evidence that supports them and dismiss that which does not. For example, how do you feel about pit bulls and why? I doubt if there is an animal that commands as much devotion from as many people as dogs. And I doubt if there is a dog whose behavior and reputation more polarizes dog lovers than the American Pit Bull Terrier and its relatives. I know people on both sides of the fence. Their admirers will point to the dog’s strength, beauty, loyalty and devotion. They will show you pictures of their children rolling around on the sofa with the loving family pet, smiling, laughing and showing no signs of fear.
Detractors tend not to pay attention to these pictures and praises for the pit bull. They notice the newspaper stories of mauled children and brutal dog fights. They see bulldogs with spiked collars at the end of a leash with a criminal on the other end. They do not pay attention to the pipe smoking gentleman in the Harris Tweed sport coat walking his pit bull around the edge of the golf course. Each of these factions has a reality when it comes to bulldogs and each of them has plenty of evidence to support their belief. But what’s to happen if I, one who hates and fears bulldogs, fall head over heels in love with someone who owns one and asks me over for tea? What am I to do with my belief? First, a recap…
Several things can be inferred from our discussion thus far.
First, beliefs are potent influencers of our behavior; as such they are extremely important to the results we get and consequently, our happiness. Second, they are often built around false premises. And third, just as they can be constructed, those that disempower us can be dismantled or changed to empower us. Here are some steps that Lover Boy needs to take in order to change his beliefs about bulldogs and end up sipping Earl Gray with the woman of his dreams.
His first step is to identify his limiting belief.
That was taken care of as soon as soon as the invitation was extended and his legs began to quake.
Next, he must ask if it is accurate;
in other words do you really hate, and subsequently fear, bulldogs? He answers ‘yes’. Okay, now he asks “Is this belief serving my best interests?” A ‘no’ here prompts the next question.
“What do I need to do to change it?”
and more importantly, “What’s in it for me if I do; what do I stand to gain?” It would be inappropriate to enumerate the potential benefits of a successfully launched romance but one may assume that they would be attractive enough that our young swain will ask himself one more question: “What will I have to do to change this limiting belief to one that empowers me?” And since he has been creating and dismantling beliefs all his life he will likely get appropriate answers to his question.
You can apply the same steps to change a belief that is holding you back and replace it with one that propels you forward. I’d like to share with you some things I learned about myself while doing an exercise I learned from the great personal development coach, Anthony Robbins.
Go to Part Two: How to Change a Belief
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