Take a moment to answer any one of these questions:
- What is success?
- What does it take to be a good person?
- What is the most important thing family members can do for each other?
The only way to answer these questions is to tap into your beliefs.
Our beliefs drive every aspect of our lives – every thought, every action, every aspiration. Is something worth doing? It depends what you believe. Will this project work out? I depends what you believe. Should you ask that person out? … You get the picture.
Most of us get that beliefs feature heavily in our lives but few of us stop to think about where they came from or why we don’t all believe the same things.
Even more interesting than the fact that we don’t all answer the same way is the fact that most of us would struggle to answer these 3 questions without significant time and thought invested. That’s because we’re not always consciously aware of the beliefs driving our choices – and most of us don’t realise that some of our beliefs are not even our own.
What are beliefs?
Arguably, this is a philosophical question and we could debate its answer for hours. For the purposes of using our understanding to shape our lives in positive ways, I like to think of beliefs as ‘rules of thumb’. They are the rules we live by and they help us decide whether things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and whether we should ‘advance’ or ‘retreat’ (not in a fight / flight sort of way, more in a will-something-good-or-bad-happen-if-I-do-this? sort of way)
If you listened to Episode 4 (We know what to do so why don’t we do it?), you’ll know about the Rider and the Elephant. It’s worth noting that, for the most part, beliefs are the domain of the elephant.
Three sources of beliefs
Again, if we argued this philosophically or delved deeper into the theory of beliefs and where they come from, we would uncover more than 3 sources of beliefs but for the purposes of making informed choices about which beliefs to cherish and which to change or chuck, these three sources are a good place to start.
- Advertising / Society / Culture
- People in your life – parents, teachers, friends
- Yourself – your experiences and your interpretation of those experiences
Advertising / Society / Culture
These are the beliefs that are ‘sold’ to us. They come from the media, government, religion etc. Once we internalise these beliefs we come to accept them as our own.
People in our lives
We take on beliefs shared with us by significant people in our lives. For example, a belief I internalised from childhood was “people have to like you”. I used to be dropped off at parties and told, “Don’t give them anything bad to say about you.” To this day, I struggle to have the courage to stand out because my instinct suggests I’ll draw negative attention – something I should retreat from. Every time I post a blog, upload a podcast or update social media, I have a little flash of fear as I push against that deep rooted belief that I’m going to accidentally give someone a reason to criticise.
Your experiences provide information about what works and what doesn’t. They provide the blueprints for future decisions.
As I discussed in Episode 3, our experiences and our memories of those experiences are not the same and our beliefs are shaped by the remembering self. For this reason, it’s easy for our beliefs to feel like they’re supported with iron clad proof when in actual fact, they can be massively skewed by our interpretation of our experiences.
Why does it matter?
Not all of our beliefs serve us well. Some hold us back, some make us unhappy, some stop us from noticing the opportunities to do things differently.
Where this is the case, it’s worth examining our beliefs more closely. Beliefs are not facts and should not be treated as such.
Where your beliefs serve you well, help you make choices that allow you to improve your life and the lives of others, it’s worth leaving them in place. When they’re doing the opposite, it’s worth challenging them and working out where your beliefs came from is the first step in this process.
In next week’s episode, I’ll explore how to challenge beliefs.