Archive for the ‘Human nature’


January 28th, 2008

The power of beliefs

Some people are prepared to die for what they believe in—or kill others. Belief is a powerful thing.

It might seem incredible but there are many recorded reports of healthy Australian tribal aborigines dying simply because they believed they had been cursed. When one aborigine ‘points the bone’ at another who shares the same tribal belief system that such a curse inevitably means death, then that person wills himself to die. In other parts of the world voodoo or hex induced deaths are also well documented. Believing something can have extreme consequences.

Yet for all its power a belief is by definition something unproven. A belief is something that we think is true. It is something we accept and have trust and confidence in but which is in essence a guess, a feeling, a theory, or conviction. A belief is not necessarily a fact. It is no more than opinion or intuition. But unlike an opinion, which can be easily changed if evidence convinces us we were wrong, a belief is much more deeply embraced and more resistant to change. But we believe—we don’t know. We assume—but we don’t prove or test that assumption. Yet if you believe in something enough, whether it is true or not, like the tribal aborigines, you can make it real.

Beliefs can be dangerous because even when false they feel so real.

There are 3 types of beliefs:

Casual beliefs: everyday, practical beliefs that don’t matter much if we get them wrong such as ‘I believe it will rain tomorrow’ or ‘I believe expensive shampoo is better than cheap shampoo’. They are usually based on some form of evidence, experience, or generalization but are not necessarily accurate. For example, you might have a couple of bad experiences on the road with drivers of a particular make of vehicle so you jump to the conclusion that people who drive that type of car are bad drivers.

Conditioned beliefs: these come from an assessment of what has happened in the past and then predicts the same results in the future. So we get beliefs such as ‘I’m no good at sport’ or ‘I can’t draw’. These beliefs, if negative, can stifle our potential and limit our lives. Many of our conditioned beliefs are also absorbed from family, peers, or social influences and are taken in without question or examination. Accepting others’ beliefs helps us fit in and be accepted. So, for example, we might take in such beliefs as ‘Rich people are unhappy/selfish/greedy/crooked’ or ‘A woman can only be beautiful if she is young, thin, and sexy’ or ‘Boys don’t cry’ or ‘If you’re not successful then you are a loser’.

Core beliefs: can be positive or negative, lead us to be an optimist or pessimist,  and decide the answers to such questions as ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is life about?’, ‘What will I do with my life?’

What we learn and experience in early life shapes our attitudes to, and beliefs about, the world and ourselves. From our early experiences we create an internal guide to life. Our expectations about the future are rooted in memories and emotions from the past. If parents regularly ignore a child for example, that child might become an adult who believes they don’t deserve to have their needs met or that they are unlovable or that other people cannot be trusted. Their core belief might become ‘I am not important or valuable.’

Core beliefs are like a mental framework that supports our thoughts, beliefs, values and perception. They direct the information we receive from the world and evaluate it and apply a meaning to it.

Our core beliefs influence us on a subconscious level. We may have a powerful core belief that influences our behaviour and reactions without even being aware of it. For example, someone who chooses one abusive partner after another or who indulges in self-destructive behaviour, may have a core belief that they deserve to be punished. We  need to carefully examine our behaviour, automatic thoughts and reactions to discover what our subconscious core beliefs are.

Our core beliefs are a filter through which we experience life. For example if someone calls you useless but your core belief is that you are competent and capable then ‘useless’ does not fit into your framework and can be easily dismissed. You in effect, ‘filter’ it out. If, however, your core belief is that you are useless (based on memories and emotions from your past) then you will agree with the judgement, accept it, and it will in turn reinforce your core belief of uselessness.

Some examples of core beliefs:

You give up easily because at heart you don’t believe you deserve to succeed or that you are capable of succeeding.

You believe you are special and should have whatever you want despite undesirable consequences. So you have trouble with self-control (perhaps over spending, obesity, overuse of alcohol etc).

You believe the world is a dangerous place, which makes you timid, fearful and avoidant.

You believe you are better than other people, which makes you arrogant.

You believe you are inferior to other people, which produces low self-esteem, under achievement and depression.

What we believe influences who we are and how we think, feel, and act. So what do you believe? Do your beliefs promote your maximum success and happiness or do they handicap you?

So, work out what belief may be limiting you. Do you believe negative things about yourself that are holding you back? Then ask yourself is your belief true or not? Accept that it is possible to believe something that is not real, accurate or true. Get used to the idea that until proven, all beliefs are questionable. For centuries most of the population of the world believed the earth was flat and even put people to death for believing that it wasn’t. People once believed that bad smells caused disease, that women could not be educated, that spirits produced babies and all sorts of other nonsensical things with absolute surety and conviction. Even in our scientific age some people still believe something as dangerous as sex with a virgin will cure AIDS!

Work out where your limiting belief came from. Is it something you worked out for yourself or have you absorbed parental, peer, or society’s beliefs? But most importantly, is what you believe accurate? Question it. Is it sound and logical? Is its basic premise true? What evidence can you find to prove or disprove it?

Don’t let something that is no more than an abstract concept rule or ruin your life.

Coming soon: “How to change negative core beliefs into positive beliefs.”

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