If our beliefs were “made in the head” and some no longer serve or support us, does that mean we can replace them with better ones, also made in our heads?
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When we think of a belief, it can be a real truth for us can’t it? That’s the way it is (for us). That’s the way we see it working. That’s what we believe. It’s quite hard to argue with a belief, right? To judge a belief right or wrong is also quite futile. Like faith. Is being of the Christian versus Jewish or Muslim faith right or wrong, or better or worse? It’s what we have come to believe for ourselves, sometimes by conditioning and sometimes by personal choice. Usually both. Often we have developed them into very strong positions that we defend vehemently.
Linked to our values, beliefs are what make us all different.
We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are. And we often see things the way we are because of our beliefs.
How do we differentiate fact from belief? We may be forgiven for believing something so strongly that to us it is a fact. How do we differentiate fact from perception? Same difference. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
So how are beliefs formed?
In our childhood, beliefs can be formed by being “blindly accepted” from our role models. Too immature to “think about them”, we simply accept and adopt them. Only much later do we actually realize this and perhaps adapt or replace them, often only when someone else challenges them, right?
As we grow into life in our childhood and into adolescence, we “experiment” with many things and test many situations so as to figure out what works and what doesn’t; and what works for us. Being rebuffed and put down versus being encouraged can be the start of the influences in how we see ourselves. These experiences can “mess with our confidence”, the severity of which can have significant impacts on the way we see things to be for us. Unchecked and unbalanced, I have come to understand that this is where we can start to develop unconscious pictures of “who we are”; pictures that influence our “basic wiring” that can differentiate the “glass half full” versus the “glass half empty” outlook we carry forward through our life.
Remember what Henry Ford said: whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re dead right. Whichever one you choose is a belief. Often our conditioning has influenced us so strongly that we might lack confidence or belief in ourselves.
Beliefs can also be formed from the meaning we give events, again often in our childhood.
I have learned in the meantime that nothing has meaning except the meaning we give it. And every one reading this could give a different meaning to a certain situation.
Take a child sitting on a landing unbeknownst to the two adults and eavesdropping on a conversation between music teacher and mum. The teacher lauds the mum for investing in her child’s musical training but suggests that the child simply is “no good at music and will never play an instrument”. That was the event.
What meaning would the child have given that? “I’m no good at music”, certainly? Chances are it would probably go through the next weeks or months looking for evidence to prove that to be true.
(I can sense some of you suggesting that to be quite smart an approach by the child to avoid having to play that silly instrument again)
In many cases “defining moments” such as these and many others can accumulate and perhaps be amended from “I’m no good at music”, to perhaps just “I’m not good enough”. If for a long enough period of time that is rationalized and sufficient evidence is collected suggesting that to be “true”, it can become entrenched unconsciously and ultimately can become a belief that guides our inner voice and our behavioral responses to so many things; with us no longer being consciously aware of that or even noticing it.
One of the most powerful descriptions of the immense impact such conditioning can have on us that I have ever seen I found in Don Miguel Ruiz’ book “The Four Agreements”. He calls these beliefs “agreements” because as malleable youngsters we didn’t know any better than to accept them or agree to them as we are conditioned by our families, our schools, our churches, media etc. You can find a write up on it at: “Books I am Reading Now”
So in our communication with others around us, we need to become aware of what might be a belief so as not launch into argument or challenge it. I have learned that “Interesting” is a universal escape response, if we politely don’t want to engage in it; or “amazing”.
If I do want to engage, I have learned to follow that up with questions like: “how long have you had that belief” or “what led you to the development of that belief”? The response is often one of “what do you mean”? Professionally trained coaches know how to work through that. All I’m suggesting is that you might try to help the other person realize that what they are suggesting might be a belief and not necessarily a “truth” or “fact” that everyone would necessarily see the same way.
Nonsustaining or limiting beliefs can be identified through recognizing language or behaviour. eg “I’m a bad driver”. “I can’t remember names”. “I could never do that”. “Money doesn’t grow on trees” etc. I’ve often found that once people understand how such a constraining belief might have come about, they usually smile and shake their head and allow themselves to replace it with a more sustaining or supportive one.
So what now?
In the context of this coaching website, I firmly believe that here lies a hugely important anchor in the way we see ourselves. This is where many an obstacle is recognized as “made in the head”; that it is not necessarily reality, but perception; that if it was “made in the head”, it can be “replaced in the head”; in our own head; right now.
Awareness is the critical starting point. Then we can follow it up with change. Why not have a go? Why not allow yourself some quiet time to think of some defining moments where you might have developed some of these beliefs that are no longer relevant for you? Or perhaps discuss this at your dinner table in terms of helping each other recognize what might be beliefs and support each other in understanding them better? And then replacing them with “better ones”. Ones that will support and sustain you on becoming that “you” that you have always wanted to be; the one you know deep down that you can be and deserve to be?
You know that it is now just a choice, don’t you?
So if I really want to engage in lasting change for myself, I have learned to ask myself two fundamental questions at this choice juncture:
- What am I still afraid of?
- What am I still waiting for?
This is one of the areas that coaches are able to assist our clients in making massive shifts in your outcomes. If you aren’t where you want to be (yet), have been trying hard and wish you knew how you could achieve a significant breakthrough so that you can raise your game and raise your outcomes, why not talk to a coach and see what a difference you can make for yourself? I know you won’t regret it.
Alternatively, if this article might have left you with some open questions, why not email me at and I’d be delighted to discuss them with you.
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