What do you believe about yourself and the world around you?
It’s not something you may have considered before, but it’s often the case that beliefs drive actions, so your situation right now could be the result of what you believe. In this context I’m not talking about religious beliefs, but the beliefs you hold about yourself and how you fit into the world. For example, what kind of person you think you are and how you perceive your abilities.
How do beliefs come about?
Our beliefs, our self-image if you like, usually form early in life. They are the culmination of our upbringing, environment and experience, and they can be rooted in the most insignificant of episodes. So, if an adult remarks to a child that they are clumsy, the next time the child drops something they will recall the comment and think, “It’s true, I am clumsy.” Thus, the belief is fixed in their mind from that point onwards and will probably be carried forward into adulthood.
“A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet)
True or false?
A belief is a principle you accept as true or real without proof; it is an opinion or conviction. The key words here are “without proof”.
How often do we challenge the veracity of what we believe? The chances are rarely, if ever, since we take them for granted, never question them and continue to act as if they were true. The trouble is, they may have ceased to be valid or useful a long time ago and are now preventing us from moving forward. If we believe we can’t do something, we won’t even try, because only when it appears possible will we attempt it. Even our own brain colludes in the conspiracy by filtering out information that does not support the belief we have chosen to adopt, but looking instead for evidence to bolster it.
“Man is what he believes.”
Unlearning limiting beliefs
The good news is, the mindset which stems from our beliefs is essentially a learned response to external circumstances. Therefore, it can be unlearned and replaced with a belief system that functions more appropriately.
Firstly, it’s important to recognise when a belief is holding you back and asking questions is a great way to make yourself aware of what’s going on. Try these out:
- What’s stopping me?
- What does sticking to this belief cost me?
- What am I gaining by not doing this?
- What evidence is there for this ?
- When did that stop being true?
Also, consider what language is cropping up in your internal dialogue. Words like “try” or the conditional tenses “would” and “could” are tell-tale signs that something is blocking you from taking action. How about replacing them with more positive, concrete alternatives like “I will” or “I am”, and “when” rather than “if”?
Next, think about a scenario where the belief has lifted and your way is clear:
- What will happen if … ?
- If this isn’t a problem, what can I do?
- Who says I can’t?
- What will be different if I let this go?
Dream the impossible
Changing your self-talk and reframing things more positively will alter the course of your actions. The self-fulfilling prophesies of your old belief system will start to dissolve and the impossible will begin to seem more achievable.
“People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is huge variability in how you perform.”
(Albert Bandura, psychologist)
Before Roger Bannister ran the sub-four-minute mile in 1954, it was widely believed to be an impossible task. However, once the record had been broken, proving it was possible after all, athletes soon broke the new record and the one after that, and so on, because the belief that it was unachievable had been reworked.
A fixed belief delivers recurring, often poor, results whereas changing your beliefs and framing things in a positive manner leads to new behaviours and habits that can push the boundaries of your comfort zone and produce improved performance.
The bottom line is that we can choose what beliefs to hold on to and which to dispose of.
So, how about a spring clean of your belief system?
“Men willingly believe what they wish.”
You may also find this post about embracing the future useful.