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What are beliefs?

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All personal breakthroughs begin with a change in beliefs. (Anthony Robbins)

What are Beliefs?

Beliefs are deeply rooted convictions about the world and about ourselves. With this in mind, all beliefs are statements which include a meaning, rating, cause or effect. Our thoughts and actions as well as our perceptions of reality are significantly influenced by them. If you want to change your life for the better it is helpful and important to get aware of your beliefs.

Here I will distinguish between obvious beliefs (which we sometimes speak out in everyday life or at least think consciously) and the not so obvious, unconscious beliefs. Their origin may date back to your deepest childhood.

Examples for beliefs:

  • The earth is flat.
  • The Earth is a sphere.
  • All people want to make me angry
  • All people are helpful and friendly
  • I’m not worth anything.
  • I am worthy.

The actual truth of the statement is irrelevant. Even empirically proven facts are beliefs because they may be disproved by future empirical statements. Social as well as academic standards are constantly changing. As an example, for a long time it was entirely accepted that the earth was flat. Likewise, homosexuality was “treated” as a mental disorder and was to be punished.

In the examples I have deliberately chosen belief couples who have a completely contradictory statement. It is the individual choice of each one of us which of the two statements we believe in within these three pairs.

Each generation claims to see the world correctly and that before people must have been pretty strange. However, our explanations of the world continue to change, therefore future generations will probably wonder how our generation could support the convictions we have today.

Some of the beliefs had their justification in earlier times but they are not valid any more. A good example is our grandparents, who often walk around with beliefs of the past, such as “There is not enough food” – who had to eat up his dish as a child?? – Thumbs up! This belief was created in a time of war and famine when it made a lot of sense – it has probably ensured the survival of many people.

Today, this perspective is totally overhauled and creates damage. Nowadays, people are rather struggling with obesity than with hunger. The question you can ask yourself now is

What are the beliefs I still carry around with me that limit my life instead of supporting me?

How beliefs affect you

As already mentioned, our beliefs affect the way we perceive our reality. For a better understanding, I will explain two processes more closely: the selective perception and cognitive dissonance.

Selective Perception means that only certain aspects of the environment are perceived while others are hidden. A good example is the purchase of an automobile. Once the decision is made to buy a Mercedes you suddenly see Mercedes vehicles all over the place. Or you are looking for a drugstore and cannot find one. And then, after having found a drugstore you see one at every corner. It might be exciting for you to get aware of what you pay attention to during your next walk and to compare it with the behavior of others.

Cognitive Dissonance refers to an unpleasant emotional state that results from different perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, desires and intentions that are not compatible. Take expensive clothes as an example: When you purchased it you enjoyed it, but later on, it might seem too expensive to you.

In order to get rid of this unpleasant emotional state, there are several possibilities. For example:

  • The perception is changed so that it matches the belief.
  • The belief is changed so that it matches the perception.

Rationalizations relativize the contradiction. “It was a reduced offer” or “I didn’t need money in the first place” are examples.

It is important to note that beliefs are mostly deeply rooted and therefore superior to the perception. However, when the perception is strong enough or the belief weak enough it is possible to change a belief.

Selective perception leads to the fact that we perceive to concentrate information. The cognitive dissonance arises, however, when our perception does not match our beliefs. In that case, either the perception dismissed as exceptional or weakened in any form or the belief is changed.

Example:
Belief: “All people want to harm me.”

Selective perception: You may encounter quite a lot of friendly people, however you don’t realize it because you are convinced all people are evil. As soon as it comes to a confrontation or someone is doing something bad in your eyes, then you can say to yourself, “There you go! I knew it”.

Cognitive dissonance: In the above case it is not even sure whether the person wants to be truly evil – or just simply presents his view of the world and wishes to impose his or her own interest and thereby acts the same way you do. I have come to believe that people hardly ever want to intentionally harm other people. However, if you experienced situations in your childhood or later that have made you think you need to protect yourself, this belief is confirmed relatively easily in the future.

Depending on the quantity and quality of beliefs we can arrive at very different perceptions of the same situation. Hence the saying “Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves.” Strong positive beliefs can both have positive as well as negative consequences for the person in question. Aiming towards making life more comfortable the belief: “All people are helpful and friendly” would make more sense.

“Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves.” -Robert Anton Wilson (the new Prometheus)

perceiving of reality

Because our minds are designed to confirm existing beliefs, and our consciousness only receives a small portion of all the information around us, beliefs have a strong influence on our perception of reality. Accordingly, the reality is unconsciously transformed or reinterpreted. This is how small successes present themselves larger or smaller in some cases.

You might find this in your friends: One is often satisfied with his performance, while another is always finding a reason why the success was just luck or what has not been perfect.

In other situations, we unconsciously influence our environment. For instance, when we expect bad behavior, as in “all people want to harm me” we unconsciously represent a hostile attitude. If we are treated well, then that was nothing but an exception.

Good beliefs help us have more alternatives to choose from, whereas less good beliefs use to reduce the number. Therefore the term “limiting beliefs” is used so often because they restrict or limit our ability.

Restrictive beliefs

Many beliefs that we carry around with us are practical and useful, possibly even the majority. Limiting beliefs are those that restrict your options and your development.

Some examples about the subject money:

  • It is better to give than to receive.
  • Money just brings responsibility with it
  • Wanting money is hard work
  • Money spoils the character

The above beliefs reduce your choices significantly. If you are convinced that money is hard work, then you have to decide yourself if you either want to work hard or not get rich.

The usefulness of beliefs is strongly dependent on the context. The belief “money ruins the character” comes in very handy if you just do not have money. Thus, all people with a lot of money are simply assholes and you do not have to try hard to become like them.

On the other hand, if you suddenly win the lottery one million the belief becomes less useful. This is why nine in then lottery winners go down little later – the beliefs do not fit the wealth in the bank account.

How do beliefs manifest themselves?

Some of our beliefs are spoken out loud each day while others are slumbering in the background where we are barely aware of them. However, they are often expressed by our behavior or indirect statements.

It is simply a matter of attention and exercise to recognize beliefs. Furthermore, many beliefs are always around, where we expect them the least, a typical example is music. Often we sing our favorite songs out loudly, then again we sing only in our heads, still we repeat the same beliefs that are included in the text lines again and again. In the same way, organizations, governments and churches have their members repeat some basic texts, prayers and songs as soon as possible.

Relating to our jobs we often make the statement: “I have to work.”

If you think “I have to work” in connection with the belief “work is fun”, then you will probably have a lot of fun while working. Nevertheless, when you think “work is stupid and exhausting,” this leads to the described unpleasant emotional state.

Therefore, it will come to an adaptive response. There are several possibilities for compensation in this case:

  • You enjoy work less
  • You begin to avoid work (get a note from the doctor)
  • You feel exhausted after work, etc.

You will start verbalizing these feelings. “There was a time when I was enjoying work more “, “I’m not feeling well and can not go to work today”, “Today I am exhausted from work”, etc..

Think of the radio moderator on Monday morning whining “still 4 days to go until it’s finally weekend. Shit!”. It goes like this all week long. This is an easy way to spoil both work and all the days of the week. Even if you do not think the same way, listening to this message every day can eventually make you identify with it a little. This negative attitude annoys me so much that I cannot listen to the radio any more these days.

How do I become aware of my beliefs?

There are many ways to trace our own beliefs, for example by reading your own written texts, listening to yourself when talking, asking the partner etc. Another option is to give answers to questions spontaneously without much thinking. As an exercise you can even complete the given sentences mentally. Do it until you run out of ideas, before you go on with the next sentence:

  • Money is …
  • Money makes …
  • Work is …
  • Work makes …

Now go through your list again and be aware of what you feel during the process. Saying the sentences out loud is helpful because you can also hear the phrases. Perhaps some sentences fill you with anger, resignation and sadness. If that is the case, these sentences are particularly energetic for you.

In addition, you can ask yourself the following question for each sentence: “Who says that?” This gives you some insights where these beliefs come from or who influences your life unconsciously.

This is everything I have to say concerning convictions and beliefs. In the next article I will show you how you can transform your negative beliefs into productive beliefs using EFT & MET. Afterwards, I will publish a comprehensive list of beliefs that serves as help and inspiration in changing your own individual beliefs.

More on beliefs:

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