We CHOOSE Our Beliefs

Where do your beliefs come from? The things you believe to be true. Your political leanings. Your faith. Your sports allegiances. Whether chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. (I’ll not be sharing my own beliefs on that one here. Politics and religion are one thing, but I find ice cream to be too divisive a topic for the blog.)

That’s right. Even my love of ice cream is a belief.

Our beliefs shape everything we do. They are the foundation upon which our decisions are made. The drive us to take certain actions. They are directly proportional to the quality of our lives.

And yet, as I’ve mentioned here before, a belief is no more than the meaning or interpretation we choose to place on the events or information that is made available to us.

In other words, despite how important beliefs are to the way we live, they pop up in a very casual way. The world around us exists, we interpret it based on our life experiences and personalities, and we form our beliefs. Many of us don’t think about where our beliefs come from at all. They just sort of seem to…show up.

Where do our beliefs come from?

As our societal beliefs become more polarized, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge while this “showing up” may seem to be the case, it isn’t. We choose our beliefs. More to the point, if they are no longer serving us, it is possible to swap them for new ones.

Alfred Korzybski, (1879-1950) the renowned scientist, philosopher and founder of the discipline known as General Semantics made a statement that “the map is not the territory,” essentially telling us that we use our cartography skills to naturally forge a map in our heads that represents our views of the  world. The “data” we use to draw our maps comes to us from every experience we have, every interaction, conversation and exposure to every stimulus in our lives.

So we assemble all of this into a map in our heads and then assume that this is THE map. Of course, it’s simply a mirror reflecting our own beliefs. We use our personal maps to navigate our life, and most of us don’t even think about the fact that everyone has a different map.

This process would work really well if we all drew the same map. Unfortunately as we progress through life we constantly encounter people who simply aren’t bright enough to understand that we have drawn a perfect map, and are foolish enough to falsely belief that their maps are correct. I meet these types all the time and, I have to tell you, they really tick me off.

Are beliefs getting more polarized?

If you’ve spend any time in a social media comments section, the fact that we’re all working with our own map will not come as a surprise to you.

In fact, social media and other information sources that we curate ourselves are part of the reason our individual belief maps can seem so wildly different from other peoples’ maps.

We’ve heard a lot about how living in a “bubble,” where we only read likeminded opinions online, makes us even more engrained in our own opinions. Well, one interesting study shows that once we have become so entranced in our own beliefs that we seek out others with similar beliefs, even when it is to our own detriment.

For example, in this study, participants were asked to sort simple geometric shapes, and they were more likely to take advice and help from people who shared their political beliefs, even when that advice was obviously wrong.

It’s worthwhile for all of us to regularly challenge our own beliefs. Ask where they come from, ask if others who hold them are helping us or holding us back. And remember that if we discover a belief is no longer serving us, it’s possible to exchange it for a new one.

You can change your beliefs

Possible. Not necessarily easy. Changing your beliefs is something I talk to my clients about all the time.

They have come to the place they are in their lives because of their beliefs, and sometimes it isn’t a place they want to be.

For example, perhaps they’ve developed a habit of avoiding exercise, and their doctor has suggested this habit isn’t going to be compatible with their goal of living a long and healthy life.

Their beliefs are getting in the way of changing the habit. These beliefs might include:

  • Exercise is tedious
  • I’m not a fit person, someone who “exercises,” and I never could be
  • I will never learn to enjoy exercise

You can see how someone with these beliefs will have difficulty changing their habits, even if they want to. They need to change them though, if they want to make exercise part of their life long term.

How to change your mind about something

Many folks struggle with the idea that if our beliefs truly are only one meaning we place on events and information, and not the meaning, then all of our beliefs could possibly have many different meanings.

It’s understandable that this can be daunting if you haven’t thought about it before, because it means important and strongly held beliefs can be changed, or even abandoned altogether. Shifting your political or religious beliefs can seem incredibly threatening. And abandoning your beliefs about ice cream? Well. I can scarcely imagine.

That’s not what I’m asking you to do. What I’m suggesting is, all of us can reach a better understanding with each other, not to mention reach better mastery of our own habits, if we regularly question where our own beliefs come from. Where did others’ beliefs come from?

Is it possible we are looking at the same territory, just using a different map?

Till we read again.