Belief. Ah, that 6 letter word holds such power. If you look belief up in the dictionary, there are different definitions but most state, “Belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof, trust, faith, or having confidence in (someone or something.” Often, people will view their beliefs as a fundamental truth and this is where it can get tricky.
We are all hard-wired to create beliefs, many of them we are not even aware of. We create beliefs about ourselves, the existence of a higher power, other people and how the world works. Our beliefs allow us to experience and “make sense” of our world almost from the moment we are born. As children, we believe in our parents and that their ability to protect and support us. As we grow, we continue to add layer our beliefs based on what we learn and what we experience.
In this article…
Experience as Belief Builder
Here is the story of two students, Mary and Alice. Mary goes to school and is told she is a good student. She likes her teacher and her classmates and so she begins to believe that “I am smart.” “School is fun.” “I like getting good grades.” She enjoys school, feels good about herself and studies so she indeed does get good grades. Her experience continues to reinforce her beliefs about herself and school in general.
Now, Alice, on the other hand, does not do well on her first test and is told, “You must not be smart” by a classmate. Alice takes this in and believes it and she also starts noticing “how hard school is” and she “doesn’t understand ANYTHING.” When it comes time to study, Alice decides not to because “It won’t make any difference if I study. I am not smart enough to get good grades.” And Alice creates this reality by not doing well on her tests. This can easily become Alice’s reality moving forward unless someone (hopefully) challenges and helps Alice change her belief about herself.
We Create Our Reality
We have to create beliefs about our world even if we don’t completely understand our world. For example, I never understood how a fax worked but I still sent them. I am not sure how I can put #’s into a small machine and be talking to someone moments later but I believe I can and so I use my phone all the time. AND what really perplexes me is how I can write on this machine called a computer, hit a button and my message gets sent all around the world. Totally blows my mind and I still expect that my emails (at least 99.9% of the time) will arrive in the intended inbox. Beliefs create how we act. If I did not believe in technology working or demanded proof for everything in my life, I would be very limited in my ability to function in my world.
Here is another example of just how powerful our minds are. Think back to a time you were watching a scary movie, either at an actual theater or at home. You know you are watching a movie and YET, you still may scream (or as in my case close your eyes) anytime you even think something scary is about to happen. Logically, You know it is not happening to you or that it is not real but still you experience emotions because your mind has triggered that emotion and you act accordingly.
What You Say to Yourself Really Matters
Our language often reflects our beliefs and there is a theory that states that our language may create our beliefs. I am a communication and language expert so forgive me as I geek out just a little bit about language and how it affects our beliefs. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions. The strong version says that language determines our thoughts and that language limits how we think and act, whereas the weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions. There are many disagreements about this and the strong version has been disproven. However, there have been much research that agrees that the way we use language influences how we think and act.
There are words that move us forward because we feel that we are in control and thus we are more confident. When we say, “I chose to X or I want to do Y” we are coming from a place of power and thus we feel better about the task or job that we are doing. When we use the words, “I have to do X” or “I need to do Y”, we are expressing that the control is elsewhere and not within our power. And don’t even get me started on “should”. When you state I should do something, you are expressing that you are doing something because of something or someone external to you. (I will speak more about shoulding in another post.)
I Have a Challenge for You
Notice how often you use the following words in the next 24 hours, “have to”, “need to”, “want to” and “chose to”. When did you say it and how do you feel after each statement? Play with the words. Can you shift the feeling depending upon the word that you chose?
Often, the words that my clients use helps me to determine how well they are going to achieve their goals or what can be done to support them to move forward. I was nicknamed the Belief Barracuda™ over 15 years ago because of my ability to hone in on beliefs lying way below the surface. Bringing them to the surface allows you to begin shifting them.
We Like to be Right
Henry Ford made a bold statement when he said “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” This connects back to the idea that we create our own realities. We experience something and we make a decision about it. We then begin to think about that experience, person or ourselves in a certain way. And here is where it gets tricky, we then seek out (often subconsciously) evidence that what we believe is true. And there is plenty of evidence out there.
If we decided, “People are mean” then we will bring many mean people into our lives just so we can be right in our beliefs. We are getting plenty of support for our beliefs even if it may not be serving us in the best way. The important thing for us as humans is that we get to be RIGHT. So in this situation, whenever we experience someone having a bad day, we can say, “See, people are just mean.” Instead if we had the belief that people are generally good, we would most likely see the situation differently.
Let’s Look at this Another Way, Literally
What do you see in the optical illusion below? This is a well-known photo that depicts both an old woman and a young pretty girl in the same photo. Usually you can’t see both at exactly the same time. Often it is hard to see the one once you have seen the other picture. This is what can happen with beliefs as well.
How do we Shift Our Beliefs?
Since language is such a big part of our beliefs, can we just talk ourselves into a new belief? Hmm, yes and no. Affirmations are where someone states something positive over and over again in the attempt to change a belief. These can work but I usually caution again them because they are often used incorrectly.
Often, someone will attempt to use a phrase that the brain IMMEDIATELY rejects. For example, I want to lose some weight and I begin to use the mantra, “I am thin. I am thin. I am thin.” I do this whenever I look in the mirror. Unfortunately, I am not thin and really am in need of releasing more than a few pounds. When I make the statement, my brain screams back at me, “Who are you kidding? You are definitely not thin.” (Ok, that was my mean brain but our brains can be mean to us.) No matter how many times I say, “I am thin.” I am not making myself believe it because the evidence I am seeing does not support that statement. The statement is too big a leap for me.
Understanding Your Islands of Belief™
Affirmations can work when connected to what I call your Islands of Belief™. I created this concept years ago when teaching a course on moving beyond your limiting beliefs. Here is the concept. Since we want to be right, we create islands of belief and we stay on our island and find all kinds of evidence to support our island.
When we want to make a change to an area of our life, we can see another way of being but it often feels too hard or far away. This is where Island Hopping comes in. You first need to know what your belief is. State your belief aloud. “Making more money is HARD, releasing weight is hard, fill in the blank _________ is hard.”
Confront that Belief
Is that really true? Is it hard for EVERYONE to make money or to do X? Now, we all know someone who has been able to achieve whatever it is that we want. So generally, you have to admit that this is not true for everyone.
This admission makes that belief change just a tiny bit. You can now say, “I believe that creating X is hard for me but others have been able to do it.” Small change but an important one.
You now can create a belief that is just one step past this belief. It can sound something like this. I know people who have been able to create what I want without it being so hard. Now you have an affirmation that you can truly commit to. “I am open to the possibility that I too can create X (health, wealth, security, love etc.) with ease.”
Just Being Open to a Different Possibility is a HUGE Shift
When you create a new possibility for yourself, you hop to a new Island of Belief™. You can’t believe in the possibility that something can be easy and that everything is hard at the same time. You hop to the next island and leave your old island behind. It is a small hop so it is easy to do. When you are open to a new possibility, you can think of different ways to make that possibility a reality that were hidden to you in the past.
Then when you are experiencing this new reality, you create a new belief and hop to another island. Keep doing this until you get to your ultimate goal. Taking these small hops will get you there with greater ease.
I invite you to try it with a belief you have and want to change. First, be honest with yourself about the belief. Then find that one step that will move you forward. Take that step. If you need help, let me know. I would love to know about how this works for you.