If you were to ask most people why they believe what they believe they would cite how they were raised, or mention the major experiences of their life, or simply act is if there was no other way to believe in the first place — “That’s just the way things are.” Very few people would tell you that they believe what they believe because they deliberately choose to believe so. That they curate their beliefs the same way a finely dressed businessman has every suit in his wardrobe carefully tailored to fit him best and reflect the larger desire of who he wants to be.
That is exactly the sort of relationship I’m wanting to help you create with your beliefs right now.
Understanding Your Beliefs
The very act of describing your beliefs simply reduces them to a sound bite. To truly understand how your beliefs are shaping your life you need to look at the thoughts and habits that stem from them.
For instance, when somebody blames me for something bad, I get confrontational and deflect / defend against what they’re saying because I have a strong desire to feel good about myself and love who I am. That habit probably stems from a belief that, “People aren’t lovable when they’re doing bad things, therefore it’s very important that I don’t do bad things, convince others that what I’m doing isn’t bad, and attempt to correct people who are doing bad things to me by withdrawing my love from them and pointing out the wrongness of what they’re doing in hopes that they’ll correct it.”
That belief probably stems from a childhood of being praised when I did something that adults approved of, and punished when I strayed too far from their definition of good. But understanding where a belief comes from usually does very little to help you shift or release it. To actually change our beliefs we simply need a model that allows us to work with them.
Working with Your Beliefs
When we use terms like “belief system” we often make the problem out to be bigger than it really is. Beliefs themselves are simply something you’ve come to accept about the way things are. In that sense they’re perfectly harmless — because accepting is a positive, inclusive act. The question is, “do the habits and thoughts that stem from this belief fit who you’re wanting to experience yourself as in this moment?”
From that perspective, beliefs are not really a system, they’re like your wardrobe. A collection of things you have regular access to, that you combine in ways that seem fitting to you based on what you’re planning to experience next; knowing that you can always change if you discover that your expectations were off and something else would better fit the occasion.
Of course, over the years you grow, and some beliefs no longer fit as well as they used to; so you prune and expand upon your collection of beliefs based on how you currently see yourself and the world. Just like discovering an outfit no longer fits you, and eventually replacing it with a new one that fits the evolved you in style and size.
I like this analogy because it allows you to work with your beliefs in a way that you can easily understand. They’re no longer these deep-seeded psychological things that your past has more control over than your present. They’re a collection of things you’ve acquired over your past that you can easily manage in a way that serves your present. All it requires is occasionally looking in the mirror and noticing how your current beliefs make you look and feel. Then it’s just a matter of allowing yourself to wear the ones that feel best more often, while accepting that you may choose to keep a few beliefs that no longer fit you perfectly rather than feel naked and ill-equipped in that area of your life.
Dress for Success
The goal isn’t to get rid of your old beliefs, but to allow yourself to outgrow them. You’ll eventually be ready to replace the beliefs that no longer fit you with new ones that inspire and delight you. Until then, just let everything you experience in the interim help sharpen that image of who you ultimately want to be. Before long you will grow your wardrobe, piece by piece, into something that reflects and enables all that you want to be. There will be no occasion for which you are unable to prepare yourself, no event that’s out of your league, and no environment in which you cannot thrive.
Your beliefs can enable you to be everything you want to be, or limit you to more of what you’ve already known. You get decide what fit you like best. There’s no wrong answer and no one can know what’s best for you but you. So have fun, experiment, live a little. You’ll look back at old beliefs like decade-old snapshots and probably laugh at who you were; but at least you allowed yourself to live and discover who you ultimately want to be.