Most beliefs that are composing our belief systems originated from the meaning we gave events that occurred in our lives. Once we attribute a certain meaning and hold a belief about the world or ourselves as the Truth we consistently seek evidence to prove this belief true. Before we know it, these beliefs integrate the background of our daily thoughts. Imperceptibly, we build our entire approach to life and mindset around these beliefs.
Some of these beliefs can be painfully restricting and confine us into unnecessary fears. Some even say that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. We are utterly convinced the world is a certain way. We continuously supplement this belief with what we hold for evidence, shut down all other possibilities and it becomes a cognitive bias.
As open-minded as we would like to think we are we all have biases. They are the result of an automatized association. This way we process a massive number of pieces of information faster. It is a natural way our brain has to form conclusions. The only problem is that when there is a bias, the conclusion is slightly or hugely slanted. The only way to rectify biases is to become aware of them and that is the hardest part. Identifying biases as well as identifying any one of our beliefs requires a lot of awareness and a thorough work of inquiry. Undoubtedly, it would be a colossal task to submit all and every thought to such a process.
Nonetheless, an indispensable place to investigate is the belief system we apply to ourselves. To wholeheartedly question what we hold to be true about ourselves has the potential to give us access to immense progress in our personal growth. Why? Because a number of beliefs we have about ourselves hold us back. They feed fear and self-doubt. We believe ourselves to be too much “this” or that we cannot do “that”. We hold on strongly to that belief because it provides us with an excuse for not being more successful for instance or happier. The way we operate within our belief system is comparable in many ways to the filter bubble; we find more of what we came across or looked for in previous researches on the Internet. Our mind tends to work in the same way.
Definitely, our most deeply entrenched beliefs are the hardest to beat. The longer we lived with them and the more real they seem to us even when they defy plain logic. Here is an example: I was reflecting on my experience on quitting smoking as I was answering a question on Quora about what was a major realization in my life. Aside from realizing that my smoking habit proceeded greatly as a coping mechanism to manage my emotions and that it would more certainly affect my health than dealing with the emotion itself, I recollected the fight I had to put up with myself to believe I could quit smoking.
The struggle was not so much in dealing with the chemical addiction. It had more to do with picturing myself as never smoking again. I could not believe I could “survive” without ever smoking again. I had all the evidence on how damageable to my health my habit was. I was clear on the toll it was taking on my finances. Yet, for the longest time, I could not convince myself I could be free from my smoking habit. My belief that I could not quit remained stronger until I challenged the deeper and more hidden beliefs I had about myself. Our own beliefs have a strong hold on us, especially when we are unaware of them.
Furthermore, the beliefs others have about us may just as well hold us back. Have you ever noticed how you are more easily irritated in the presence of certain relatives? Especially when they persist in categorizing you a certain way or that they endlessly bring up that same anecdote from the time you were four years old for instance? There is an amazing and sometimes frightening freedom in finding yourself in an environment devoid of any individual who knows anything about you. Travel in a foreign country, in a complete different frame of reference and you will surprise yourself. You may even think “so and so would never believe I am doing this!” That is one major added value in traveling. Encountering different cultures and people is also a lot about discovering oneself all over again. It expands your mind and brings renewed insight on your what you may take for granted and hold as obvious on your skills, views, and approach to life.
Yes, it is egocentric to a degree. I say there is no virtue in denying oneself. On the contrary, I think there is great value in knowing oneself well. How else can you evolve and develop without an honest and accurate assessment of yourself? And if you are ignorant of your traits how can you relate and connect with the world that surrounds you? Rigorous honesty is challenging. Yet, it is indispensable to live in reality. Our beliefs tend to lull us away from reality. They distort our perceptions. We bend our interpretations to fit our belief system. We come to confuse our beliefs with evidence. We consistently pay attention to what reinforces our beliefs. The meaning we attribute to events is one of the sources to our beliefs.
All this to say that there is great value in questioning our belief system. It gives us keys to expand beyond our limitations. It is hard to let go of certitudes, even if they are unfounded. We pride ourselves in having answers and we fear to appear dumb or inadequate if we fail to produce an answer. We think it may come off as weakness if we seem undecided. For some of us admitting that we do not know something feels downright shameful. Sometimes we want to be right at all cost or we assume that there is only one way.
Let me share these words:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
Rumi – 13th century
We may feel very passionate about a certain issue. Just taking a moment to pause and think what we are basing this feeling on and question the origin of our position. Fact checking may be tricky at times as well. What sources are we using? Where is the piece of information coming from and how reliable is it. Without entering in the detail or in any form of debate on where the Truth may be I merely invite you to challenge the point of origin of the emotions you experience or the thoughts that are crossing your mind.
There were some beliefs that I held for true. Questioning them and checking in with their relevancy has freed up a lot of space in my mind to open to other views and grow as a person. It does not mean that I buy into everything I hear or that I change my position on certain issues based on what the last person said. I have fundamental views and ideas that I am glad to enrich with additional nuances of reasoning or inspirations from external sources. I merely find it indispensable to go check in once in a while with the thoughts that participate in building my belief system. I may observe that it is merely that, a belief. It is not a fact. It is not a universal truth. It can be opposed by contradictory examples. Then it is for me to decide what I want to do with that belief.
What is the purpose of challenging one’s belief system? Empowerment for one thing. If I free myself from my limiting beliefs I have access to a more proactive approach to life. If I believe economy sucks and there are no opportunities for my career I will most likely maintain a passive and whiny attitude combined with little to no action. Also, freeing oneself from the hold of certain beliefs opens up new avenues of thinking. The mind expands and where the mind goes the body follows and so do our actions and attitudes towards life in general.
Also, do you have pleasure having a conversation with a person who knows it all and who will just raise their voice when you merely venture an idea of your own? Did you ever witness a conversation where someone is in agreement with you yet they have to be “more right”. It is just sign they are not listening. If there is no listening then there is no exchange. We grow from connection. There is no way around it. When we hold on tight to our beliefs we deprive ourselves of a possible opportunity for growth.
In order to grow we have to be willing to bridge our knowledge gaps, be curious and inquisitive about the world that surrounds us as well as ourselves. The exercise of challenging our beliefs has for result to build trust in ourselves. Instead of solely relying on a belief, which places us more often than not on the effect side of the cause/effect equation, we are empowering ourselves in gaining awareness on what we do and why we interact with the world the way we do. As we gain a clearer understanding we have more choices and that places us on the cause side of the equation. This empowerment leads to more confidence and therefore to more trust and peace with life.