Every month Colin and I agree on a topic and when it came to choosing this one I made the big mistake of thinking it would be easy to write about. I mean doesn’t everyone know what a belief is including myself?

Well, it turns out it was not so easy and in fact probably the most challenging topic to date. In hindsight, I’m not surprised and even though it has taken a little longer, it has been so worth it.

To start off with, what is a belief other than an individual or collective perception of fundamental truths which govern behaviour. The key word here is ‘perception’ as this implies perceived truths which are subjective. Another way of saying this is that a belief includes all that we deem to be true despite either evidence to the contrary or a total lack of any evidence. If this is so, then it means that there are many beliefs which are so deeply ingrained as to be hidden from our conscious mind, thus forming part of who we unthinkingly believe we are and how the world works.

You have probably heard that our lives are a sum total of what we believe in. This is a very powerful knowing especially in light of how many unconscious beliefs may be in the driver seat of our personality and behaviour.

How important is this knowing in terms of our every day life especially when it comes to decision making? In essence, we go about our lives assuming the causal relationships of the past, which led to the belief itself forming, still applies into the future. In a rapidly changing world where complexity is increasing day by day, operating on the default mode of using information from the past to make decisions about the future, may not be the best way forward. This then means, it is so important that we never stop enquiring, questioning and testing our assumptions and beliefs. We cover this ‘belief making process’, in Beyond Thinking, and a snapshot of this can be found in Peter Senge’s Ladder of Inference.

Beliefs are contextual: They arise from learned experiences, resulting from the cultural and environmental situations we have faced. For example, an event happens, we make an assumption and suddenly we have bought a story hook, line and sinker. We mistakenly think we have experienced a factual representation of reality, when in actuality, we experienced perceptual reality – highly personalised circumstances which where interpreted through all the sense making filters we have learned to trust over the years. These filters give meaning to what is being experienced and are also known as cognitive bias.

We are drawn to details that confirm our existing beliefs and by the same token we have a tendency to ignore details that contradict our beliefs. We also notice things that are already primed in memory or repeated often.

It is clear then that belief making includes cognitive and neurological function, both of which developed in an evolutionary framework which included adaptation, social structures, linguistic frameworks and meaning making cognition. Belief making is a multifaceted phenomenon which needs to be understood in a holistic context.

To help us understand this further is Dr. Michael Shermer whose book ‘The Believing Brain’ describes our innate abilities as follows:-

“We can’t help believing. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen.

As Shermer says, “In the end, all of us are trying to make sense of the world, and nature has gifted us with a double-edge sword that cuts for and against. On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but of understanding the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature”.

Isn’t it time you got to better understand the amazing brain you have and the power you hold through your mind to cultivate the beliefs that best support the fullest expression of your life and living? Here’s a useful work sheet for working with your Core Beliefs: https://www.theranest.com/resources/self-esteem/core-beliefs/

It starts with You!