Your beliefs and misbeliefs do not have to define you.
Imagine you’ve believed something to be true for the majority of your life. It’s easy to imagine this because, well, it’s literal. We grow up learning beliefs and then establish each of them as truth. These beliefs help us to understand our environment daily. From the colours we see in the world to the bread we eat, our established beliefs help define everything in our world. They even determine who we believe ourselves to be.
But is that a good thing? Should every belief we’ve established as truth that has helped define who we are and what we experience stay with us for a lifetime? Let’s explore.
Let’s start with a relatively agreed-upon truth: the sky is blue to the human eye. From the moment you looked up at the sky at a young age and understood it to be blue, that belief succinctly became your reality. You probably don’t even remember the moment you made the connection. The sky is blue, and that is the truth you’ve known for a lifetime.
I’m not here to debunk the belief for you. The sky is blue for me, too. Colourblind people have trouble seeing blue, but that’s not what I’m here to say, either. Instead, let’s think about how believing the sky to be blue has affected your life.
You know the sky to be blue. When you see blue skies, you know that the sun is out. When you don’t see blue skies, you know you’re looking at clouds, perhaps a storm, pollution or the night sky. You make decisions based on all of these conditions. When you don’t see a blue sky, you might put on a jacket to go for a walk. But when you see the blue sky, you may decide it’s time for laying out at the beach—or going for a stroll with Taco, your Goldendoodle.
This concept seems elementary, but here’s the more profound meaning. When you believe that the sky is blue, that helps define your expectations of the day. It helps define specific actions you do or other beliefs about the weather. And that is one simple, straightforward belief.
Let’s talk politics. I can see you cringing on the other end of these words, and I understand why. Politics is an emotional topic (especially in certain cultures, the United States, for example). Imagine what happens if we take a deeper dive into this more potent belief.
Your political beliefs were more than likely instilled in you from a young age. A parent or role model figure modelled specific ideas for you, and you learned that to understand and control your environment better, these beliefs fit you, as well. As you got older, these beliefs became more solid in your mind. You realised that having these beliefs allowed you to make better connections to people with similar views. You felt better seeing those who didn’t have the same opinion as you shunned. You started to see that the beliefs you hold as true would make a better world. If only everybody would listen and agree with you, the world would be a better place.
Practice with a Politician
Let’s take a moment to do a practice test. Think of the person who believes in the opposite of your political beliefs. This person could be someone like Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Scott Morrison, Justin Trudeau. You could even think of someone from before your time: Karl Marx, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler… The truth is, every single one of these people were raised with beliefs, too. They believe their truths as more valid than any others.
I am not validating any politician for their ideas and misbeliefs. What some of these politicians have done is downright inhumane. But the point is this: we all have beliefs, and we individually believe them to be the highest truth. And our brain will come up with excuses to keep believing them. Why? Because these beliefs helped us define the world around us. In essence, they become part of our very soul. These beliefs helped define us, our moral code and our understanding of how we fit into the larger group.
You, my friend, do the same thing. Every day you wake up, you go out into the world with these beliefs. As hard as it is to believe, you were not born with these beliefs. And yet, they define your friendship circle, your relationships, your work, and your passions. They determine where you live in the world and the things you buy. They define everything in your life.
In theory, if all your beliefs were authentically the highest truth, you would experience no conflict. Your beliefs have worked to control your environment and keep you safe from harm (physically or emotionally). So why, then, do we sometimes struggle? Why is it that there are certain aspects of our life that we do not like? Or even downright hate? From a partner that aggravates you to no end, or a job that’s getting you nowhere in your career, the outside world is butting up against you, and it’s downright frustrating.
It’s true; the world is attacking your beliefs: the beliefs your brain painstakingly set up to help you understand, define and control your environment. Other people are attacking your beliefs because they also have beliefs that help them understand, define and control their environment. Humans create chaos amongst each other every day, not realising that the culprit is our differences in beliefs.
How can we fix it? How can you start to live in harmony with people who have a different belief system than you? How can you live a life more fully aligned with the world around you so that you experience less conflict?
The first step is to become aware of your beliefs. Spend time in your day reflecting on them. Take each daily activity you do and ask yourself, does this activity serve me? Is it causing conflict in my life?
You’ll start to become aware of the activities that cause conflict. Usually, it involves interactions with other people (which we have a lot of). If a person in your life (or through a device) is aggravating you, take some time to question why. What belief of yours are they attacking?
The Always Late Friend
For instance, let’s say you have a friend who always is late to your meetups. This lateness bothers you. Ask yourself why. It could be because you believe that showing up on time means you respect other people’s time. When a friend doesn’t hold up that belief, you think that she is disrespectful of you. That doesn’t feel good. But what if she never established that belief in herself that being late is a sign of disrespect? What if she grew up with a Mom and Dad who were always late, so she knows no differently?
Now here’s your chance to lessen the aggravation her lateness causes you. There are a few ways you can do this while honouring both of your belief systems.
- Tell your friend honestly how it feels to you when she is late. She doesn’t need to explain herself (because it’s her belief system she needs to work through), but you can certainly show up with your belief. Ask her if she’d be willing to show up on time for you. If she chooses to show up on time, that’s saying something. If she still is late, move on to step 2.
- In your own time away from your friend, come up with three other reasons your friend could be late, other than “being disrespectful of me.” You’ll find that other people’s actions are never about you, but very much about them. Next time she’s late, reflect on these three other possible reasons. Accept them as possible truths. Knowing that her delay has nothing to do with you, the lateness won’t aggravate you as much.
- It’s clear this friendship means something to you because you keep showing up to meetups, even if it has been aggravating you. So turn it around. If your friend is perpetually late, then start bringing a book or grab a coffee while you wait. Even if she’s late to a restaurant, go ahead and order a drink at the bar and relax. Prioritise you. She’ll show up when she’s able.
Your Beliefs Do Not Have to Define You
It’s that simple. If you are feeling frustrated in your life, that is a chance for reflection on your belief system. Often it is not other people’s actions that cause our pain; it’s our beliefs surrounding that behaviour that causes our pain. So it’s okay to question those beliefs.
Remember, you were not born with these beliefs. Every belief you have can shift, change, evolve and grow. You don’t need to change every belief (for example, believing the sky is blue is quite valid), but it is worth taking a look at the thoughts that are stirring up frustration and pain in your life. These are the beliefs that are holding you back from the life you truly want.
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