Almost all human beings, except a few, are nothing but a set of belief systems. We develop our own personal system of beliefs. We all interpret the world with our own set of belief systems. Our belief systems shape our reasoning and behavior.
‘What you believe’ comes first and it leads to how you feel and act.
Beliefs are what people believe to be true, and that are not necessarily true. What we believe creates our reality, and contributes to the behavioral propensity. People believe that which is coherent with the prior beliefs. As a child, what you believe is influenced by what you see around, what is told to you as a tradition, and what authorities (parents, teachers, etc.) tell you is true. As you grow old, you demand for more evidence. People generally form belief systems based on evidence, tradition, authority, association, and revelation.
At any point of time, people have a natural tendency to believe things that are coherent with their existing set of truisms. In case of any friction or incoherence with the existing beliefs, one either challenges the evidence egoistically or s/he evaluates their beliefs and considers changing them. So, if you have a biased belief towards something already, then it is going to take a lot of evidence for you to change your belief or sometimes you probably will not change your belief, especially if it can potentially hurt your ego. Your earlier cache of beliefs are shaped by the significant people in your environment.
Belief systems are established by ourselves to protect our ego and satisfy ourselves. They are reasons we give ourselves to behave in a certain way in the real world. In fact, some psychologists even say that ego is nothing but a set of belief systems. An easily understood example is: As a child, if you were exposed to animals and shared love with them, then chances are you will love animals as an adult. The opposite holds true too. You give yourself extremely convincing reasons to love or hate animals, and to dance or not to dance impromptu in a discotheque. Your belief system is your comfort zone.
As we grow old, we tend to get an intuitive understanding of our belief systems. Like the above example, some belief systems are loose and conscious and you can separate them from yourself and observe them. But, each of us also have some core unconscious and pre-conscious belief systems that are so ingrained that it is a huge challenge to separate oneself (or one’s identity) from the belief system.
How do we establish belief systems?
Beliefs are not necessarily based on reality. Rather, they are based on your distinctive perceptions. When you have enough knowledge and experience of an idea so that it gives you a sense of certainty about it, you have a belief. That belief then takes the role of an ‘assumed truth’ in your life. Once a belief is established in your mind, it is common to develop tunnel vision around it. Since you believe ‘it is the answer’, you tend to rule out other possibilities and fore go any imagination on the subject. In this way, beliefs can act as an obstacle to more complete understandings.
Psychologists say that belief systems are mostly shaped in one’s early childhood, and the factors that influence belief systems are one’s genetic pre-disposition, parents, environment, education, life experiences, and upbringing. Within the first 6 years, a child already has strong belief systems and behaves with emotions of pride, fear, guilt, warmth,etc. to various situations and influences of the external world. These early belief systems not only influence your behavior, but they also influence how you absorb further belief systems. If you were bitten by a dog in your childhood, chances are you will never go near to a dog again in your life. Though the behavior is irrational, you have a very strong belief system that doesn’t allow you to change that belief system.
Ego develops as a mediator between your expectations and the realities of the outside world. – Sigmund Freud.
People respond to their belief system’s view or interpretation of the situation, and not the actual situation.
So, Are Belief Systems Good or Bad?
Belief systems direct your conscious and unconscious reasoning. Belief systems are productive and unproductive based on the goals you want to achieve. If the belief system is blocking you from being more productive and reaching your goal, then the belief system is unproductive and unhealthy. People can develop the ability to observe their belief systems and tame their belief systems for maximum productivity. Its about learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Unproductive belief systems block us from creating opportunities and from realizing our true potential. An example of an unproductive belief system could be an individual not able to ask for help. It definitely hinders an individual from being more effective.
Willingly or forcibly, most successful people and mentally strong people evaluate their core beliefs from time to time, and practice to tolerate discomfort. With time one gets more strong and habituated to get out of their comfort zones and break their belief systems.
How about living life with no belief systems at all?
With all due respect to those who can, lets leave it to the Yogis. Yes, the Yogis seem to have a way to achieve it, if one is interested. From my perspective, within my efforts, I always understood what they meant, but I could never quite devote myself and understand their means of achieving it. Moreover, some people delude themselves of not having a belief-system, when it in itself is one. Additionally, I feel that it is absolutely essential to have a belief system to drive our lives. I might be wrong in this point of view, but I intuitively feel that all actions are based on belief systems, and if we don’t have belief systems, we might not consciously drive our lives as we do.
Our Emotions point the way to our beliefs
The way we feel, emote, and act regarding something provides a tremendous insight into what we believe about that something. In this new year, let us observe the underlying belief systems and values of our emotions. Whenever you want or don’t want to do something ask yourself the true reason for it or for the emotion. The reason that follows unleashes the belief systems we have. For example, if one says – I can or cannot do X because… (belief system) or I am reacting like this because… (belief system) -, then the sentence that follows ‘because‘ is your belief system.
One final thought coined by my friend Subbu – “The way we accept reality dictates the way we make our choices”.
Hope you find this post useful. Thank you, and I wish you all a very Happy New Year 2014. 🙂