Belief System – Our Comfort Zone

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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Belief System – Our Comfort Zone

  1. I have a contradictory view on “Belief systems are established by ourselves to protect our ego and satisfy ourselves.”

    As far as my understanding goes, beliefs are result of our experiences with life right from the childhood, the deliberation we do over a thought and social structure around us.

    We do not establish beliefs for us, but the environment around us.

    If we take this view, then I don’t think it would be then very difficult to reform our beliefs and in turn ourselves.

    • Abhishek,

      Firstly, thanks for visiting my blog.

      I don’t see any contradiction between our views. We both are on the same page. Yes, Belief systems are a result of our experiences. But, Belief systems are established by ourselves to satisfy the disconnect between our expectations and the realities of the world (in other words, to satisfy our ego and ourselves). We either make our own belief systems or we adopt belief systems from other people. In either case, the reason to do so is to satisfy ourselves.

      Suppose an individual set some goals, but if he/she hasn’t achieved it, then the individual will start to set some belief systems of self-doubt,etc. In this case, the BS is not necessarily influenced by the enironment. Some of our belief systems are loose and conscious (like the affection towards or fear from a dog), while some of them are unconscious. However, one can gain more control and tame the belief systems by observing oneself.

      Because one’s current belief systems influence one’s behavior and reasoning, the current belief systems also influence your future absorption of belief systems. As a child, people absorb belief systems without much inspection, but as we grow old we tend to be more conscious about our belief systems. But, until we delve into a high form of self-observation, there are many unconscious BS that influence one’s behaviour and thoughts.

      As you may be already aware of Sigmund Freud’s work of id, ego, and super-ego. Sigmund Freud mentions very beautifully of how a child develops ego as he grows old.

      Hope to see you more on this blog!

      – Sai

  2. Following is an example of how genes affect your behavior. It is picked from a Harvard blogpost – blogs.hbr.org/2014/01/the-relationship-between-anxiety-and-performance

    Research shows a strong correlation between your genetically conferred physiology and how likely you are to crack under stress. For instance, a person’s allotment of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates stress responses, among other things, is relatively fixed from birth, more a function of heredity than of learning. People high in NPY tend to be unusually psychologically resilient and resistant to breaking down in high-pressure situations.

    – Sai

  3. Sai, nice post. I liked the way youstructured it. To me the values and belief system comes from the experiences of life. Yes, the experiences as kid matter a lot, what you see then almost becomes your way of perceiving things. However, to me, it is tough but not impossible to change those attitudes. Yeah ego does come in, but then when you face reversals in life or your core hypothesis for the world comes under scanner, yeah there might be changes in the attitude. That’s how we gather experiences in life as we go on. (At least that’s how I perceive it). Nice article though. Very nice one.

    • Certainly, I agree with you. Belief systems can be changed with observation of our emotions (fear, pride, etc.) and where they are coming from. Most of the time the clash is in the following:

      1. How we want the environment to ideally respond?
      2. How the environment actually responds in reality?
      3. How we think we should ideally behave to get the expected response from the environment?
      4. How we actually behave in reality?

      Hope to see you more on this blog!

  4. It is a little tough to separate beliefs and values, as we intuitively feel that we use both of them to make decisions. Values are stuff like integrity, hard-work, etc. If you ask yourself, why do you believe in honesty, then you actually get into the underlying belief system that was established within you. May be your past experience in life proved that honesty is the best policy.

    So, to answer your question, values are not the same as belief systems. Values emerge from belief systems. May be we can say that values are a kind of short-cut belief systems. But, I feel BS is one level below to values.

    – Sai

  5. I am not convinced that values come our of belief systems. TO me, they seem to be the same. I read on Yahoo that values are your views on how things ought to be, whereas beliefs are your views on how things are. Still confused! Anyways, it is a good post amidst all the marketing posts. In today’s lifestyle, we generally don’t get time for introspection and self-healing. Continue to write more on self-help.

  6. Ya, I am a bit confused too. Need to think about it. The only thing I was saying was values are something like a belief system based on a belief system.

    Keep coming more to this blog.

    – Sai

  7. Normally, our responses go through our belief system. But, if we are repeating our response to a situation many times, then it gets hard-wired as a habit. A habit is more like a short-cut response. But, the original response actually comes from a belief system.

    I think a value is a positive habit. It is a positive response to a situation that one got habituated to. I feel so, as values are always referred in a positive context.

    – Sai

  8. I’d like to stick to the hypothesis that ‘values emerge out of beliefs’. Values are something that can be prioritized. If I give a person a set of values such as Honesty, Peace, Adventurous, Powerful, Liberty, winning, caring for the world etc.. and ask him to pick top 3 or rank them, he can do it. His priorities will allow you to predict his behaviour. Having said that a person may not be able to exhibit his values all the time. He needs a conducive environment to exhibit his values and his priorities may change and evolve over time. This peculiar characteristic of us gives birth to the concept of leadership. Leaders point to the values of individuals and match their values with others and put forth the common values to lead them. (Evident from Martin L King’s famous I have a dream Speech)

    Coming back to Beliefs, they are more like an ‘emotional records’ of our experiences. Whenever you face a situation, your mind will go back and check your record. But again here comes an unique capability of humans of showing an intellectual curiosity. With reason and logic we do act in different way hiding our inherent urges and respond to it in another way.

    Finally a situation often shows a character and may demand you to act in a certain way. It even hints you to act intelligently or with your moral or with both. But if you examine carefully there is always a trade-off and you can conclude which is more either logic or morality. I am deliberately avoiding examples so that you may consider your own examples in evaluating these.

  9. Yes, we do prioritize our values. Prioritization of values is something that I didn’t think of. (Learning) It’s a good point of view. I didn’t get your point on trade-off between logic and morality. Can you elaborate it?

  10. As kids we all are exposed to value system and morals in the society. We like some of them, identify ourselves with some of them, some things are forced on us and a few don’t just make any sense to us. Our childhood heroes and the stories we share about them with our friends are mostly the a manifestation or a living example of the ideals we believe in. Some of us might believe in miracles, some of us might think that being soft always helps, some of us might look at the world as a popularity show where you ought to impress any one and every one, some of us might believe that honesty is the best policy etc… Again prioritization of virtues also comes here. We adore something above all ideals and keep it close to our heart .

    However as we grow we get to see an imperfect world and realize glaring gaps in our hypothesis. We experience shock to begin with , this later transforms into Anger we would be angry with the society and the unfair world around us. Remember the first time you felt cheated and cursed the world around you. Then we resist, even here we think that our hypothesis or the value is correct but just it filed once. From here we graduate to the acceptance phase where we either take the world as is and swerve from our principle or decide to take on the world with the core beliefs of us. The way we accepted the reality dictates the way we make our choices. Again the strength of belief is a major factor. For, a belief that is deeply engrained will make us more strong and take on the world with a renewed vigor. (This has got nothing to do with the correctness and the acceptance of the belief or value by the world). The reprioritization of values and virtues comes here. Having said that, again, the circumstances might take the virtues and values away from us. “Ideals suit only a full stomach” you see.

    To me the trickiest thing here is that there is no fixed time limit for any of the phases and that complicates things. People move very quickly from shock phase to anger phase. However, some of us perpetually stay either in the anger or in the resist phases. That’s where you see a lot of unrest and friction in the world.

    I honestly believe that experiences you encounter in your lifetime actually shape you up very well, hence a person who takes the toughest beatings early in life grows wiser. We are what our experiences taught us.

  11. Thanks a lot for your comments.

    I loved your statement – “The way we accepted the reality dictates the way we make our choices”. You’ve phrased it very well, I am going to use it in this post.

    I don’t agree with your statement – “a person who takes the toughest beatings early in life grows wiser”. I think it depends on how the person takes those beatings. I guess one who learns from the beatings and one who observes oneself will probably have a better chance to gain some wisdom out of one’s experience. Also, I think gaining wisdom is of no use if the wisdom is not used to achieve better results. Sometimes, that brings me to this classic question: Is result of an event more important than the experience of the event?

    – Sai

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