What is a Belief?
A Belief is a Thought
A belief is “mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something.” (dictionary)
Our beliefs feel to us as if they are a mirror of the world, our interpretation from observing things the way they are. But quantum physics and experience teach us that “reality” encompasses infinite possibilities and that out beliefs, therefore, are more accurately described as an idea or a story we tell ourselves. Our beliefs often describe “a cause-and-effect chain” of how we think the world works. (See more in the quote below.)
In short, a belief is a strongly held thought. It is an acceptance, trust, confidence, or conviction in the validity of something. It’s a proposition that we accept as representing the way the world actually is.
Our Beliefs Become Our Lens of Perception
Beliefs become the perceptual lens though which we filter experience and information.
We naturally notice evidence that supports the belief, often making us think that we actually “know” or can “prove” the truth of our belief when in fact, beliefs are perspectives, which are not universal.
Beliefs can have various outcomes: they can help us to accept the unknown, or they can limit potential and cause pain.
In my experience, what you believe is far more important than what others might convince you as being true. When I was sick, I was stuck in the middle of two truths. While going through conventional medicine, the holistic healing practitioners I had also been seeing believed I was committing suicide. However, when I immersed myself in the holistic approach, my medical doctors believed I was killing myself by giving up on the medical approach. Hearing these two different ‘truths’ had me constantly worrying that I was making the wrong choice. Meanwhile, I became sicker and sicker – mostly from the stress and fear of not knowing which choice to make! I eventually got so sick that I died… While I was on the other side I learned that it wasn’t that either practice was objectionably the correct choice. In the end, the only thing that mattered were MY beliefs about what was good for my body. I needed to believe that I was doing the right thing, that my body was strong and that I was on the right path.
… Belief seems to be what shapes your truth. It doesn’t matter what type of treatment we do or refuse to do, it’s about believing in the power of our bodies, believing we have purpose, and having a passion for our lives. In other words… your beliefs are what shapes your truth!– Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me), Email Dec 31, 2021
Story in Your Head with a Cause-and-Effect Chain
A belief is a story in your head, a cause-and-effect chain, like a recipe or rule for action. The basic recipe looks like this: If you have a need, then look for a belief that provides a rule for action to get the result you want.”(1) If you feel lonely (need), then seek company (belief). If you follow this belief, go hang out with a friend (action) and feel less lonely (result), then your belief has been validated.– Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, Do Your Beliefs Hold You Back or Propel You Forward?
Beliefs are Ideas That Can Shield the Truth
Most people do not recognize that the beliefs that bind them to their version of reality are simply ideas and that these ideas could shield them from truth.– Paul Marko Ph.D.
Beliefs Become the Lens Through Which We Filter Experience & Information
If I perceive myself as not good enough, stupid, intelligent, ugly, annoying, gorgeous, slim, or fat, that’s not the absolute truth; it’s just what I believe to be right. That’s nothing but thought, a representation of my opinion of who I am. The same thing is valid when I let people tell me what they think about me. In reality, I am as I am. What people see in me is a matter of self-perception, filtered through their own lenses, and it has nothing to do with me. Take beauty, for example. It’s a norm. In the Eastern-European culture that raised me, beautiful generally associates with being slim, so some people could think I am overweight. However, during my trip in India years ago, I was suggested to gain some weight.– Sara Fabian, Tiny Buddha, I Will Not Be Put in a Box: I Am Not What I Do, Own, Think, or Feel
How Beliefs are Formed
Primary Ways That Beliefs are Formed
- Natural Biological & Psychological Development — As Dr. Bruce Lipton explains in the quote and video below, many beliefs were formed before the age of seven as a result of nature’s way of socializing a child.
- Community — Beliefs that are passed on from family and community are deeply powerful because humans are innately aware of the need to be part of a group. (Kate Morgan)
- Personal Experience — Beliefs will often be based on personal experience, despite the fact that personal experience is an extremely limited part of the entire realm of possibility and truth. A primary way that beliefs are formed is through projecting that because something happened to us in the past, we believe (perhaps unconsciously) that the same thing will happen in the future.
- Cognitive Bias (Systematic Errors in Thinking) — “Cognitive biases are often a result of your brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. Biases often work as rules of thumb that help you make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed.” (Kendra Cherry)
- Repetitive Thinking — We come to believe what we repeatedly tell ourselves (a habit), often an unconscious process.
The Fundamental Programs of the Subconscious are Not Yours
The subconscious mind has fundamental programs of life that we acquire from our parents, our family and our community between the last trimester of pregnancy and the first seven years of life. Nature created [this process]… to download how to be a member of a family, a society and a culture by strictly observing other people. It’s actually a brain function that’s the equivalent of hypnosis. So the fundamental programs of the subconscious are not yours.– Dr. Bruce Lipton, 4 Simple Strategies to Reprogram Your Mind
Created in Our Early Years of Development
Such patterns… get created in our early years of development by subconsciously believing we will be more liked by others if we are more like others. This creates a psychological cocoon of human conditioning for the soul to inhabit until it is ready to awaken and expand into the light of its highest potential. Suffice it to say, the ego is the limiting beliefs, self-defeating choices, and narrow viewpoints of dormant consciousness.– Matt Kahn, Evolve from the Soul’s Perspective, The Braided Way
Cognitive Bias: Systematic Errors in Thinking
A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make. The human brain is powerful but subject to limitations. Cognitive biases are often a result of your brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. Biases often work as rules of thumb that help you make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed. Some of these biases are related to memory… Other cognitive biases might be related to problems with attention.– Kendra Cherry, verwellmind.com, What Is Cognitive Bias?
We & Our Subconscious Can Be Wrong
Beliefs can easily be based on false propositions or misperceptions, and are often based on situations of the past that are no longer in effect. (source)
In other words, some of our beliefs (especially the unconscious ones) are wrong or no longer true.
We (or our subconscious which lives in a timeless space where we may still feel 9 years old) accept that our beliefs are true when in fact, they may be untrue, partially true, or true only in some circumstances but not others.
In this lesson, we dig into the subconscious. But let’s begin by acknowledging that a big part of freeing ourselves from unnecessary shackles is the ability to acknowledge being wrong or having incomplete information. Everyone is wrong at times throughout their lives, but as Kathryn Schulz eloquently explains in this excellent and fascinating 18-min video, we have been trained to fear being wrong.
Some beliefs are particularly deeply held and “firmly embedded in our thinking.”
These are called core beliefs as they have a significant effect on our reality and behavior.
Limiting core beliefs are usually formed during childhood or as the result of trauma to help us make sense of experiences out of our control. As a result, they’re almost always buried in the shadow which means they become a part of our subconscious programming.
Thus, to be freed from this past conditioning, we must learn to explore our subconscious.
Our Most Deeply Held Assumptions
Core beliefs are our most deeply held assumptions about ourselves, the world, and others. They are firmly embedded in our thinking and significantly shape our reality and behaviors. In fact, nothing matters more than our core beliefs. They are the root causes of many of our problems, including our automatic negative thoughts. Yet, core beliefs are precisely that: beliefs. Based on childhood assessments [or trauma], they are often untrue. They are also self-perpetuating. Like magnets, they attract evidence that makes them stronger, and they repel anything that might challenge them. But it is possible to change them… Their original function is to help us make sense of our formative experiences, but they can become unproductive or even harmful later in life… Harmful common core beliefs usually come in the form of absolutist “I am …,” “People are …,” and “The world is …” statements. Beliefs– Anna Katharina Schaffner PhD, PositivePyschology.com, Core
Example of a Core Belief We Can Uncover
For example, I believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I know this is not true but the emotional attachment to that belief results in responses like “Thanks, I got this,” when unsolicited offers of help come my way. I can trace it back to watching the women in my family seemingly “do it all,” alone. The key word here, as you may have guessed, is “seemingly.” The women in my family could have used help but I never saw them ask for it… I’m left dealing with an emotional attachment to that belief (fear of dependency), which still impacts my behavior and quite possibly my emotional health… Once we become aware of a counter-productive core belief and recognize the emotional attachment, we can take steps to transform it.– Beth Gibbs, Yoga for Times of Change, Transforming Unhelpful Core Beliefs
Strongly Held Beliefs Imprison Us
Strongly held beliefs are in actuality one’s judge, jury and jailer, enforcing a sentence with no hope of parole; on the other hand, acquiring a new set of empowering beliefs and holding them loosely could be the grand liberator.– Paul Marko PhD
- Some core (deeply held, foundational) beliefs (based on past conditioning and experiences) can thwart individual growth (through thought patterns, actions and experiences). These are referred to as limiting beliefs.
- Examples: Everyone I love will leave me. If I put myself out there, people will laugh at me. It’s weak to ask for help. I’m ugly. I’m unlovable. It’ll never work because… Men should be… Women should be… I can’t… I’m not smart enough to…
Why This is Important
Understanding how beliefs are formed (particularly the role of the subconscious), and the incredible power they wield, is fundamental to truth and discernment. Uncovering subconscious beliefs and changing those that don’t support you are critical practices in the pursuit of truth.
Unconscious Agendas Can Sabotage Your Intention
If hidden reservations or unconscious agendas lurk under the surface of your psyche, they can sabotage the arrow of your intention… That’s true whether your [goal] is to attract the perfect partner, to expand your business, or to go deeper in your yoga practice. So, at the beginning of an intentional process, it’s important to face your own reservations, feelings of not quite deserving what you think you want, or simply unprocessed emotions.– Sally Kempton, Yoga Journal, Letting Go of the Past
Why Do We Have Limiting Beliefs?
- Every human being (whether in the most comfortable or the most unsafe environment) has adapted in numerous ways to simply feel safe and to survive.
- Every place has its rules and expectations (from families, social constructs, culture, religion, etc) that must be followed in order to be accepted. Since small humans instinctively know they must be accepted in order to survive, they adapt to those around them.
- Many such adaptations can be contrary to our organic temperament. In an effort to make sense of the disconnect between our inner and outer experience, we develop beliefs. Perfection is required in order to be loved. Being independent is dangerous.
- As in the examples given throughout this lesson, many unconscious beliefs are widespread. We can deduce that they are a part of the collective unconscious, representing beliefs that many humans have been indoctrinated with.
- We are like the elephants who were captured when they were young and don’t realize they can now pull out the stakes which are holding them captive. We maintain the same adaptations and beliefs we learned at a young age, even though they no longer serve us.
The Common Belief That Things Just Aren’t Possible for Us
I unwittingly blocked myself off from any opportunities that might have shown up for me to seize that dream. I convinced myself that such things were for other people… not for the likes of me. Sound familiar? And it wasn’t just travel and living abroad. I closed myself off from so many of the things I most desired. I just didn’t believe they were possible.
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” ~Richard Bach
Why the heck do we do that? Back then I got really really good at telling the story of my limitations. I wasn’t wealthy enough, I wasn’t courageous enough, I wasn’t talented enough… yada yada yada. This is really the crux of why YOU might think it’s impossible to reinvent yourself. Why it seems so unattainable create something new and exciting in your life. Those thoughts and beliefs, those inflexible stories you’ve been telling yourself for years and decades… you’ve wired those into your neural pathways. There’s good news though: You can rewire your brain!– Sarah Grace Powers, What Do You Believe is Possible?
Many Unconscious Beliefs are Widespread
When I started to let go of these ideas, the inner peace became the background, and the noise became what would visit and leave. Here are nine unconscious beliefs about life that get in the way of our inner peace.
“I need to be doing something right now.” …
“When I get what I want I will be happy.” …
“Finding inner peace is difficult.” …
“If I express my emotions honestly people will think I’m weak.” …
“If people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like it.”…
“I should be happier right now.” …
“Not being the best me isn’t good enough.” …
“I owe the world.” …
“There was a time in my past that absolutely sucked.” …
All of this is okay. These beliefs took a lifetime of conditioning to cement themselves in our minds, so it’s only right they should take a little time and effort before they’re able to be completely let go.– Benjamin Fishel, Tiny Buddha, 9 Beliefs You Have to Let Go If You Want to Find Inner Peace
Sources & Resources
See here for a list of sources and resources for the entire Beliefs section.