Believe It or Not: What are Beliefs and How We Can Change Them
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
"Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words;
Your words become your actions; your actions become your habits;
Your habits become your values; your values become your destiny".
– Mahatma Gandhi
Each of us has beliefs greatly influenced by the society we live in and by the people around us most of the time. Although we are all part of this one big nation, our individuality sets us apart from others, even with the same beliefs from the same civilization we belong to in the long run. Each view is interpreted and "believed" by all of us that may or may not be the same as other members of our society.
With that being said, what are beliefs? What are some of the types we usually believe in? And how can we change them if they are not necessarily – essential?
What are Beliefs?
As defined and derived from numerous sources, a belief is an attitude towards something, a case or proposition about this world we live in is valid. When we believe something, we take this something to be accurate and make recommendations related to what we believe is true. For example, acknowledging the existence of 'snow' can also assume that we think that 'snow is white.'
These beliefs have become vast and can be categorized into different ways, shapes, and forms throughout time. Although still arguable to some, these are two of the most common classifications of beliefs:
One of the most common types of belief we have as humans, religious beliefs center around faith towards an almighty being, usually proclaimed by a specific religion. With religions as belief systems, humanity relates to spirituality and moral values, too. Most, if not all of us, have a particular religion we believe in, hence, our religious beliefs. The belief of some Christians that wearing a cross symbolizes their faith is an example of a religious belief.
Superstitious beliefs are practices that seem to be of no rational substance. People who believe these imply that they have particular knowledge or definitive evidence that confirms these beliefs come from their own scientific, philosophical, or even religious vindications. Such an ambiguous term, superstitions can only be used subjectively and may differ per person or society.
Although there may still be other ways of classifying beliefs, these two mostly dominate our ways of living; we need to assess the truthfulness behind every idea we pattern our lives. Though these may bear something good, more often than not, these beliefs have negative implications.
Why Do We Believe?
Beliefs are assumptions we have and hold to be true. Since our beliefs stem from our own experiences, we think that these beliefs have been founded on reality. But in fact, our experiences are the ones that shape these beliefs and not the other way around. The more we have a false sense that our beliefs would dictate our lives, the more we lose the reality of what needs to happen.
The beliefs we usually have influence three (3) aspects of our lives. These aspects can be actual to some but may not be for all. These aspects include:
One aspect our beliefs affect is our behavior. If we tend to believe we can do good, we most likely will do. Contrary to popular belief that being overconfident could backfire, research suggests this trait is beneficial and can work wonders for us. Overconfident people can appear to have more social skills and at the top of the social status, one way or another.
Other people's behavior
Our beliefs can affect our realities by influencing our behavior and transcend other people, from our loved ones down to strangers we stumble upon every day. When we behave a certain way because of how our beliefs guide us, it indirectly affects others in the process. Being sensitive to our surroundings can be challenging, especially for views that have become a staple in our everyday lives. Still, we can never go wrong with at least trying to tune with society in general.
Beliefs matter as well, as much as multiple interacting factors like diseases, genetics, environmental toxins, trauma, and socioeconomic circumstances affect our health. If we believe that we can age and survive as long as we want, we usually go towards a healthy living route greatly influenced by our beliefs growing up. If it's the other way around, the more we surround ourselves with negative thoughts, the more we succumb easier than those who think otherwise.
Believing That We Can Change Them
Knowing that beliefs are more mental than physical, having the right mindset can make a difference in gearing our lives towards something better than what we had when we believed something that has only led us towards negativity. As subjective as this change can be, here are four (4) general ways we can change in terms of our beliefs:
Socratic Questioning Method
Developed from the works of Socrates, this method is typically used in teaching and counseling since it exposes and unravels our deeply held values and beliefs that greatly dictate how we think and say things. Using focused yet open questions, we can unpack our thoughts and those of others and determine whether these beliefs help us or not, allowing us to retain what is useful and eliminate what is no longer essential. This method leads us to a less distressing belief. It also helps us generate alternative explanations that could widen the way we think and help us become more adaptive, and be encouraged to reflect on facts more forensically.
Cognitive restructuring is considered an effective technique and can help us change how we think and what we believe. We can reformat how we believe certain things and gear it to our advantage while still staying to the origins of why we thought them.
Some benefits of this include:
Arriving at new conclusions ourselves
Provides us answers head-on
More aggressive than other approaches
With cognitive restructuring, we can still hold on to a belief, but not as much as how it affected us before.
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy
Also known as REBT, this method uses an argument with another person to pull out what they are thinking, leading to a scenario of having no evidence or what they call disputation. While others find this quite offensive, some find it compelling and respond well to it. By harboring a particular belief that continuously plagues us, this method can uncover and set us free using the same idea that hinders us from moving forward.
Cognitive Continuum to Modify Maladaptive Beliefs
Usually done for those who believe they are complete failures; Cognitive Continuum Theory is a strategy for critically examining and ultimately modifying all-or-nothing beliefs. This method compares the subject to genuinely failing, reducing that sense of the view that we are failures and re-validating our worth and self-perception to a certain extent but usually leaning towards great results.
"Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is".
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
At the end of it all, no one can ever dictate what we want to believe in and how these beliefs affect our lives. We are the masters of our own lives. But it does not take much effort to examine these beliefs and determine if they really help gear us towards a prosperous future or if they make no sense and can only do us no good. Having a true sense of who we are based on our beliefs and influence on what can make or break us, let's try to be self-observant and evaluative, so we come across good to others as we believe what we believe.