Your beliefs don’t happen to you, they come from you.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, you’ve chosen your beliefs. Your current beliefs started with curiosity and appeal, but have become increasingly solidified as you’ve gathered selective evidence to validate those beliefs — what psychologists call confirmation bias.
Consequently, your perception of the world is not objective, and never will be. To quote Dr. Stephen Covey, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are — or, as we are conditioned to see it.”
What you choose to believe about something, including yourself, has dramatic impacts. As Dr. Wayne Dyer has said, “When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.” If you choose to see the world a particular way, you have the power to change the world for good.
Choosing your beliefs in a global world
Up until the last few centuries, people’s belief systems mostly reflected their local society and culture. Thus, in previous generations and eras, people had limited freedom in deciding their own beliefs about themselves and the world.
Conversely, due to globalization, information democratization, and technological advancements, you have access to a global and even universal context. Thus, you are exposed to limitless ways to see yourself and the world around you.
This puts you in a very unique position in human history. With information and air-travel, you can consciously shape your worldview and external context to support that worldview.
You choose what you see and believe
Look at the image below. What do you see?
If you haven’t seen this picture before, you either see one of two images:
- A young and beautiful woman
- An old and haggard woman
The chin and jaw line of the young woman is the nose of the old woman. The left ear of the young woman is the left eye of the old woman. The young woman’s neck piece is the old woman’s mouth.
When first exposed to this image, most people only see one or the other, the old or young woman. Without the aid of someone else, it’s difficult to see the other image. However, after you come to see both, you can then choose which one you want to see.
In a similar way, when you grow up, you see yourself and the world a particular way, mostly based on the environmental influences of your parents and peers. However, as you grow into adulthood, you become increasingly responsible for developing your own belief system.
This reality is both empowering and paralyzing. With all of the options and opposing perspectives, how do you possibly choose what to believe?
Without question, you will be able to find loads of evidence to support any particular viewpoint. Of course, some evidence is more compelling than others.
Yet, even overwhelming evidence can still go against your gut feeling. For example, there is loads of evidence that starting a business is not a practical or even reasonable decision. After all, most businesses fail. Even still, many people choose to disbelieve this evidence and to selectively attend to opposing evidence.
Thus, rather than blind faith, you live in a world that demands you to choose which evidence to believe, and which evidence to disregard. If you are a person open to growth, you’ll often be forced to grapple with contradictory evidences. As F. Scott Fitzgerald has said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Though some view this as a weakness, it is actually a sign of incredible humility, openness, and even leadership.
A rule of thumb for me is to be wary of social values, which are constantly in flux. To quote Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Just because the masses agree with something doesn’t mean that’s the best approach to life. Indeed, most people have very limited and limiting views of themselves and the world. Without question, the world’s most successful people see the world strikingly different than the average person.
Being selectively uninformed
Not all information is created equal. Most information, in fact, is complete garbage. To quote historian Dr. Patrick Mason, “If we have existential questions, we can’t be satisfied with blog-level answers.” As Mason explains, the internet has spoiled us in this regard: simple searches produces simple answers.
Once you become a conscious learner, you’ll embrace being selectively uninformed. For example, 99% of the stuff in your Facebook news feed is a wasteful distraction. Yet, you maintain your Facebook because you don’t want to miss the 1% of important things, like the death of a loved one. Thus, you consciously decide to consume loads of worthless information to be informed of a few important things.
The same is true of the news. Most of the information is unimportant to your personal life. Yet, some people waste hours getting mostly useless and irrelevant information in order to get a few relevant nuggets.
The same is true of email. We glue ourselves to our email, rather than outsourcing or scheduling. For example, I have a friend who is a successful business owner. She is way more informed regarding the comings and going of her business than she wants to be. She doesn’t want to be as informed as she is, but she feels a need to make sure everything is running perfect. She mentioned that 1/20 times when reviewing the work of an employee, she finds a problem.
She’s recently decided that the freedom of not being informed is worth missing that 1-in-20 problem. The amount of time and mental energy she’s freed up by not spending several hours per week reviewing her employee’s work is worth enormously more than the cost of the errors her employees occasionally make. This change also empowers her employees to take greater responsibility for their jobs.
In a similar way, when you decide what you want to focus on, you agree to the cost of being uninformed about lots of things. You may miss a few important things in your Facebook feed, but the benefits of time and mental energy radically outweigh the costs.
This doesn’t mean you should only seek information to confirm your bias. However, you should be highly selective of the sources of your information. A rule of thumb for me is to never take advice from someone I wouldn’t trade places with. Thus, I don’t seek fitness advice from out-of-shape people or financial advice from those struggling financially.
Beware of where your beliefs will take you
Most people’s belief systems are, for the most part, unconsciously shaped overtime as the product of their environments. Few people take complete responsibility for their worldview. Few people own the fact that what they currently believe is what they have chosen to believe.
But that is the reality.
You have chosen what you believe right now.
And your beliefs are taking you somewhere. Your beliefs determine the foods you eat, the friends you have, the goals you set, the environments you’re comfortable in, and how you behave on a daily basis.
Yet, it’s the common lot for many people to wake up one day and ask themselves, “How did I end up here? I didn’t choose this.” You wake up and your marriage has fallen apart, or you’re in a job you hate, you or are heavily overweight, or something far worse than these.
I personally have watched as many of my friends and family have ruined their lives by not paying attention to their beliefs and the environmental influences they allowed to shape those beliefs. I’ve seen so much unnecessary pain as the product of not living life consciously.
Few people stop to consider where their belief systems are taking them. Few people realize they are like a domino, which was knocked down by previous choices and will push down further dominoes. Those dominoes are unquestionably leading somewhere.
Where is your belief system taking you?
Are you absolutely sure that’s where you want to go?
Don’t take lightly what you choose to believe. Your beliefs not only shape your life, but can greatly influence the lives of those around you. Your beliefs shape everything about who you become and what you do with your life. To quote Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right.”
Consider the powerful effect of believing you aren’t smart. How will that influence your choices, daily behaviors, and goals?
What about the belief that you aren’t beautiful?
Or that you are unlucky?
Or that life doesn’t have a purpose?
Or that you can’t be successful?
How would your life be different if you believed failure was a beautiful thing? What if you thrived on failure?
What if you believed the opinions of other people don’t define you?
What if you believed being honest was more important than being approved of?
What if you believed your life has a purpose?
What if you believed you could learn, be, and do anything you set your mind to?
What if you believed you were going to succeed at changing the world in incredible ways? Regardless of what other people say and regardless of any evidence to the contrary?
Some beliefs probably can’t be chosen, like the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. No matter how much you may convince yourself it won’t, you probably won’t have much conviction behind that belief.
However, the most important beliefs you have regarding yourself, other people, and life in general, are up to you. You can convince yourself of absolutely anything. And you can confirm that perspective with endless information, as well as by surrounding yourself with people and environments that support you in that viewpoint.
Conscious re-invention and evolution
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. You have to let it all go. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind. ” — Morpheus
It was social and cultural to live our lives on other people’s terms just one generation ago. And many millennials are perpetuating this process simply because it’s the only worldview we’ve been taught.
However, there is a growing collective-consciousness that with a lot of work and intention — you can live every moment of your life on your own terms.
You are the designer of your destiny.
You are responsible.
You get to decide. You must decide — because if you don’t, someone else will. Indecision is a bad decision.
What will you believe?
Where will those beliefs take you?
How will those beliefs change the world?
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This article first appeared on Medium.