Beliefs are views, guiding principles, judgments and decisions about ourselves, people close to us, our community and how the world functions. Your beliefs filter what you see, hear and feel in the world around you and as a result determine the meaning you associate with an event. Beliefs act as self-fulfilling prophecies. Your beliefs, whether they are limiting or empowering, determine your actions, which in turn verify your beliefs to be true. Over time, as you generate more evidence, your beliefs become increasingly entrenched and more real.
Beliefs operate at the deep structure level and influence the surface structure of our thoughts and behaviors. While we are aware of many of our beliefs, in general, our most influential beliefs operate outside of our conscious awareness. There are some beliefs that we view as absolute truths and never question - that is just the way the world is! A change in our beliefs can have a major impact on how we live our lives and the behaviors we manifest.
Once we believe in something, we tend to ignore counter-examples and accept only those events that reinforce that belief.
Beliefs can have a significant effect on your life, particularly your health. In their book NLP and Health, (Thorsons, 1996), Ian McDermott and Joseph O Connor illustrate this very well with numerous references to medical cases. For example, in a typical clinical situation, about thirty-five percent of all cases receive as much pain relief from a placebo as from morphine - simply because the recipients believe it will work.
Do your beliefs limit you?
At one time, most people believed the world was flat, and there may still be some today who believe this. To verify this belief, just look at the ground below you - it's flat. In the distance you may see a few hills and valleys, but these are just ripples on an otherwise flat surface. All of the land is bounded by water and it is well known that if you sail far enough, you will fall off the edge of the world. This is certainly verified by those sailors who set sail and never return. For those who do return, they just didn't sail far enough.
In its time, this flat-world belief was very useful in explaining and predicting phenomena in a very localized area and most importantly, it kept people comfortable and safe. However, by encouraging people not to venture too far, it was also very limiting. In the preceding paragraph, notice how the belief can be used to explain certain occurrences and in so doing prove its own validity.
For society to advance, it was necessary for brave souls such as Christopher Columbus to challenge this belief and put his life, as he knew it, at risk. Thanks to Columbus, we were able to let go of the limiting belief of a flat world and explore other possibilities that eventually led us to entertain new and more expansive scientific theories (beliefs) of planets and galaxies, which future generations may view as equally limiting as the flat-world belief.
Do you have flat-world beliefs that keep you comfortable and safe and that prevent you from exploring your true potential? Do you choose to acknowledge only those events that are predicted by your limiting beliefs and then use these observations as proof that your limiting beliefs are indeed true? Is it time to step out of your comfort zone and set sail into the unknown? To push the boundaries of what you think you know and discover new lands and opportunities - a new reality?
Where do our beliefs come from?
Most of our beliefs originate from the time we were children. They are not based on fact, but on our perception of events at the time they were formed. We modeled people who played a significant role in our lives - parents, teachers, religious leaders, older siblings. We made generalizations based on single traumatic experiences or through trial and error, accepting those beliefs that brought us pleasure, avoided pain or provided safety. We accepted what we were told about ourselves "you are stupid and incompetent" or "you can achieve whatever you choose."
Many of our limiting beliefs are based on misinterpretations of past events. As children we did not have all of the resources we have today or an awareness of all the facts. Instead, we took things personally and accepted responsibility for our parent's actions and often vowed, "Never do that again!"
To illustrate how easy it is to establish a core belief, consider how elephants are trained. You often see elephants restrained by only a light rope and stake. Why is it that these massive animals don't just walk away, since they could easily break the rope or pull out the stake? Simply, they have been conditioned to accept that they cannot. If they had the ability to reason, we would simply say they believe they cannot!
When elephants are young, they are tied up with a very heavy rope and stake that they are unable to budge or break. After many futile attempts, they accept that no matter what they do, they cannot break free. Although not real, this limitation restricts their mobility, even in the face of danger.
Just as the elephants have done, what boundaries did you accept when you were a child that now limit how you live your life - and therefore your dreams and aspirations?
The first step to changing a belief is to become consciously aware of the belief and its impact on your life. Beliefs can be changed in a number of ways:
Assuming you are not still holding steadfastly to this belief, how did you change it? I would imagine that you gathered information from your friends and parents and gradually questioned the belief until you realized that you could let it go and still get the positive benefits (gifts) and avoid the negative ones - the teasing of your friends.