What you believe about yourself, your abilities, and what you’re capable of will predict how successfully you live your life. If you believe you’re capable of great things, this will dictate your life course. Conversely, if you don’t believe you’re capable of great things that too will have a major impact.
I can illustrate this in a story about baby circus elephants, who are tied to a strong metal post with a heavy chain because they will try to escape and expend a lot of energy on pulling at their tether. After some time, they accept that they will not be able to escape and so stop pulling. The adult elephants are tied to a wooden stick with a light rope: they could easily escape, but they believe they are unable to do so, and so the light chaining works as a kind of symbol of their bondage.
This shows how it is clear that whether your beliefs are true or not is irrelevant. What matters is what you regard to be true. It seems to me that this is a good definition of ‘belief.’
People believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Some beliefs are trivial and others are very important, but two things are certain:
1. Our underlying beliefs operate at a deep, subconscious level, and
2. These underlying beliefs affect what we experience in life, including our level of success or failure in any endeavor.
Where do these beliefs come from?
Philip Larkin said ‘They screwed you up, your mum and dad.’ Which might seem a bit cruel, but then he did admit that ‘they do not mean to, but they do.’ What he’s saying, of course, is that we learn our worldview from our parents, and if our parents think that life is a struggle and that money and success don’t come easily, then this will be our ‘defaults mode,’ too.
We spend many years being ‘drip fed’ these beliefs and they get embedded deep in our subconscious. It’s fine to say ‘just change your beliefs,’ but it’s not always so easy. We have picked up many limiting beliefs from parents, teachers, friends, religion and society in general. Some of these beliefs are holding us back, so doesn’t it make sense that we should want to shed them?
Do we really want to get rid of these beliefs?
Actually, it’s not that simple. We can get a tremendous payback from some apparently harmful and limiting beliefs. I’m sure we all know people who seem to identify themselves as a victim, believing that they are helpless and needing someone to look after them or ‘save’ them. These people get a feeling of security (they don’t have to try to be better or take any risks because they know it’s pointless and they will fail), and they get people running around after them, looking after them (I am a witness of one in my own family).
We need to look at our beliefs and examine what kind of payback we are getting from them and so why we might not want to let go of them. Some examples of limiting beliefs might be:
- Everyone is selfish
- People are always trying to rip you off
- There isn’t enough to go around so you have to grab what you can
- You can be struck down by circumstances (illness, accident) at any time
- It’s not my fault that my life is like this
- It is my bad fate that my parents got divorced
All of these beliefs do something for us; they give us some validation or some comfort. But they are simply beliefs. Deeply engrained, to be sure, but only beliefs and so vulnerable to change. Shedding these beliefs may cause some pain, but growth is often accompanied by pain, and I am confident that the pain of growth is a small price for the loss of a lifetime of limitation.
And so that brings us to the good news – you CAN change your paradigm/beliefs. I will go in details in my up-coming article.
I want to end with a wonderful story from Anthony de Mello, a man who really seemed to understand the human condition.
An eagle lays an egg but somehow the egg finds its way into a chicken coup. A chicken incubates the egg with all her others and when it hatches, she rears the eaglet as if it were one of her own chicks. It learns to peck the dust for food, to flap its wings and to strut around the farmyard. One day, an eagle flies by overhead. The little eagle looks up and sees this, and says to himself, ‘I wish I were an eagle – how majestic, how free, how beautiful to be like that and have such a life.’ The eagle lived like a chicken and died like a chicken, because that’s what he thought he was.