David discusses how beliefs impact behaviour and how he overcomes negative self-belief.
What are beliefs? When I talk about beliefs, I’m referring to things that we, as individuals, hold to be true. The amazing thing about beliefs is that our brain processes them as ‘entirely true’, even if they aren’t. There are pros and cons to this though!
One con is that beliefs filter out information, causing us to see the world in a way that’s consistent with our beliefs, thus creating ‘blind spots’ which block out other possibilities.
For example, if I was to believe that all drivers of a certain make of car were bad drivers, and I find myself driving down the motorway and see one of those cars, I’d automatically believe that the driver of that car is a bad driver. Therefore, if they cut in front of me, I’d become annoyed and say something to myself like, “Typical xxx* drivers.” In this case, the belief is filtering out any information that doesn’t fit my belief, even though the belief clearly isn’t a true reflection… all drivers of a certain make of car aren’t actually bad drivers. Filtering out any contradictory information strengthens my belief, as I won’t notice when a good driver drives that car, but I’ll notice when someone’s driving the car badly.
*Insert your own make of car… I don’t want to be in bother for picking on a particular make of car!
Whereas, if I believed that all drivers are doing the best they can and if something goes wrong, they have a good reason for that. For instance, maybe they’re driving fast because their partner in the passenger seat needs to go to the hospital, or maybe they’re from another country and are trying to learn how to drive on our roads. If I hold a more positive belief about people, then ultimately that’s what I see. A useful question to ask yourself in these situations is, “Are my beliefs helping or hindering me and/or others in this instance?”
It goes a whole lot further than this. Two or more people can hold very different beliefs about the exact same thing. Recently, I was with my brother-in-law, and we were attempting to hail a taxi. When I tried to signal to a taxi that was driving past, he asked, “What are you doing? Its yellow taxi light is on”. He believed that a taxi having its yellow light on meant it was busy, whilst I believed this meant it was free (I ended up being right, which was good as it was chucking it down!). It just shows the different beliefs we all hold, even on something as small as flagging down a taxi.
So that’s the downside… what about the upside? Beliefs don’t only affect us negatively; we can utilise them for positive outcomes. For example, if you’re really nervous about a big presentation, examining your beliefs will help you to realise which beliefs are driving this nervousness. Maybe you don’t feel confident, or you fear certain audiences, or you worry about forgetting your lines. A more helpful belief may be, ‘I’m an amazing presenter and I deserve to be in this room’. Focusing on challenging negative beliefs by replacing them with more helpful ones is more effective (and easier) than working on not being nervous.
We sometimes talk about these unhelpful beliefs as ‘self-limiting beliefs’ in our coaching work at Rambutan. When someone says they can’t do something, they often use the phrases, ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not allowed.’ But, when you ask them why they hold that belief, they often don’t know. Remember, beliefs aren’t necessarily true, they’re just ‘true for you’. Pure logic says that if something you believe isn’t actually true, then you can believe a more positive thing. If you just read that last line and thought something like, ‘Easier said than done’ then it’s clear that you have some beliefs about beliefs! That’s a whole other world for us to explore… just not right now!
In practice (I am still, and maybe will always be, at the ‘practising stage’ on all this) when I notice that I have an unhelpful belief, I use a model we’ve created at Rambutan, based on cognitive behavioural therapy. The first stage is awareness. This is about noticing how you’re feeling, i.e. angry, stressed, nervous, etc. Then, you need to acknowledge this, which means saying it out loud without any judgement or justification. Such as, “I’ve noticed that I’m feeling nervous” and stop there, don’t add a justification around it. Next, you need to identify what thoughts you’re having, as this will tease out any beliefs that are causing the feelings you have noticed. The killer, final question is, “What more helpful thoughts could I have?”
If you want to explore this subject some more, I recommend Factfulness by Hans Rosling as a great place to start. He talks about why we believe certain things despite facts to the contrary. For example, many people believe flying is dangerous, but if you look at the statistics, you might be more at risk riding a bicycle!
Finally, if you can’t find the time to read the book, just start asking yourself (on a regular basis):
1. What are the positive beliefs that I hold to be true about me?
2. What are the most hindering beliefs that I hold to be true about me?
3. What more helpful beliefs would replace what I discovered in question two?