Mahesh, was in high school when he discovered his passion for basketball, and his parents discovered that they are not going to see him wearing the white coat with the stethoscope around his neck. He made it into the school’s basketball team with his honest dedication and hard work, but because of his parents’ and teachers’ constant negative remarks- “you are good for nothing, what will you do in life, you will reach nowhere”, he lost his self-confidence which reflected in his game. He was neither being able to focus on his game nor his studies. Those negative words got engraved in his mind and he formed a belief that his life is meaningless and he will never be successful. On a fateful Saturday his team lost an important game and he, in particular, made lots of errors, and to add to the pain, he flunked his exams as well.
He thought everything is over now, no ray of hope was left for him. Seasons changed, dates on the calendar changed without any change in Mahesh’s attitude. Six months later, Mahesh shifted to a new city with his parents. For Mahesh, everything here was new, new house, new neighbors, new school, except his old belief. He was reluctant to make friends or to participate in any of his school activities. One fine day when the basketball coach was doing selections for the school’s basketball team, Mahesh happened to pass by, he was caught by the coach’s eye; he was tall and lean, perfect for basketball. The coach asked him, if he can play basketball, no, Mahesh replied. The coach insisted, he tries once. Although Mahesh didn’t put his best foot forward, the coach could see his hidden potential, and to boost his confidence, tells him that ‘’you are very talented and can be a good fit for the team, hope to see your real game tomorrow’’. His words worked like magic for Mahesh. His months-old concrete of belief started cracking. ‘Tomorrow will be my day’, he said to himself. One basket after another; his game was a treat to watch. He was now one of ‘them’, the most loved, the most adored by the students.
It doesn’t take time to form a negative belief about oneself but can take months or years to break or change them, until and unless our mind is fed with some right words or information.
What are beliefs?
Belief systems are the thought patterns that our brain selects to always be in a safer and conflict-free position which would otherwise consume an enormous amount of energy and effort, that we want to avoid.
How do belief systems form?
The most important factor that lays the foundation of our belief system is our upbringing. How we get introduced to society and culture plays a vital role in shaping our beliefs. The basis of all beliefs is the type of information gathered throughout life and how that information has been processed and used by the brain in various circumstances. When the same thought pattern is repeated by the brain time and again, it results in the formation of belief.
Another important factor that can influence our belief system is fear. Fear can make us form some strong beliefs that can be positive or negative as per our definition of right and wrong. For example, Fear of God makes us believe in rituals that have no logical basis, and we perform them religiously. Fear of hurting others can form beliefs of having adaptive nature and restrained behavior. Fear of being judged forms the belief that it’s good to be part of the group than to be different.
Our Past Experiences have a great impact on our belief formation. During the phase from our childhood to adulthood, we gather myriad experiences, all leaving some conscious or unconscious impressions on our brain. For example, people are scared of water, some are scared of heights, some are scared of crowds, etc., without knowing the exact reason behind it, maybe the reason lies in some of their past experiences, which they don’t remember but it is still present in their subconscious. For example, if a child has been over-pampered, he can demand the same attention and care from the people around him when he becomes an adult. If one has experienced toxic relationships or has been cheated upon by a near one in his past, he is more likely to form some beliefs which restrict him from trusting people or forming a committed relationship.
Our Beliefs can;
- Make us rigid: to grow in life one should be like water, able to adapt to any situation and find ways through obstacles.
- Pressurize us to contradict our values: having the belief of fitting in the group can make us fall prey to fallacious acts like smoking, drinking, etc.,
- Make us guilty: when we don’t act in congruence with our beliefs, we put ourselves in guilt.
- Lead to anxiety and restlessness: the belief of being good in all spheres of life can make us harsh to ourselves, which can cause mental and emotional distress.
Are beliefs always bad?
Just as negative beliefs make our life a little tough and challenging, positive beliefs can reduce the friction from our lives. Some beliefs like
- I am unique in my own way
- I am strong enough to face the challenges and difficulties of life
- I see every day as an opportunity to make myself a better person
- I am compassionate and caring towards others.
- I am contented and filled with gratitude for all I have
How to break rigid negative beliefs and form flexible positive beliefs?
Before getting in the process of changing our old beliefs, we first need to figure out those beliefs that are holding us back. Once we have deciphered those beliefs, we can question those with contradicting examples from our lives. If I have a belief that I am not good with people, I can remind myself time and again of the strong and healthy relationships I have in my life. This will gradually help in breaking the old belief and forming the new one – I am trying to make good relationships with people I come across.
The only way to get rid of our years’ old beliefs is through new information and knowledge. Acquiring knowledge from different sources – books, people and digital media brings us a new insight into life. When we start looking at life from others’ perspectives, we can discover new ways of understanding life and can break through our old beliefs.