Tuesday, February 06, 2020

What’s Stopping You? (Part 1)

Be careful of what you believe. Sometimes strong beliefs get dangerously close to being treated as unchallenged fact. Wrong and negative beliefs can easily get in your way. Limiting beliefs—those that tell you what you cannot (or must not) do or think—can stop all progress dead in its tracks. This short series looks at how our beliefs can lead us astray.

Belief is often hailed as something important, even praiseworthy. I’m not so sure. After all, a belief is generally a second, or even third best way of looking at a situation. Let’s set aside whether any particular belief is widely assumed to be true or not. It doesn’t much matter, since to remain a belief it has to be unprovable. Once you can prove a belief is true, it becomes a fact. It you prove it’s false, it becomes a lie. Either way, it stops being a belief. If the best kind of knowledge is a provable fact, the second best is probably having a hypothesis that is capable of proof. That makes a belief—an unprovable opinion—third best, one step above not having any kind of knowledge at all.

Because belief depends on the individual, it’s possible to find people who believe in all manner of strange and dubious propositions. Conspiracy theories are good examples of beliefs that are unprovable, yet still have a powerful impact on large numbers of people. Some groups believe—and act on—the idea that there’s a conspiracy by their political or ideological opponents to subvert the media, seize the government, and enforce all kinds of laws designed to require a particular lifestyle. It may be correct, but who knows? It may be no more than the product of overheated imaginations. You get to choose your own beliefs, so you can choose to believe more or less whatever you want, even if others see it as screwy.

Making a bad choice of belief can seriously screw up your life. Don’t confuse beliefs with values (the importance or worth of something) or principles (a fundamental proposition used as the basis of a set of logical arguments, or a morally or ethically held position). Beliefs have a powerful impact on behavior, but they’re still simply opinions, however strongly and consistently you hold to them.

What matters about beliefs is whether they’re useful.

Useful beliefs lead to positive actions, successful outcomes and an increase in the happiness and well-being of the people involved. Poor beliefs do the opposite. For example, if you believe that most people in an organization are well-intentioned; that they do the best they can and try to help each other; and that they have the good of the business at heart, it will likely cause you to behave in positive ways. Suppose you believe all bosses, by definition, are greedy, self-centered, egotistical and corrupt; everyone is seeking to rob you of what’s due to your efforts; your colleagues are idle, dishonest and whispering about you behind your back; and the business is screwing its customers and the products are badly produced and overpriced. If you believe most of that, your life at work is going to be frustrating, miserable, stressful, and probably unsuccessful as well.

I’m not recommending a Pollyanna approach of stupidly optimistic beliefs. But it’s worth taking a look at all your beliefs and asking yourself if they’re still useful to you. Facts are facts, you should not need to argue with them. But beliefs are just opinions and should be argued about constantly. After all, if they aren’t helping you, all you need do is drop them and choose some others.

Limiting beliefs are potent blockages to progress

The most useless and harmful beliefs aren’t just wrong; they actively prevent you from doing or understanding things that would improve either your own life or the lives of the people around you. Limiting beliefs tell you what you can’t do, what you mustn’t do, what you mustn’t even think of doing. They block off possibilities without any further consideration. Those possibilities are wrong, impossible, unacceptable, evil—and all without any kind of proof, other than your own, assumed, unprovable, and unproven belief.

Here are some signs to help you recognize when your beliefs are likely holding you back from considering possibilities that might enrich your life:
  • You are constantly telling yourself that you have “no choice” about what you can do in a situation. There are always choices. Sometimes you may not like them, but they’re there, just the same.

  • You listen constantly to your inner critic and let that voice tell you what’s good for you. Your inner critic’s put-downs and snide remarks are generally based on one or more limiting beliefs. Tens of thousands of people have their lives impoverished by letting their inner critic stop them in their tracks.

  • Most decisions appear to be black and white, or an either/or situation. Life is made up of uncountable billions of colors and shades. It’s our unwillingness to face reality, and our constant hope that we can find a simple, easy answer to every problem, that tempts us into using unprovable beliefs to reduce the world to black or white.

  • You rely on a few, long-standing assumptions that you never challenge. If you tell yourself “that’s the the way the world is,” that is how it will be—at least for you. Limiting beliefs create self-fulfilling prophecies on a grand scale. Sadly, they’re almost always negative and depressing. If you want to create a world for yourself based on misery and frustration, give in to every limiting belief you have.

  • Many of your decisions are based on fear. Limiting beliefs produce fears like mangy dogs produce fleas. Nearly all the fears are irrational too, and probably 99.9% of them are false. Since their source is a set of unprovable and untested beliefs, it can hardly be otherwise.
In the next posting in this series, I’ll look more closely at the causes of limiting beliefs.

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John said...

The biggest thing to me is keeping an open mind. The way we learn is by openly discussing with other who have different beliefs. If we're close minded we'll never go anywhere.

8:09 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, John. I agree with you.

Most of our business leaders are middle aged, and we all know that middle age is when a broad mind and a narrow waist swap places!

Keep reading, my friend.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous said...

The description of limiting beliefs sounds remarkably like a description of many religious beliefs. Just thought it was an interesting "coincidence."

3:34 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon.

I think that almost any beliefs have the potential to become limiting ones, if they are in any way dogmatic. Those that concentrate on "Thou shalt not" are especially likely to fall into this category.

7:01 PM  

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