How often do you think about your belief system? Do you ever question or challenge your beliefs? Do you ever wonder why you feel or believe the way you do?
As people, much of who we are today—how we behave, how we think, how we view the world, and how we talk to ourselves and others—is based on the collection of beliefs we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes.
But the funny thing is, we rarely stop to take stock of these beliefs, let alone question their validity. We may not even realize it, but for better or worse, our beliefs are silently at work in our lives every day.
How much money is enough money? One Hundred Thousand Dollars, $1 Billion, or somewhere in between or beyond?
Which religion is the right religion? Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism, or something else?
Do you identify as liberal, conservative, or some other political party?
Which social behaviors are right, and which are wrong? In America, we have many cultural customs that other cultures see as rude or offensive. Tipping, throwing a thumbs up, laughing with your mouth open, touching, sitting in the back of a cab—yep, in other countries, these things could be considered rude.
If you were to think, “What? That’s odd, why would laughing with your mouth open be rude?” then you’ve just had your belief system kick in and cause you to question someone else’s belief system. But which beliefs are correct? Is there a right answer?
The larger question isn’t which beliefs are right or wrong; it’s how do our beliefs affect our lives? Are they having a positive impact or a negative impact, and if they’re negative, how can we replace our negative beliefs with more positive ones.
Those are the questions I want to address today, but first, let’s further define what a belief system is.
What is a Belief System?
A belief system is “a set of principles or tenets which together form the basis of a religion, philosophy, or moral code.” Okay, dictionary—that was boring and uninsightful.
Let’s look at this more simply. At its core, a belief system is really just a set of beliefs about what is right and wrong, and true or false, and this set of beliefs is a collection of thoughts and feelings on tens of thousands of topics. Maybe more!
But to better understand the system, we have to understand the beliefs themselves? What are beliefs?
Let’s turn to the dictionary one more time. A belief is “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.”
So, if we look at this, a belief is nothing more than our ability to accept something as true. And as we all know from our childhood beliefs around Santa, imaginary friends, and monsters in the closet, something doesn’t have to be real for us to believe in it.
Real or not, we have the ability to believe in anything that we want, we just have to accept an idea as true.
Is Bigfoot real? Do aliens exist? Did we evolve from monkeys and did dinosaurs roam the Earth? Is there really a Bermuda Triangle, and, if so, does it really cause ships and planes to disappear magically?
You might have had an overwhelmingly strong opinion to some of those questions. Some may seem like a fact, and others may seem entirely ridiculous. I don’t want to argue their validity here—I’m just trying to make a point: beliefs vary widely from person to person, as does our conviction around our beliefs.
Once we’ve accepted something as true, we continue to tell ourselves that the thought or idea is real and true, even if it’s not true by someone else’s standards or even if there’s evidence supporting the opposite.
Essentially, a belief is something we tell ourselves over and over to the point that we have great difficulty in accepting any other reality. Beliefs are just thoughts that we keep thinking over and over.
When we get to a point where a thought or belief cannot be challenged or questioned, we risk allowing our system of beliefs to cloud our view, both of the world around us, and of ourselves, too. We begin to hard code our beliefs into our identities.
Self Beliefs, Identities, and Labels
When we begin to hard code our beliefs into our identities, we end up with labels such as Christian or Buddist, Liberal or Conservative, Vegan, or, well, not Vegan. And being associated with a group or a label based on our beliefs is not a bad thing unless, of course, our beliefs cause us to mislabel ourselves in some negative way.
I don’t think there’s a lot of harm in believing in aliens (I actually believe in the possibility of aliens myself, but I’ll save that tangent for another time). Still, throughout our lives, we tend to adopt countless beliefs and labels that ARE, in fact, harmful to ourselves.
- “I’m inadequate.”
- “I’m unlovable.”
- “I’m a loser.”
- “I’m weak.”
- “I’m a failure.”
- “I’m not enough.”
Be honest, have you ever thought any of those things before? Real talk: I have, and these labels are a load of B.S. that are caused by too many negative beliefs running wild in our lives.
We are adequate, lovable, and strong. We’re not losers or failures, and we are enough. If we’re thinking these things, it’s because we’ve let our belief systems accumulate too many false beliefs, and it’s time to flush those down the drain and replace them with better beliefs about ourselves.
So, with that in mind, let’s make a change, shall we? Let’s take a look at how negative beliefs play a harmful role in our lives and how we can overcome our own B.S. (see what I did there?)
Positive Beliefs vs. Negative Beliefs
As we’ve seen from the definitions above, beliefs are no more than thoughts that we tend to think over and over. Many of these beliefs come from our culture—we’re raised with them from birth.
Some of them are familial—we’re raised with those too. Some are good, healthy beliefs.
- “I can do anything I set my mind to.”
- “Failure builds character.”
- “My job does not define my value.”
- “The greatest risk is to do nothing.”
- “There is no such thing as perfection.”
- “Everyone is different. I’m free to be me.”
But beliefs are not all positive. In fact, many are destructive, limiting, and oppressive.
Have you ever caught yourself asking yourself things like:
- “I can’t write a book or start a blog. No one cares what I have to say.”
- “I can’t do that. I just don’t have the talent, skills, or intelligence.”
- “I could never do what they can do. They’re just way more talented than me.”
- “I’ll never have a lot of money. I just wasn’t born into the right circumstances.”
- “Not everyone can live their dream life. Some of us just have to settle for less.”
Sorry for the depressing list of questions, but you get the picture. Not all beliefs are good. But, if these beliefs are so bad, why can’t we just forget them and leave them behind? Good riddance!
Why are our beliefs so intensely ingrained into who we are? Why do our beliefs seem to be woven into the fabric of our very being? If we can question other people’s beliefs, why can’t we question our own?
- “How can she think she’s not beautiful? Look at her! She’s gorgeous!”
- “How can he not think he’s good enough. He works so hard and puts way too much pressure on himself.”
- “How can she not think she’s smart? She’s the smartest person I know?”
I don’t want to keep dumping hypothetical thoughts on you, but I think it helps to illustrate the point that we all have tens of thousands of thoughts running through our heads every day, and they’re not all good. Many stem from negative, self-limiting beliefs that hold us back in tremendous ways.
Positive beliefs empower us to do more in our lives. They give us the freedom and confidence to explore all that life has to offer—to reach for the stars.
Negative beliefs, however, build walls in our lives. They create barriers, force us to hide, shy away from opportunities, shrink in the face of adversity, and stick close to our comfort zones, even when we really don’t want to.
The problem is, when left unchecked, fear and negativity can leave stronger impressions on us than positivity. What we focus on tends to grow, so when we focus on fear and negativity, they expand in our lives. And when this cycle takes hold, we spiral out of control and deeper into our negative belief systems.
So, if we have several negative and limiting beliefs running amuck in our lives, how can we break the cycle? How can we learn to recognize the beliefs when they’re actively running through our brains and stop them dead in their tracks?
I’ll tell you this: it’s not easy, and I’ve by no means mastered it, but I think I can offer some advice that will help.
How to Examine and Reprogram our Belief Systems
Again, I’m no expert, but I, like many others, experience my fair share of negative beliefs—we’re all human, after all, and we can’t undo a lifetime of encoding overnight. (Trust me; sometimes I wish we could.)
The first thing you need to do to begin identifying and rebuilding your belief system is to be able to recognize negative beliefs in the moment and when they’re happening. Then, you can start to question the beliefs. After that, you can begin to adopt new beliefs that override the old ones.
Let’s take a look at this.
1. Recognizing Negative Beliefs When they Occur
To learn to spot your negative beliefs, you need to pay careful attention to how you’re feeling. Are you anxious, scared, mad, frustrated, sad, or are you feeling depressed? Are you beating yourself up or berating yourself in your mind? Are you talking to yourself like you would never dare speak to another person?
Are you asking yourself “what if” over and over again, as if to discover something you could have done better in a situation that’s long gone? Are you suddenly questioning several of your past decisions or even the current path you’re on?
These are the types of thoughts that indicate the presence of negative beliefs at work and trust me; there’s a root cause at the center.
When we’re in this kind of frantic state of mind, though, it’s difficult to overcome our emotional state with logic or reason, but if you can slowly begin to recognize your negative self-talk, you can start to question it. To do this, we need to take some time to think about our negative beliefs with a clear state of mind.
When you’re calm, think back to times of turmoil in your life—back to a particularly bad day filled with harmful self-talk. It could have been at work, at home, with friends, or while you were alone—it doesn’t matter. It could have been today, last week, or last month.
Just try to think back on a time when you were experiencing some of the thought patterns I outlined above. Yours may have been different, but I trust that you know what kind of thoughts we’re looking for here.
If you’re able to revisit such a time in your life, take a small step back and ask, “why did I feel that way?” And try not to accept the first easy answer that comes to mind. “I was upset with myself because I was having a bad day. That’s all. Just a bad day.”
No, no—you have to go deeper.
This process can take a lot of deep reflection, and it might even be somewhat painful, but try to push yourself to connect with your genuine emotions. The deeper you can go, the closer to your belief system you can get.
Keep asking, “Why did I feel that way?” and “Why do I believe that to be true?” until you get to the center of the belief.
Did the lousy day you had stem from a mistake you made? Did that mistake cause you to doubt your skills and abilities? Did you suddenly feel like you were inferior, hopeless, or a failure?
Why did you feel that way? Was it because you believe that success is rare and that someone like you could never make it, especially if you make a mistake? Why do you believe that? Is it because someone drilled that into your head as a kid?
The deeper you go, the closer to the belief you can get, and when you discover the negative belief systems in your life, you can learn to spot them much more quickly when they suddenly emerge in your life.
2. Define, Describe, and Name the Belief
When you get close to your beliefs, close enough to recognize them clearly, describe them to yourself, or give them a name if you can. One of my old beliefs was that I didn’t have enough experience to help people and that no one would ever find value in anything I had to say.
This belief is commonly known as imposter syndrome, and now that I know this, I can spot it more clearly and more quickly. By understanding the name or description of my false belief, I can shine a light on it and expose it for the negative belief system, or B.S., that it is.
One of the main reasons that negative beliefs have so much power over us is that often, we can’t clearly define them.
We feel bad and talk negatively to ourselves, but we don’t really know why. That can be frustrating and scary, but when we learn to recognize harmful beliefs and then clearly define them, we remove the power they have over us.
B.S. Neutralized—well, almost.
Once we learn to recognize and define our beliefs, we have to tell ourselves that they’re not true, and we have to begin rebuilding our belief system with new, positive, life-supporting beliefs.
3. Rebuilding a Positive Belief System
I used to suffer from imposter syndrome. I resisted starting this blog, writing my book, and speaking in public because I didn’t think I knew enough to help people. Maybe I don’t know as much as Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, or Mel Robbins, but I have to learn to believe that I know enough to help someone.
Who knows; I hope I’m helping you right this very minute.
A couple of years ago, I learned to spot my imposter syndrome, and now, when it pops up in my life, I can confidently say to myself, “You are not an imposter. You know enough to help someone, and someone out there values your message.”
It took a lot of reflection, several books, podcasts, and videos, but I learned to recognize and identify my negative belief. Then, I worked towards replacing it with this new belief:
In regards to our personal development journeys, we’re all at different stages relative to one another. Some folks are much further along than me, but many are not. What I’m learning today is already known to many, but what I know today has yet to be learned by many.
While I’m learning from those who are ahead of me, hopefully, I’ll be able to turn around and help those coming up behind me. I don’t have to know more than everyone to help someone, I just need to know enough to help the person I’m connecting with, and this is a belief that will serve me for the rest of my life.
Discovering, defining, and replacing my old imposter-based belief system took a lot of work, and it still pops up in my life from time to time, but I’m working every day towards weakening its hold on me by keeping my new belief in mind.
And you can do that same with your beliefs—even the ones without official names. Maybe someone from your childhood constantly told you that you weren’t good enough, and now that belief is stuck in your mind. You could name the belief after that person, or you could make up a fitting name that makes you feel better.
Maybe that person’s name was Mark or Mary (sorry to the Marks and Marys out there). When you feel yourself thinking that you’re not good enough, say, “Hush Mark/Mary. That’s not true. I am good enough. You don’t know what I’m capable of because you don’t know me.”
It might feel silly at first, but it helps to shine a light on the fact that your belief came from somewhere else and that it’s an opinion, not a fact.
Maybe you suffer from the fear of failure. Okay, now that you know what your fear is and can see it for what it is, you can work towards replacing that belief with a new one like this: failure is a vital step on the path to success. With every failure, we learn, and while we’re learning, we’re getting closer to success. (Yeah, I’m working on overcoming this belief, too.)
Once you take step back, shine a light on your negative belief, and craft a new belief by which to live by, you can slowly begin to introduce it to your life. When you start to feel the negative belief surge up in your mind, take a deep breath and start thinking about your new belief. Keep reciting it until you can calm down.
Over time, this will become easier and easier. It just takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself.
Crush Your Negative Beliefs
When it comes to replacing a negative belief system, knowing is truly half the battle. After reading this article, I hope you feel empowered to start crushing your negative beliefs today.
Once you’ve taken a hard look at your belief systems, you have a much more significant chance of eliminating them from your life. Define, describe, and name your beliefs so that you can call them out when they pop up in your life and be sure to craft a new set of beliefs to take their place.
When you feel the negative belief beginning to run wild in your mind, take a step back, shine a light on it, and practice reciting your new belief until you feel yourself calming down. Over time, the new belief will begin to cement itself in your mind—it will slowly become your new default belief.
It will take time, and the old beliefs may never be truly gone, but you’ll be well on your way towards releasing the power they have over you.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, take care!
I hope this article has helped you in a significant way. I always aim to provide useful content, but I’m not a trained mental health specialist.
If your negative belief systems or negative thoughts are causing you to experience depression, sadness, or suicidal thoughts, I encourage you to please seek help. You are not alone, and there is no shame in feeling the way you do.
Mental health is crucial and should not be avoided or hidden.
If you need help in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.