It might sound like an exaggeration, but I believe it is true. Your beliefs are important, but it is entirely possible to change your life with a simple change of mind. Try to follow my logic. We all go through life with a head full of beliefs about the way the world is or isn’t. “People are so selfish.” “What goes around comes around.” “I’m having a bad patch.” “I don’t have the right qualifications.” “I hate writing reports.” Self Talk. Beliefs.
In my experience, people are inclined to go through life noticing evidence for what they already believe. As a result, they regularly find evidence that supports their beliefs and rarely see anything that might make them believe the contrary. Once we have adopted a belief, we hang onto through hell and high water.
We are rarely big enough to change our beliefs and admit we were wrong
In this way, what we believe creates a blind spot in our thinking. A belief often determines what you see and what you discover. If you are not looking for something you aren’t likely to find it. This week try and change something you believe. Identify one of your long held beliefs and, for the next few days, seek out evidence that might prove you wrong*. If you are a life long Labour voter, start looking for the sense in the Conservative position on something or vice versa. If your housework is important, start looking for why it might not be. Start to consider how you arrived at what you believe.
There is a Greek myth about a wise ferryman who transports people to a large island off the coast. One day he asks a traveller what he expects to find when he arrives on the island. The traveller replies, “I have heard that the people of the island are unscrupulous and underhand and that travellers should take care.” The ferryman pauses and says, “That is certainly what you will find.” On another occasion the ferryman asks the same question of a different traveller. They reply, “I have heard that the people of the island are kind and thoughtful and that strangers are welcomed.” The ferryman pauses and says, “That is certainly what you will find.”
We warn each other, “Don’t believe what you read in the newspapers.” But we do. Especially, when what we read confirms what we believe. This leads to the fascinating question: do newspapers reflect their readership or does the readership reflect the newspaper? Journalists certainly write with the intention of connecting with the views and beliefs of their readers. They think they know what their readers believe and they write about the world using that lens, because (get this) they believe it sells newspapers. Discuss.
I love asking people two related questions:
1. What did you really enjoy doing as a child?
2. When was the last time you did it?
Are you not playing trains because you believe that “playing trains is for kids”? (Ask the thousands of grown ups who get real joy out of playing with their trains.) Are you not playing Sonic the Hedgehog because it just isn’t cool? What are you not doing because you believe you are too old or you would look silly?
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*I did think about using “all politicians are crooks” as an example in this blog. This is a current belief for which there seems to be ample evidence. But surely there are some honest, hard working and genuine politicians? Look for the evidence. Let me know if you find any.