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Your Beliefs Run Your Life: But You Can Change the Storyline

July 26, 2010

“You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life.        Don Miguel Ruiz, author The 4 Agreements

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.”  From the film Inception

Have you seen the film Inception?

It’s a stunner! A riveting, mind-bending movie that raises fascinating questions about the potential of our dreams and the nature of our unconscious and subconscious worlds.

The film’s concept of “Inception” explores the idea of entering into another person’s subconscious mind (via their dreams) to implant an idea – a seed that takes hold and becomes a belief.  From this seed grow thoughts, feelings and actions.  The seed must be deeply planted, infused with emotion for the dreamer to live out their beliefs on a conscious level.

While the premise of the film is fascinating, the point of this post is not to examine the state of dream sharing technology – but to look at the underlying truth that beliefs are powerful motivating forces in our lives.

The idea that given the right emotional climate a belief, not of our own choosing, can drive our thoughts, feelings and behavior is certainly not new.

Beliefs, the thoughts we operate on as truth, are the engine that drives our experience.  They form the basis for our thinking, shape our emotional responses and result in actions, in and out of our conscious awareness.

Beliefs drive our actions at work, in relationships, as parents, as friends, as citizens, as consumers – every choice and decision we make is the result of the patterns of our belief system.

Beliefs run the show.  Trace the trajectory of a behavior and you’ll always find a belief underneath it.

Where Did Your Beliefs Come From? 

“A belief is nothing but the generalization of a past incident.”                                                                                                       Santosh Sachdeva

Unlike the Inception story line, we aren’t suggesting your beliefs were implanted through dream sharing or any such complex process.  But experience by experience, starting at a very early age, you absorbed the beliefs of your caregivers.  They modeled the world as they saw it – and impressionable little you – integrated their views and experiences.

Everything in your young world – family, culture, media, peers, institutions, games, music, stories, play and sports carried implicit and explicit messages about how the world works – how the world is.  And unless you were an exceptional child – you bought it.  It wasn’t until you began to mature – emotionally, developmentally and experientially – that you challenged some of those beliefs to suit who you thought you really were.

In this early conditioning  phase you learned about the the world and what is happening in it, the universe, family, relationships, trust,  health, work, money, emotions, what’s possible, what’s not possible, what has value, what does not, what’s right, what’s wrong, why you are here – essentially the meaning and purpose of everything.  By the time you arrived at the tender age of ten, most of your values – which stem from your beliefs – had been formed.

From our beliefs, especially the core foundational beliefs; we construct a narrative about ourselves, others and the world.

  • The world is a safe place. The world is a dangerous place.
  • Life has meaning and purpose. Life is random.
  • People are essentially good.  People are essentially not good.
  • Most people can be trusted. Most people cannot be trusted.
  • I am capable of shaping my own experience.  I am controlled by fate and have little control over it.
  • I am competent, and strong.  I am vulnerable and weak.
  • Life can be enjoyable, easy and satisfying.  Life is hard, struggle and unfair.
  • Work is about making money. Work is about fulfillment and satisfaction.

From each of these core beliefs, grew thousands of other beliefs. The important question is how much the beliefs you downloaded as a child; reflect who you are now and who you want to be? 

You Can Change the Story

We live our lives as if our beliefs were facts. Few are.  Beliefs are amazingly resilient things.  That’s because from the time of their early “inception” they become neurally connected, fused to certain memories and emotions, and are practiced repeatedly as behaviors (even if the practice is simply mental).

Unless beliefs are explored, identified and traced for their inter-connections and examined – they go on running the show.

The bottom line is that our beliefs either empower us – or limit us.  The choice is ours. While many of the beliefs we acquired as children served us well – some are simply habituated patterns that sap our energies and continue to produce the same unwanted outcomes.

We are not suggesting that unraveling old, unsupportive beliefs is a snap, but it is possible (now there’s an example of a belief in action).

Keep in mind that beliefs are habits of mind – and as such take time, persistence and repetitive practice to shift.  Start with the smaller beliefs first and you’ll find that even the tiniest branch of a belief has deep and extended roots.

  • Start identifying your beliefs. Makes lists. You have beliefs about everything. Some support you, others don’t.  Select the topics areas you want to understand better (your work, your health, your relationships in general or one relationship in specific) and begin to list everything you believe about it.
  • Begin to differentiate between the beliefs you list that serve you and those that limit or drain you.  Notice the energetic shift when you think and write about them.
  • Indentify the emotion/s that you experience when you think of one of those beliefs (e.g.  My new boss ______ is inaccessible, self-centered and a terrible listener) (emotions I feel when I believe this: frustrated, annoyed, anxious)
  • Identify the behaviors you engage in when you experience this belief and the feelings associated with it (I don’t say anything; I talk nonstop; I complain to my co-worker)

Once you start this process you will begin to unearth a whole constellation of beliefs, many of which are interconnected.  As in the example above, you will  see that many of these beliefs have you locked into unsustainable ruts. They are unproductive and deplete your energies.

Even when we find ourselves in challenging external circumstances (like with a boss with isn’t a very accessible, empathetic or inquisitive person) holding on to certain beliefs will not improve the situation, it will likely exacerbate the problem.

When we work with beliefs, we are always coming up against the essential question of what is in our control – and what is not. This informs everything.  In the case of the inaccessible boss, what do we believe is in our power to change? The boss? The company policies or politics that hire certain types of people?  Or, our behavior?

Exposing our beliefs – from the smallest to the deepest core beliefs – demands that we take much greater responsibility for what we think – feel – and ultimately do in any situation.

Once you get comfortable with the process, you will learn to look at all of your beliefs in this way.

  • Identify the belief that is driving you
  • Challenge its validity.  Is it true? How do you know that?
  • How is this belief connected to your other beliefs? Is it part of an old pattern?
  • What are the feelings associated with this belief?
  • Practice self-empathy. Try not to judge yourself for having this belief. Be compassionate towards yourself.
  • Begin to reframe the belief.  Using our inaccessible boss as an example, try some version of, In the past when I have encountered people like my new boss, I’ve written them off and given up. This time I am going to explore the belief that I have the resources and skills to find ways to see him/her differently, practice new ways of communicating and stay positive and engaged in the process.” 

We are not talking about sticking your head in the sand, compensating for the faults of others or pretending everything is all right, when it is not.  What we are suggesting is that the more we understand how our beliefs direct our thinking, feelings and behavior – the more choices and emotional space we create for ourselves.

One more thought about Inception. The movie’s tagline is:  Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime.  Intriguing thought, isn’t it? While even the most vivid imaginations can’t take responsibility for the external “realities” around us we can be sure of one thing – when it comes to what we think, what we feel and what we do – as the writers, the editors, the producers, directors and actors of our life stories, we play a huge role in our life’s outcomes.


Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.


Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 6:05 pm

    Your blog has motivated me to see this movie. I didn’t realize it was thought provoking. I have always been fascinated with the power of our beliefs, and it’s almost a daunting task to try to dig down and discover the source of their beginnings – thus giving us more power and insight into our own lives. Thanks for a substantive post.

    • July 30, 2010 7:41 pm

      Hi Terry,
      Great to hear from you. Although Inception is very much a Hollywood thriller packaged in a glossy, caper action format, it explores some very serious and fascinating territory. Apparently the state of dream sharing technology is not quite what the movie shows, but research exists. At the core is beliefs. What the main character is trying to do is essentially install new beliefs. Tricky business, considering that even when we are determined to change we encounter resistance.
      In all of our work, we experience that when people begin to work at the level of beliefs, changes take place. The amazing thing about beliefs is how each branch leads to another branch. Working with beliefs also gives us valuable insight into our connected feelings – and clearly illuminates the why of behaviors.
      Powerful stuff!

      Best, Louise

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