Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Thinking About Beliefs Part 1

This is the first post of a three part series on my thinking about beliefs.

Beliefs are difficult to think about. There are all kinds of definitions as to what a belief is. The one I often use is a quote from Edward de Bono a renowned thinker. "At its most powerful a belief is a perception that forces us to look at the world in such a way that the perception is validated."

The following diagram represents my perspective on how beliefs come about. It starts with a feeling that we have. We then tend to look at our current experiences; that is what is going on in our world at that time, and we naturally assume that they are the cause for that feeling. This is our perception of the causal connection between the feeling and the experience. The next time we have a similar feeling with a similar experience we reinforce our perception (our belief).

As the accumulation of experiences that we match to a particular feeling increases the stronger our certainty that our perception is correct; it is our truth. A belief then is something about which we have the feeling it is true and is so self-evident that the idea of questioning it is just not thought about.

Over time we add supporting beliefs that support the central core belief. The next diagram represents a single belief with the light blue circle being the core belief. The other shapes represent the supporting beliefs.

Let me use an example to illustrate.
We want to belong to our family group as it is essential to our survival. Our parents believe that we should be silent around adults as a sign of being well brought up and properly respectful. We are disciplined by being forced to go to our room or to stand facing the corner until we say that we will behave properly next time. This is repeated until we learn to be silent and are rewarded by being praised by our parents when our behavior is proper. These repeated experiences forms the connection between our experiences, our feelings and our results. Our perception matches our beliefs.

Later on we start school and want very much to be part of the group. We quickly find out that speaking out in the classroom gets the disapproval of the teacher. Now we form a secondary belief that expressing ourselves in school is bad behavior and we tack it on to the original belief. Similarly it could happen with our playmate groups, team sports and so on with the accumulated experiences teaching us that the belief is true. Our perception of how the world works is firmly validated and the belief is firmly rooted as part of our survival mechanism.

Now we cannot see any evidence that the belief is incorrect in any way as our perception filters out any contradiction to the belief. We simply ignore them.

The second post will be on the Fallacy of Limiting Beliefs and the third post on the Number 1 Myth of Self-Help Programs. Stay tuned.

21 conversations:

Conscious said...

Very interesting work indeed. I look forward to seeing what your future posts bring!

Peter Haslam said...

I hope to get a good conversation going and appreciate your comment

Comedy + said...

Yes, this is how it works. As society changes so does our beliefs. The young have a different view about things then the older folks. Often there is rebellion for that change. I remember.

Then there are those that work slowly for change; either good or bad. An example is the gangster mentality that the young in America embrace. This very idea came out of prison, but most of the young don't know this. They just like the idea of baggy pants and all the hand signals. The very idea that this makes them cool. This is just a small example and I'm taking this way out there from what you posted.

It's all social in nature. What society will or will not accept. It is constantly subject to change when we as a society decide to change the rules. For us older folks we can simply look back in time to see what was acceptable then and what is now.

Some things as you say, never change. Your example has remained so for eons. Okay, I've said enough and then some. See you tomorrow Peter. ♥

Peter Haslam said...

Excellent expansion of the idea comedy+ this should get interesting.

Comedy + said...

Peter - I too can't wait for everyone to jump into this one. See you tomorrow.

Princess Haiku said...

Hi Peter,
Cognitive restructuring is certainly a challenge. It is so easy to fall back into old patterns when things get difficult. I guess the neural pathways established early in life determine our start point.

Peter Haslam said...

That is a very astute observation princess haiku.

manu said...

nice write up..i hope this would be followed by a solution after discussing the issue...hv a nice day

manu said...

very well explained...i hope after discussing the issue, it would be followed by a solution...i would be waiting for that...hv a nice day

Peter Haslam said...

Thank you for the comment manu. The comments I receive will determine the direction I will go after the 3 part series. I believe that the solution comes from you and will discuss that part after the series

Random Magus said...

"At its most powerful a belief is a perception that forces us to look at the world in such a way that the perception is validated." Peter Haslem

Very well put

Sometimes this very validation makes us erect mental barriers that refuse to even allow us to see another's point of view. Doesn't it?
We don't even want to go near anything that could do de-stabilize our belief system and this can sometimes hinder growth and appreciation of others' beliefs.
Some people take it to such extreme that to validate themselves and what they believe in that they will ridicule someone else.

Peter Haslam said...

Return the compliment Random Magus for your well put comment

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i'm hoping the follow up will address addiction. do you think it is learned? inherited? i'm not talking about chemical dependency, but true addictions. always curious...

smiles, bee

Peter Haslam said...

Once i have completed this series sounds like a good post to me Bee :)

Cynthia Blue said...

Interesting thoughts. Having gone through recovery myself, I've done a lot of looking at my own beliefs, why I have them, how they were formed, etc. The subject fascinates me and I enjoy reading your opinion of them.

Peter Haslam said...

Welcome cynthia blue. please feel free to share any insights. I welcome all perspectives that generate some thinking on my part :)

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

sorry peter, i meant as it relates to this post, but the other would be great too! thanks...

bee

Peter Haslam said...

Bee I will be referencing this post and others plus some new perspectives and I enjoy the question :)

Ed said...

Ding, you just made me realise why everybody has a different belief structure -A has their perspective on life, B has theirs, C has theirs. If stay at home A has never experienced what wanderer C has, they would be hard pushed to have the same beliefs.

So instead of C thinking A is perhaps rather shallow (perhaps their thinking seems to be a bit limited in comparison), C should give A credit for the beliefs they have formed from their more limited life experiences.

If C listens to A and vice versa with equal open minds, they can both learn from each other's perspectives on llife and modify their own beliefs accordingly - if they allow themselves to. Live and let live. Der.

cheers for that, I think :)

Peter Haslam said...

A good explanation Ed and would lead to less misunderstandings

erp said...

thinking about beliefs its not that all about proven.let say we can see the three is moving,but why>? because the wind blowing.therefore the must be something.