Beliefs and How They Shape Your Future

Have you ever had such thoughts like "I always fall short", "Why am I always the looser" and the like? Who do you think you are? How would you describe yourself?

How do you know? You know what you have experienced. You know by remembering events and how they affected you. You know by your past.

Whatever happens to you at any moment in time, your brains tries to answer 2 basic questions.

1) Will this mean pleasure or pain?

2) What must I do to avoid pain?

The answers to these questions are based on our beliefs. They are based on what we experienced in the past. Why don't we touch a hot stove? Because at some point in the past we all had the experience that touching a hot stove causes pain and our brain has stored this information. Next time we face a hot stove we avoid touching it.

That's not a belief, come on. Well, it is the basic way our brain works to predict. Prediction is very helpful. If you predict something to happen, you can take steps to either avoid it or support it. But prediction per definition is to suppose something that has not happened yet. So how do we predict? How do we measure the probability? What do we base our predictions on?

We base our predictions on what we already know or better belief we know. If our brain wouldn't have a process to retrieve former experiences there was no way to prevent us from touching the stove over and over again. Yet, fortunately our brain has a process to predict. It is called generalization.

A generalization is simply an identification of patterns. Patterns are simplifications of the information our brain gets through our senses. Think about it, at every moment in time we are bombed with information through our senses. Our eyes literally encounter every single object that is within the field of view, yet we do not realize them all. Our brain decides what is important at any moment in time and destroys information it does not find to be useful. A quick exercise can help you understand how it works.

For a short time, say 15 seconds, please look around in the place you are right now and try to remember anything that is green. Only read on after you done that.

Now close your eyes and try to remember all the things that are BLUE.

You will have a hard time doing so even if you are in a place you are very familiar with. Why? The reason is that your brain focused on what was important for you (all that is green). Your eyes obviously sent all the information available to your brain, but your brain deleted those parts it was not interested in at that moment.

Basically that shows that we don' know what really is, we only know what we are focusing on.

Using patterns our brain puts another layer of abstraction on top of this selective experience. It asked what certain information has in common and builds a case to decide if an event is going to be painful and what steps to take to avoid it.

Generalizations are kind of an auto-pilot. Event A-B-C occurs and triggers reaction D-E-F every single time. The more references we have, the more often a certain event happens with the exact same outcome, the more stable the generalization gets.

If we have only some experiences about something, our brain might not go into auto-pilot mode on deciding about what this something means. It will evaluate consciously. This is what we usually call an opinion. We have an idea about what a certain event means but are not really sure. We evaluate the event consciously.

If we are certain about the meaning of an event, and we have a lot of references built than our brain goes into auto-pilot mode. This is what we call a belief. A belief is just a very strong generalization with lots of references stored. A belief is something we are certain about.

Just for the record, there is an even higher level of powerful generalizations we call convictions. Convictions are generalizations so strong that they literally build the foundation of our life. Changing beliefs is sometimes hard. Changing convictions is sometimes impossible.

Bottom-line, our beliefs are powerful generalizations build on selectively distorted patterns of sensual information.

And because generalizations are build on measuring the pain or pleasure attached to a certain reference ? a single event ? beliefs are powerful tools to ensure avoiding pain.

Pain and pleasure are states. We either are in a more painful or more pleasurable state. Pain and pleasure trigger emotions, or more exact, emotional states. All we ever want in live is a consistent pleasurable emotional state. We want to feel good and we want to feel good in a way that does not trade feeling good now by feeling pain later. Even though many of us do exactly this. Think about using drugs like alcohol.

Beliefs help us to achieve these states. There is however a challenge with beliefs. They focus on preventing pain immediately. And this is why beliefs can limit us in our lives significantly.

Think about it, if you where raised by abusive parents, you might have developed a generalization to avoid being punished, maybe you learned not to show affection because every time you showed affection you been hurt, emotionally or physically. What kind of generalization you think you would have developed. Probably something like "Do not show affection".

Now, having enough experiences this generalization will go on auto-pilot one day building a belief like "Affection is painful". Do you think this is a limiting belief? You bet it is as it takes away one of the most powerful tools you possess to communicate with others. And, do you think this belief is a natural law? Certainly not, there are many more parents that love their children dearly and love their affection at the same time which in turn leads to a belief that being affectionate is pleasurable.

As you can see, it is not the events that shape our life but the beliefs we have developed about what those events mean.

But if our beliefs are nothing but learned patterns, we can probably replace them by new patterns? Yes, we can. This is the exciting news on having that knowledge. Once we know what beliefs are, how they are developed and that they are not based in the rational area, we can take steps to change our beliefs.

Actually you can change any belief you have, limiting beliefs as well as empowering beliefs. Obviously you want to keep your empowering beliefs and change the limiting ones. How? You already did the first step by realizing that our beliefs are made by us to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. If you accept this basic fact, you also realize that we can control our beliefs. It is us we build them and it is us that can change them. Find those beliefs that limit you and think about how to link massive pleasure to them rather than pain.

You can also join a seminar or training that helps you do that process in a shorter time and with proven methods to ensure success. Whatever you do, start asking why do I believe this or that? How does that belief help me avoiding pain or gaining pleasure? If you ask long enough and consistent your brain will come up with an answer.

I like to finish this article with a quote of a man that once ruled the known world. He speaks to you from 2000 years away but his words are still as true as they ever where.

"If you are distressed by any external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." - Marcus Aurelius (Consul of the Roman Empire)

This article may published freely only in its whole including all appendices.

© 2005 by Norbert Haag

Online Business Coach (

Norbert Haag is a business consultant, entrepreneur and sought after speaker for more than 20 years. His company - Online Business Coach - provides information and services for online businesses, small business owners and freelancers.

You can reach Norbert at [email protected].

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