We all hold certain things to be true. These things could be called beliefs. And in case you didn’t notice, we definitely don’t all agree upon what is true or correct. None the less, as individuals, we organize our lives around what we believe. Something that is important to know is that we hold beliefs that we, ourselves are not even consciously aware of. You could say they are embedded deep within our subconscious. And we are living our life according to them without even realizing that we are doing it.
Things happen in each one of our lives and each one of us encounters information that challenges our beliefs. For example, life may throw us a curveball that proves one of our beliefs wrong. Or we may read something that presents a totally alternative perspective. Or, we may become interested in self-development and take a more proactive approach to questioning and changing our own beliefs. And no matter whether this happens in an intentional, conscious way or whether it is simply an experience that happens to us, it is really, really hard.
Many of our beliefs are benefitting us. And many of our beliefs are in fact hindering us. Changing the beliefs that are not benefitting us, makes our life experience better. It makes us more successful. But we still resist changing our beliefs. Even when we have committed to the path of self-development or even just success, we struggle with changing our beliefs. At face value, it makes no sense. It seems our resistance to changing a belief is self-sabotaging. But, today, I’m going to explain to you why changing a belief is so hard. I’m going to explain why we resist changing our beliefs so much.
The most important thing to understand about changing a belief is that it is quite literally life threatening. Why do I say this? Because our life is built in accordance with our beliefs. What we do with our health, what our personal relationships look like and who we have relationships with, what we do for work, where we live, the choices we make in our life, what we do with our money… all of it, we choose according to our beliefs. If we change a belief, it isn’t just the belief that will be changing. It is any aspect of our life that was in alignment with that belief. For many people, a drastic overhaul of one or many beliefs will equal a drastic overhaul of their entire life… A life crisis. And that process is not just a feel-good process of improvement.
For example, Seth grew up Jehova’s witness. Just to name a few beliefs that came with this, he grew up believing that it is wrong to accept blood transfusions because it brings about the loss of eternal salvation. He believed it was wrong to have sex before marriage and that as such, it was important to have a chaperone or to go on a group date if he ever met a girl that he thought might be right for him as a wife. He believed it was wrong to celebrate his birthday or anyone else’s. He believed that any personal ambitions regarding a career must be abandoned for the sake of service to family and the service to God.
Because of all of these beliefs, Seth chose to stay in Georgia, with his congregation rather than to go to college in Massachusetts, specifically to a school with one of the best mathematics programs. He avoided doctors for his entire life, preferring to trust God to heal him if he was sick or injured. He married the first girl he had feelings for when he was 19 years old. When he had his first child, they did not celebrate his birthday and took him out of school on any days the school was celebrating a holiday. Seth devoted himself to missionary work rather than to getting the best degrees so as to become an actuary, which was his dream job.
When he was still young, the universe delivered him a 1-2 punch. On top of his family and religious service duties, he decided to take an anthropology class at a local college. When he took that course, the foundations of everything he was led to believe began to crumble. On top of that, at the very same time, his cousin, whom he was very close to, suffered a miscarriage following a car accident and her husband and parents all encouraged her to refuse a blood transfusion. She went into hypovolemic shock, which led to both brain damage and gangrene. She had to undergo multiple amputations and went through a personality change. She is much less cohesive, has seizures, memory problems and sometimes, become dazed, disoriented and confused now.
As a result of all of this, Seth’s beliefs changed. But because his entire life was chosen based on his beliefs, the entire life he built inevitably collapsed too. His shift in beliefs caused a divorce between he and his wife. Something that brought intense shame on him. He was only able to see his son on weekends. His family stopped talking to him completely as he was shunned. He lost all but one friend in his congregation. He had to make all new friends, which was a rich experience, but also a very alienating one, because no one could relate to him. He made the decision to move to the closest major city. He started studying holistic medicine and he completely dedicated himself to it. He let his new friends throw him the first birthday party of his life. And he started going on a dates alone with women.
It doesn’t matter whether you judge what happened with Seth as right or wrong. What is important is to see is that because he changed his belief, his entire life changed. Changing a belief can do this. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: The Real Reason Why People Don’t Change.
Another reason changing a belief is so hard is that we often add painful meaning to the changing of a belief. And that painful meaning, we either accept and are in pain about. Or we refuse to accept, so we simply keep the old belief to avoid that pain. For example, Jen is a big-time animal lover. When she was young, she learned that if a baby bird is touched, the mother will abandon it. She found a couple of birds on the ground and knew that they would not survive on the ground, but that if she touched them, they would starve to death. To put them out of their misery and try to prevent them from experiencing pain, she decided to put them in her freezer so they would die more peacefully and quickly. Years later, she was watching a TV show and was confronted with the truth that a mother bird will not reject babies who are touched and that the best thing to do is to put the baby bird back in the nest and to walk away so the mother can come back to it. The painful meaning that Jen decided would come along with the new belief is that she was a killer. She had unnecessarily killed the baby birds. She could not live with that. It kept her up at night in torment.
The pain of the meaning we add to the changing of a belief is sometimes so painful, that we choose to go into complete denial. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: How to Call BullS#!T on Denial.
When we change a belief, we are often thrust into a state of cognitive dissonance. You are suddenly in a situation where things don’t line up. You are faced with conflicting experiences, conflicting information, conflicting beliefs, conflicting values, conflicting perspectives or conflicting behaviors etc. And cognitive dissonance is an extremely uncomfortable and destabilizing experience for people. It causes serious stress and confusion.
Changing a belief causes our sense of self to change. Beliefs form much of the structure of our consistent sense of self. So, when they change, so does our identity. Because of this, changing a belief can easily lead to an identity crisis. To learn more about this, watch my video titled: Self Concept, The Enemy of Awakening.
There is an undeniable social element to changing a belief. This goes along with the idea that changing a belief will change the different sectors of your life. But whether you think it should be this way or not, the reality is that beliefs are integral to human social bonds. If you don’t believe me, just look at what happened during the Covid Crisis. I am yet to meet one person who did not lose a friend or family member (or many) over the conflicting beliefs around Vaccines. Changing beliefs, changes your relationships.
- Your brain and body and ego are hard wired to protect you. Because changing beliefs can either threaten to invite pain or can actually cause pain, you are in many ways wired against it. For example, you filter out anything that contradicts your beliefs and pay very close attention to what reinforces it. Psychologist Peter Wason, named this Confirmation Bias. Your brain is hard wired to want to save energy, maintain homeostasis and simplify the world. We want to avoid anything that causes stress. And we are prone to do anything to preserve our sense of self (ie: ego) when it is threatened.
Long story short, encountering anything that challenges our current beliefs, causes us to feel threatened. Belief perseverance is a very real thing. Leaning into that discomfort is definitely not an easy thing to do. And I can tell you that leaning into it and being willing to proactively engage with your beliefs, which implies being willing to potentially change them, is essential to both expansion and genuine wellbeing. But there are very real reasons why people are afraid of doing this. And there are very real consequences (both positive and negative) that come with doing so.