Is this belief right for me?… Part 2

 Not long ago, I discovered Steve Pavlina’s website and found an interesting article called Questioning Your Beliefs, something I have been doing for a while now. I found his journey to figure out what beliefs to stick with and what to put aside fascinating. I haven’t done anywhere near as much research into different belief systems as he has, but I have been asking myself what I believe is true and acceptable. Shortly after I began to do that, I found this: 8 Guidelines for Choosing Effective Beliefs, where he lists them and then gives examples of how they can be used to determine whether a belief is right for you or not.

Here’s one of the examples that he gives:

Belief Example 1: Most people just want to be left alone.

Imagine a young man who believes most people just want to be left alone. Let’s call him Paul (not a real person). Paul’s belief dictates the terms by which he interacts socially. He has a few friends, and he’s fine socializing with people he already knows, but he has a hard time making new friends. He’s unlikely to take the initiative because it’s too big a risk with a high probability of rejection. Paul doesn’t want to annoy people who want to be left alone, so he mostly keeps to himself. His social circle remains small and stagnant, and most of his social connections come from his work. Paul has virtually no relationship prospects because he considers women to be unapproachable except under extremely rare circumstances. If he sees a woman he’d like to date, he remains silent and aloof. Paul feels that to ask her out would be a social faux pas because after all, she just wants to be left alone.

How does Paul’s belief perform against our criteria? Let’s take a look.

1. Is it accurate? I think most people would agree this belief is inaccurate and too pessimistic. The best way for Paul to find out would be to test alternative beliefs and note the results. The problem with this belief is that Paul would rarely ever test it, so he’ll gather little or no evidence either way. Perhaps he formed this belief by overgeneralizing after a bad experience. On those rare occasions when he does push himself socially, his belief will negatively affect his communication style, thus encouraging the rejection he expects.

2. Is it all-inclusive? This criterion doesn’t apply because we’re taking a single belief out of context here. But this single belief will influence Paul’s entire field of social interaction.

3. Is it flexible? No. Paul’s belief is unnecessarily rigid. A more accurate belief might be that some people are more friendly and approachable than others. And even the same person will be more or less approachable depending on the exact conditions. Paul’s belief is a worst-case scenario, and it will limit him socially even when conditions are excellent. It will also serve him poorly in people-oriented careers, such as sales or communication.

4. Is it ethical? You could make a case that this belief is somewhat immoral. If Paul sees a stranger in need, he’d likely avoid that person instead of offering help. Paul wouldn’t become a criminal, but he’d behave apathetically towards others. He might be internally motivated to act, but his belief will cause him to hold back.

5. Is it congruent? That would depend on Paul’s other beliefs. There are many popular beliefs that would be incongruent with this one though. For example, if Paul was a practicing Christian who strongly believed in loving service to others, Paul would be internally conflicted. His religion would urge him to help people, but his social resistance would cause him to hold back. At best he might donate money from the sidelines, but he wouldn’t feel free to give openly from his heart and express his generosity. If Paul were an atheist, however, there would be no inherent conflict with atheism itself, but there could certainly be conflicts with other parts of Paul’s social and moral code of conduct.

6. Is it consciously chosen? Not likely. This was probably a socially conditioned belief or one that developed as an unconscious reaction to social rejection. It’s doubtful Paul would have chosen to adopt this belief consciously. If he’s consciously aware of this belief at all, he probably wants to replace it, but he may be stuck if he also believes that he can’t change his beliefs.

7. Is it pleasure-increasing and/or pain-reducing? On balance, no. This belief may reduce the amount of rejection Paul experiences by causing him to avoiding risky social situations. However, by avoiding a 10-second rejection, Paul kills off the possibility of a long-term relationship as well as abundant new friendships. This belief also keeps Paul focused on his fears, which will likely cause him to experience far more pain in the long run, including the pain of regret. This belief will almost certainly drive Paul’s emotional state in a negative direction, possibly for his entire life.

8. Is it empowering? Definitely not. This belief causes Paul to unnecessarily limit himself. Paul will miss opportunity after opportunity. But if he could get himself to take action, some of those opportunities would pay off. He won’t ask for the date, for the promotion, for the raise, for help, etc. Technically all of these things lie easily within Paul’s power, but this belief will prevent him from tapping that power. Consequently, Paul will lead a far more stagnant life than necessary. His belief effectively makes the possible impossible.

Clearly Paul’s belief that most people just want to be left alone doesn’t perform too well according to our criteria.

(From 8 Guidelines for Choosing Effective Beliefs)

Now I’ll put it up against one of the beliefs that I considered around about the time I began this blog:

Belief:  In most cases, it’s okay to trust people with more than just what the mask shows.

As I said earlier, I haven’t really trusted anyone properly with anything (apart from the exception I told you all of), because I didn’t want to get hurt like I did the times before. I was worried about making this blog public. But then I considered the kinds of lives others blog about and decided that if they could do it, if they could trust other people with information about their thoughts and lives then so could I. Maybe I could trust other people.

*Please note however, that this doesn’t mean I’ll be spilling information about myself left, right and centre. If it’s relevant to what I’m writing though, then fair enough.*

Let’s see how this belief does against the criteria?

1. Is it accurate?  Earlier in my life, I would have said no, absolutely not. However, now that I’ve seen that it is possible to trust people and since I’ve seen less examples as to why I can’t trust people as I’ve gotten older, I’d have to say that yes, it is accurate.

2. Is it all-inclusive?  This criterion doesn’t apply because I’m taking a single belief out of context.  But this single belief will influence what I am willing to tell people about myself.

3. Is it flexible?  Yes.  It works in a variety of circumstances. If a person turns out to be trustworthy than it works. However, it also allows for the possibility that there may be people who aren’t.

4. Is it ethical?  Yes.  This belief is at least ethically neutral. It allows me the freedom to trust people with things that I might not have told them earlier. While this may result in me ending up being hurt sometimes, at least I will be able to create deeper connections with people instead of feeling lonely most of the time which, lets face it, isn’t much fun at all.

5. Is it congruent?  That would depend on my other beliefs.  Looking over them at present, I’d have to say yes.

6. Is it consciously chosen?  Yes.

7. Is it pleasure-increasing and/or pain-reducing?  To begin with it may be uncomfortable, given how different it is to the previous belief, but with time, most likely yes.

8. Is it empowering?  Yes. It will allow for deeper connections with other people.

This belief seems to be effective according to the criteria.

So how about you? Are there some beliefs you hold that may not be helping you in life?

Your homework

Take a moment to write down some of the beliefs you have about reality.  What do you believe to be true about your health, career, relationships, finances, spirituality, etc?  Then go over the eight criteria above to see how they measure up.  If you don’t like what you see, craft more effective beliefs to replace the old ones.  Remember that your beliefs are not mere observations of reality — they shape and create your reality as well.  Many of the thoughts you hold most sacred may reveal their hidden falsehoods once you take the opportunity to test one or two alternatives.

(From 8 Guidelines for Choosing Effective Beliefs)

Until next time,

The Nocturnal Philosopher 🙂

(Still more to come! As to whether it’s one more part or more, only time will tell… ;))

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~ by thenocturnalphilosopher on 26/04/2012.

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