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How to Be Greater than the Sum of Your Beliefs

'A PLACE BEYOND BELIEF' Lumiere Festival, Durham

Folks used to believe that the Earth was flat. Then Magellan came along and proved otherwise. But somehow, there are still people who think the Earth has more in common with a pancake than a football.

People still believe that global warming is a huge hoax, despite overwhelming evidence from the global scientific community to the contrary.

And perhaps most bizarrely of all, there’s a whole heap of people who believe Fox News to be an actual new channel, despite its output.

But let’s not talk about those things. I’m more interested in what you believe.

You beliefs are the things you carry around with you every minute of every day that inform your choices and your behaviour.

Your beliefs shape your world

At first glance, you’d think your beliefs are formed from things that happen to be true, but that belief, ironically, isn’t true at all.

Your beliefs are only thoughts, just really sticky ones.

Believe that people have to earn your trust and you’ll make people work hard for it. Believe that you’re better at what you do than anyone else and you’ll have a hard time when others get their way. Believe that you have to prove yourself and you’ll work and work and work for it ’til you bleed. And if you believe that you’re a pirate you’ll start wearing an eye patch and find yourself a little parrot friend.

It’s astonishing just how much your life is shaped by the beliefs you hold, and it’s shocking that you might not even know it’s happening.

So rather than have your beliefs confine you to a life that’s smaller than you deserve, here are a couple of ways to be greater than the sum of your beliefs.

Strive for meaning

Beliefs provide a framework for thought and behaviour, and when some of those beliefs no longer reflect who you are or what matters to you, something’s mightily wrong.

This is how people find themselves lost and floating, disconnected from meaning in their own lives. Confidence and self-trust evaporate as there’s no foundation, nothing anchoring decisions and no way to know which way is up. Sometimes, and sadly we see this too often in the world, people end up clinging to their beliefs no matter how crazy, dumb or out-dated, simply because it’s the only thing left to trust.

So you have to move towards meaning.

You have to bring into your life the things that matter most to you, and you have to honour, express and demonstrate what matters most even when that flies in the face of a belief you hold. Especially when it flies in the face of a belief you hold.

That’s a sure sign that you’ve outgrown an old belief, and a big clue towards a more empowering belief that you can hold confidence in.

Let go of what doesn’t work

Which brings us to where many people get stuck and turn back—letting go.

Your beliefs are some of the strongest pathways in your brain, able to be activated without any deliberate thought. They’re among the go-to circuits your brain leans on most. You might say then, that your brain has confidence in your beliefs.

That makes them super-sticky, and it takes zero effort to leave them be and just go about your day as you always have.

But a sweet and beautiful life sometimes demands that you let go of what doesn’t serve you any more, and doing that starts with the thought, “I don’t need to keep this close any more.”

That’s it. That all it takes. A gentle acknowledgement that what once might have worked, now doesn’t work so well.

That’s what I did with the beliefs I first held about my illness; maybe one of my best moves ever.

You don’t have to pick it apart or try to understand it, you just need to soften into what your life might be like without that thought, without that belief, without that thing that’s holding you back.

It’s through letting go that you get to grow.

Test new beliefs

Letting go and leaning in to a fresh way of thinking doesn’t need to be a huge upheaval.

In fact, sometimes the blocker to a new way of thinking or a new belief is the belief that making the shift will be hard or painful, or that it might turn you into something you’re not.

You’ll see how beliefs might get stacked on top of one another or how they can lead to circular thinking, so it’s important to find a simple way to cut through that with minimal fuss.

So instead of thinking about it as a fundamental change, a hard process or something that will disrupt, just try on a new belief like you might a new coat.

Take the pressure off yourself, slip into a new belief and see how it fits. Check to see how it makes you feel (clue: if it makes you feel lighter, then it’s a great fit). See what works, and discard the rest.

You are greater than the sum of your beliefs, and it’s by placing your confidence and trust in your ability to explore and evolve that you get to step into that.

So what’s keeping you?

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