Your beliefs — about yourself and the world you live in — are the lens through which you experience life. Every thought, every feeling, every decision and every action you take, arises out of your beliefs. Many are so deeply ingrained that we take them for granted as representing reality and rarely question their validity. We act on beliefs as though they are a fixed part of us; while our subconscious selects information that reinforces what we already believe.
Eastern masters have long advised, “Cease to cherish opinions.” From the Zen perspective, all beliefs are little more than current opinions — based on the best perceptions we can make, given our upbringing and conditioning, and what we would like to believe. Around age 3 or 4 we begin to make conclusions about our environment and form core beliefs to make sense of the world. Such deeply entrenched opinions can continue to operate subconsciously for a lifetime.
Looking at beliefs as opinions illuminates their impermanent nature. As I discuss in my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, every belief is a choice — one we are making now or made years ago. Recognizing the nature of beliefs helps us be more open and flexible; and able to allow our beliefs to naturally evolve based on new learning experiences. If we want to make better decisions for ourselves, we must be willing to reconsider what we think is true and grow beyond the limitations imposed on us by our current beliefs. The important question now is: How aware are you of your beliefs, especially your fears? Often the vigor with which we defend against our fears unwittingly locks us into the belief behind them. More than any other mental structure, your beliefs and the attitudes they derive from define what is possible for you. Beliefs can be a major limiting factor in getting what you want.
An important part of self-knowledge, it is necessary to take full ownership of what you believe – something most people actually never do. For one thing, it requires the courageous humility of self-examination. To make things more difficult, many of us were taught that certain beliefs are sacred and that even to question them is a sin. Well, the wise and the brave are willing to question and test everything they believe in order to make better, more conscious decisions. Can your current beliefs pass two critical tests? Are they 1) based in reality as best you understand it now (have you studied?) and 2) do they help the realization of your higher desires, your aspirations? If you answered no in either case, it’s time for some more experimenting and learning! Nothing is more important than having success-functional beliefs!
A skillful way to look at beliefs is to take them as current operating assumptions, rather than ‘facts’ or articles of faith you must cling to. They should work for you, not you for them! Ultimately, we are responsible for our beliefs and the decisions we make from them. Believing itself is a choice, so decide wisely. Be sure to upgrade your beliefs as needed. Try and learn new things.