After a while, you realize that the big thing to work on in personal development are beliefs. Not religious beliefs, mind you, but other kinds of beliefs. An example of other kinds of beliefs might be the common belief that you have a right to private property, and the right to hold onto it with safety. This belief has become so naturalized in our society that it seems totally obvious and “natural”. It is also so familiar that we don’t think about it consciously. What we also don’t recognize is how amazing this is. This natural right that is embedded in the constitution of the United States really only came about around 300-400 years ago, when it was argued for very eloquently by John Locke, who also argued for limited government. For example, we don’t really think that the government or other people have the right to simply barge into our homes and watch us, but back in the good old days, the government or monarchs had that–and other arbitrary–powers.
Because we can never see the world objectively, but through many different lenses (or mental models), beliefs play a key role as lenses. For example, ever notice how when you’re hungry, all sources and forms of food become highlighted? It all depends on how you (or your hypothalamus) set your filters.
Many beliefs, however, can simply become self-fulfilling prophesies. Say you hold a belief that people are untrustworthy. Your mind will filter out all cases of supposed trustworthy behaviour (it will probably be rationalized away as only being the appearance of trustworthiness), and focus on the evidence of untrustworthiness. Not only that, you will also act in ways which suggest to other people that you don’t trust them, and they’re less likely to trust you. When all is said and done, you’ll continue to be reinforced by the belief that people are untrustworthy.
So, if there’s no way to rationalize your way out of these kinds of beliefs, what’s an intelligent person to do? Pavlina suggests (and I agree) to try out different beliefs, because your belief will usually appear to be right one when you’re within it. After you’ve tried out a number of them, whichever one seems to be the best on whatever scale you choose (such as accuracy, makes you happier, make you more money, etc) you adopt as your belief.
Its a very interesting process of exploration. For example, I recently discovered that I believe effort is value. That the value of something I do comes from the effort I put into it. This helps to explain a few curious behaviours I used to engage in:
- Ignore the opportunity to make easy money.
- Feel bad about making money when it didn’t require effort or personal sacrifice from me (ie by fixing computers which I enjoy and I’m good at, and its just easy for me).
- If I worked really hard on an assignment and got a C, I would say, “but I worked really hard.” Rather than simply accept that effort and the final value of the essay do not have to correlate. And after a while, thinking that my effort wasn’t good enough, I’d stop trying and fall into a pattern of procrastination and not trying very hard.
Objective truth is a hard thing to find these days.