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Lesson 2c: Beliefs

Objective: Understand better how beliefs shape how we see the world

Before I explain how we form beliefs, it is important to understand how we process information and what information is ignored in forming a decision.  In our environment there are over a million pieces of information for any one situation.  If we try to process all of this information, our brain would be overloaded.  Our brain can only process a small fraction of this information, therefore our brain filters out a large amount of information based on what we deem to be important.

When looking at a new situation, we pick up only a limited amount of information.   It is like going to a new city.  There is no way to see the whole city and remember everything that we see.  So we remember just the highlights.  In a new situation, we do not know nor can we process the entire situation. We can only see a small piece of the real situation and make a decision based on what we know.

"I see nothing as it is now."
A Course In Miracles

Alternatively, if you go to a city that you have seen before, you are able to remember more information.  This is because the brain is not processing the whole environment.  Most of the information that we see is through past memories.   In looking out your window just for a second, you can see and remember most of the information there is because your brain does not process the whole picture because it can recall most of it.   Thus, things that are the same are easier to recall, while new things are harder to detect.  In effect, we see a situation not as it is today, but what we remember of that situation from the past.

How we creates beliefs (patterns)

"The reality of life is that your perceptions -- right or wrong -- influence everything else you do. When you get a proper perspective of your perceptions, you may be surprised how many other things fall into place."
- Roger Birkman




Beliefs are based on prior decisions and past information.  Information that we process or don't process, influences the formation of our beliefs.  Thus, beliefs are dependent on the information we perceive.   Beliefs are based on a circular pattern that reinforces itself as follows:

Event - is a neutral occurrence or situation 

Decision - is the judgment that we make about the event

Belief - based on the judgment or decision, we form a belief about the situation

For example, if we ask people in a city for directions and each person ignores us, the first decision that we make is the individual person was rude.  After the third person, we may form a belief that everyone in the city is rude.

Gathering Evidence - having formed a belief (e.g., about the people in the city), we find evidence to support our belief

Events - in gathering evidence, we pay attention to events that support our belief

"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong."
-Bertrand Russell

This is a circular process that strengthens itself with each pass, making it harder and harder to break any beliefs that we have.  The way to break a belief is to make a new decision about the events in our lives.  By being open to different pieces of information about the event, we are more likely to change our decision and subsequently our belief about the event.

Example #1 - There is a story about a gentleman riding the New York subway, seated in front of a father and his children.  The father is staring blankly at the front of the train ignoring his children who are jumping and screaming in the seats next to him.  The gentleman can't understand how this generation of parents allow their children to run wild in public with no discipline.  He becomes more and more annoyed, thinking what a terrible father this man is.  Finally, he turns around and yells at the father, "Can't you control your children!"  The father replies in a solemn voice, "I am sorry.  We just left the hospital where my wife just died.   They've lost their mother, and they're having a tough time with it."  The gentleman turns around, not knowing what to say.

Morale of the story: In any situation, there is information that we do not notice or do not have which can lead us to a different conclusion about the situation.  A saying that I always remember is "Seek first to understand, then be understood."  How many times do we react out of the intent to prove the other person wrong versus being open to understanding the situation and others better?

Example #2 - At the age of 8, a boy was called a slow non-teachable student by his teacher.  How many students hear this in their schools today?  The boy dropped out of school and got a job on the railroad selling snacks and newspapers. How many would form a belief that this boy will only be a store clerk for the rest of his life?  Well this boy did not believe what others told him and did not form this a belief about himself.  He turned the job on the railroad into becoming one of our greatest inventors, Thomas Edison.

Personal Topic : Beliefs and Budgeting
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