Badgers and Beliefs

I was chatting to a good friend recently about beliefs It always reminds me of a wonderful story he tells about an acquaintance, who was convinced that badgers were mythical creatures. Astounding? Well no, not really. You can understand it if you have little experience of the countryside, and were brought up reading Wind in the Willows. Lets face it, toads who drive cars, and a rat and a mole who go boating together. It would be quite easy to believe Badgers weren't real creatures.

So how many other beliefs do we have that aren't true? None? Some? Too many for comfort? I'm sure some of you, those of you who know badgers are real for a start, are thinking 'Nope, pretty sure my beliefs are all true'. I believe that the sun will rise in the morning, and sure enough it does. I believe that I can solve the latest problem that life has thrown at me, and I persevere until I do. Well, all apart from training the dog, that is definitely impossible, and I can prove it. You just have to meet him to know that he only does what he's told when he wants to. Oh, and wasps definitely sting you every time they land on you. It doesn't matter how much I flap and wave my arms around, they still sting....

You see, whatever you believe, you will always be able to find the evidence that its true, even if you have to really go out of your way to do it. You see I also know that if you stay still the wasp isn't really interested in you, and in most cases will leave you alone. But staying still and calm is pretty difficult if your strongly held belief is that you are about to be stung. I know where this particular belief comes from, and its a simple example of something that affects all of us, every day. As a child a wasp landed on my finger. I didn't even know it was there until it stung me. There was no flapping of arms or panic involved, it just stung me. That was all it took to convince me that would happen every time and the only way to prevent it would be to stop the wasp landing on me at all, hence the flapping.

Many of our beliefs can go back to a single incident, one that we generalised to the extent it became a universal truth for us. Just because we believe something does not actually make it true of course. Nonetheless we operate our lives on the basis that all our beliefs are true. And we are so good at it, that we stop even noticing what is happening. Trouble is, our beliefs are crucial to how we behave, and what we achieve. So beliefs are well worth spending a little time considering.

Let's take one of the most common beliefs - "I can" or "I can't". Go ahead and add your favourite ending to either of those beliefs and notice what happens. I often play one of the solitaire card games you get on an app. What I noticed was when I played a "winning deal" I would keep going until I solved it, because I knew it could be done, whereas if I played a "random deal" I would give up much more quickly and move on if it was tricky. The difference? The belief that one might not be winnable, so why bother to keep trying. Our lives are full of things that need a bit of effort to succeed. Whether we keep going, or we give up is more directly linked to our belief about whether we can or can't, than whether something is actually possible.

Beliefs are like on / off switches. You have to switch them on if you want to succeed at things. You can go on a training course and learn new skills, but unless you believe you can do something, the training won't have the desired impact on your outcomes. And we can choose our beliefs, once we realise that they are not all true. What's more its ok that they aren't all true, and that its up to us which ones we choose. Some are true of course, whilst others are merely helpful or unhelpful, empowering or limiting. Choosing to believe we can do something, is far more than wishful thinking. The difference really comes in when we start to act in accordance with that belief.

Our Reticular Activating System is a bunch of nerves at the brainstem that does a number of things, and one of them is to filter out important stuff. This is where it is important what we choose to believe. If we believe we are bad at something the RAS keeps watch for evidence to prove it, and the draws your attention to it. In the same way if we choose to believe we are good at something the RAS will find the evidence to go with that too. So if we choose to believe we can solve a problem, then the RAS keeps a look out for solutions until we find one that works.

It took Thomas Eddison around 10,000 attempts to invent the lightbulb, and I imagine most of us are pretty grateful he clung on to that helpful belief that it could work. If you want to hear a little more about some convenient beliefs, then tune into a conversation with @mentalconvs