Why and How to Develop a Strong Belief System
Eliminate self-doubt and indecision.
When I was bullied in middle school, my self-esteem and self-confidence hit rock bottom. As a result, I was plagued by self-doubt and indecision.
By the first year of college, I was on the other end of the spectrum — an overconfident and arrogant prick. Now, the absolute lack of self-doubt while taking whimsical decisions was dangerous.
Soon, a string of events happened that shook me awake to the realization that I needed to change.
When I got to spend a lot of time in solitude the subsequent summer, I discovered the power of introspection and radically changed for the better.
But I still felt internally conflicted.
It has been more than a year since then and I believe I have overcome self-doubt and indecision.
So what did I do?
I developed a strong inner belief system. T D Jakes has rightly said,
“You are no stronger than your belief system”
What is a Belief System?
A belief system is a rather confusing term with different usages and no particular definition.
I like to define a belief system as a rational system comprised of a set of core values and beliefs that you firmly hold to be true.
Religions, cults, and schools of philosophy are all belief systems.
In fact, we all have belief systems comprised of the thousands of beliefs and knowledge accumulated since birth.
It is through these belief systems that we make “sense” of the world.
Developing a Strong Belief System
The firmer your belief in it, the stronger the belief system.
“Blindly” believing in your existing belief system will not make it stronger, becoming “aware” of your belief system and restructuring it will.
The Three Core Components
The three major components of a belief system are — Values, Beliefs, and Rationality.
Your perspective, thoughts, decision-making, feelings, and everything else are derived from these three.
Strengthening each of these components will strengthen your belief system as a whole.
What are they?
Values are what you hold to the highest importance and strive to protect in life.
Values differ from person to person and there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to them.
A few examples: Genuineness; Commitment; Open-mindedness; Creativity; Happiness; Patience; Honesty; Efficiency; Peace or Harmony; Compassion; Hard work; Prosperity; Trustworthiness; Passion; Respect; Self-discipline; Fitness; Consistency; Courage ; Perseverance; Service to others; Responsibility; Good humor; Patriotism
Recognizing Your Existing Values
An intensive introspective exercise can reveal your values. The key here is to be brutally honest with yourself.
Think for a while and you will find a few values right away. As I lift weights regularly — Consistency and fitness popped right away.
Ask yourself questions related to particular values such as “Can I keep a secret?”, “Am I trustworthy”, “Do I have a lot of patience?”, etc. and think of relevant past actions, thoughts, or events to answer them.
Construct hypothetical scenarios and think of what you would do. “How would I handle rejection?”, “Would I rush to help if I witnessed an accident?”, etc.
Choosing the Right Values
There is no “right” value, only how “right” you feel it is for you.
Your real-life role models. They can be friends, family, celebrities, or even fictional characters. Think of what about them inspires you, their admirable qualities, and things you wish to emulate.
The kind of person you want to be. Envision and think of the qualities necessary to be that kind of person.
Values that align with your nature. For example, if you are a passionate person, then values like perseverance and commitment would align.
Integrity is a measure of how closely your values and actions correlate.
“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they are not values; they are hobbies.”
— Joe Stewart
Value your values. When you do this, you will try harder to stick to them. How would you treat a diamond ring vs a worthless steel ring?
Pride yourself on sticking to your values. When faced with a choice, pick the one that upholds your values even if it’s harder and give yourself a pat on your back.
Make integrity itself one of your values. When you do this, you will try harder to stick to sticking to your values.
Beliefs are what you hold or accept to be true especially without any proof or evidence.
Identifying Your Existing Beliefs
Beliefs about yourself such as “I am worthy of love”, “I am capable”, “I can get better” etc. What are your qualities, capabilities, desires, aspirations, etc.?
Beliefs about others such as “He is a snotty person”, “People are driven by self-benefit”, etc. Think of your prejudices, stereotypical beliefs, perceptions of strangers, people you know, and people in general.
Beliefs about life such as “God is the creator of all life”, “The big-bang created the universe”, “There is an afterlife” etc. What do you believe about creation, life, God, death, the meaning of life, etc?
Beliefs about the future such as “The future is bright”, “There is no hope”, “Our present defines the future” etc.
Every belief can be thought of as either positive (enabling) or negative (limiting).
Positive beliefs that can lead to growth, success, and happiness such as:
I am capable of doing this.
I am worthy of love.
I can get better.
Failures are stepping stones for success.
Negative beliefs that can hold you back in life such as:
I am worthless.
I will never get better.
I am doomed to fail.
Life is absolutely meaningless.
Enabling = Good and Limiting = Bad?
Neither are all positive beliefs necessarily good nor are all negative beliefs necessarily bad.
“I am better than everyone else”, “I am entitled to live a comfortable life” etc. are all enabling beliefs that are bad.
“I might fail”, “I don’t know everything” etc. are limiting beliefs that are good.
So what exactly determines what is good and what isn’t?
The Accuracy of a Belief
The accuracy of a belief is a measure of how accurately it reflects reality.
Irrespective of whether it is enabling or limiting, a belief is bad if it’s extremely inaccurate.
When I was bullied, I developed limiting beliefs such as: “I am worthless”; “I will never be able to stand up for myself”; “My body looks weird”; etc. — all of which turned out to be inaccurate.
Later when I became an arrogant prick, I developed enabling beliefs such as: “This is my retribution for being bullied”; “I am better than others”; “I am always right”; etc. — all of which were again grossly inaccurate.
Traumatic events, oppression, negativity, suppression, etc. lead to the development of inaccurate limiting beliefs.
Pampering, indulgence, flattery, etc. lead to the development of inaccurate enabling beliefs.
Modifying Your Beliefs
We need to do three things:
Eliminate inaccurate limiting beliefs and extremely inaccurate enabling beliefs.
Modify the other beliefs to make them as enabling and accurate as possible.
Develop new accurate enabling beliefs.
A few ways to achieve the above:
Explore how the belief aligns with the different aspects of your present life.
Examine the evidence that led you to develop the belief in the first place to determine its accuracy.
Weigh the pros and cons of a particular belief to determine it’s usefulness.
Construct “what if” scenarios and see how your beliefs hold. Are your beliefs limiting you from doing what you envisioned?
Most beliefs are “all or nothing”. See how such beliefs can be reframed.
Who you want to be. Can any new beliefs get you closer to who you want to be or are any of your existing beliefs limiting you?
Rationality is the quality of being rational —being based on reason.
Despite being endowed with the capacity to think and reason, we often make irrational decisions.
The major problem is not being unable to think but not wanting to think.
“Five percent of the people think; Ten percent of the people think that they think; and the other 85 percent of the people would rather die than think.”
— Thomas Alva Edison
The other problem is the intervention of our emotions, feelings, and various biases.
Actively think about your thinking: Examine your thinking to see if it is “rational” which is based on facts, experience, and logic or “emotional“ which is quick, reactive, and often illogical.
Confront your cognitive biases: The next time you jump to conclusions or make assumptions take a step back and think again.
Calm down and think: The influence of emotions such as rage, frustration, etc. can easily sway your thinking.
Project a rational self: Have an explanation or evidence for every opinion or thought you hold and be open to changing your opinion when presented with a rational counter-argument.
Complain less: Complaining results from frustration or a lack of satisfaction regarding something. Think about what can be changed to make it better instead.
Practice: When changing something as fundamental as thinking, it takes practice, a lot of it. Practice until it is ingrained into your identity.
Once you have developed a strong belief system,
You might not always take the “right” decision but will always take decisions that you strongly believe to be right.
Your belief system is not static and unchanging but a dynamic thing that’s constantly evolving — as you gain more experience, acquire a wider perspective, and grow in life.