Why do you believe what you believe?

Suppose someone in a social situation brings up the topic of global warming. How would you respond? You might agree with the speaker, or you might strenuously disagree. Whatever your response, it would reflect the beliefs that you already hold about the topic. We consciously express only what is stored subconsciously.

An interesting aspect of verbally expressing an underlying basic belief is that sometimes what comes out of our mouth does not reflect what we actually believe. This is not when we deliberately lie, but an example of how the brain sometimes operates in an out of the ordinary way, usually under the influence of anxiety.

Basic beliefs determine behavior

In addition to verbal expressions, most other behaviors also reflect a subconscious basic belief. Only reflexes and instinctive behaviors originate elsewhere in the brain. Basic beliefs are extremely important for our well-being because they guide behaviors, be they beneficial or problematic.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. This quote, attributed to the Jesuits, an Order of the Catholic Church, reflects the importance of early childhood learning. A child’s deeply embedded basic beliefs result from his/her experiences in their formative years, thus determining their subsequent behavior. Children (or adults) are generally not aware of the underlying cause of their thoughts and behaviors, rarely questioning why they think or act the way they do. Or else they may assume that they are acting/thinking solely in response to what is going on around them. Too often, thoughts and actions are simply there, their origin unquestioned. From childhood to adulthood, we continue to act in self-detrimental ways when we do not examine our underlying basic beliefs.

Basic beliefs are acquired through experience and are in turn the basis of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors.

The Sources and Consequences of Basic Beliefs

Change is always possible

However, the fatalism implied in the quote is avoidable. It is always possible to change a basic belief, no matter how deeply embedded, by bringing it up to consciousness, forming a new and different belief on the topic in the thinking brain, and constructing experiences that are consistent with the new cognitively formed belief. Just as early experiences determined the original basic belief and behaviors, new experiences establish new beliefs and behaviors. But unless you are proactive in changing your basic beliefs, you will remain a prisoner of your experiences.

Barriers to change

Changing a basic belief is simple, but it is not always easy. By definition, a basic belief is true, so you must overcome any internal resistance before change can take place. Also, change requires a high level of motivation because it is in our nature to hold on strongly to what we believe to be true. There are other barriers to change as well. If you are not aware that a basic belief exists, change is unlikely. When you are anxious, change cannot take place since the thinking brain will not be fully operational and you will be engaged in a defense mechanism. The feeling brain rules!

What has all this to do with mental health?

Behaviors reflect the quality of one’s mental health and basic beliefs determine most behaviors. The greater the consistency between your basic beliefs and the four inbornintentions, the stronger your mental health will be. For instance, it is mentally healthy to have a positive worldview (inbornintention: love), have a strong work ethic (inbornintention: sense of accomplishment), make wise decisions (inbornintention: freedom of choice) and, most importantly, have a positive self-concept (inbornintention: human dignity).

For further information

For a better understanding of some terms used in this post, such as “thinking brain,” “feeling brain,” “inbornintentions,” “basic beliefs,” “human dignity,” “sense of accomplishment,” “anxiety,” or “defense mechanisms,” see the Glossary. Alternatively, find a copy of the paperback Pathways to Mental Health and Anxiety Management, available on Amazon.com or the eBook on Kindle, either accessible by clicking on the link on the right of this post.


Book: Pathways to Mental Health and Anxiety Management, by Frank Hannah.
Kindle eBook

YouTube channel: Choose Mental Health

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