Understanding Basic Beliefs

Having described the four inbornintentions and suggesting that perfect alignment with them would mean ideal mental health, it is time to look at how to move in their direction, as well as how to avoid moving away from them. Please turn your attention now to basic beliefs, the pathways to mental health.

Basic beliefs defined

Following every significant experience, the subconscious mind retains three components about the event: content, emotion and meaning. “Content” refers to what happened: they are our memories. For instance, a small child bitten by a large black dog may remember the event for a lifetime.

“Emotion” attaches to the content (memory) of an experience. In the above example, pain and fear could be associated with any large black dog, even if memory of the actual event faded.

The “meaning” of an experience refers to the interpretation one places on an event, or its personal significance. The child is convinced that large black dogs are dangerous, making this a basic belief about the subject. The formation of basic beliefs takes place without conscious awareness, and you will not be aware of them unless you search for them in your subconscious mind.

It is not as important to know how you learned any particular basic belief as it is to know that you learned it, and that basic beliefs working in concert determine your thoughts, feelings and behavior unless you make a conscious decision to override them .

Storage is required

As marvelous as thinking brain is, you cannot hold all of the content, emotions and meanings derived from experience in conscious awareness at the same time; more to the point, the portion of the brain responsible for awareness has the capacity to consider only a single thought at a time. Nevertheless, experiences, together with their attached emotions and meanings, have to be stored somewhere for future reference, available for immediate use. The subconscious brain has the ability to store an unlimited amount of information, available for use as occasion demands, and basic beliefs are a major part of the stored material.

The three tasks of basic beliefs

Basic beliefs provide a network of filters through which all incoming stimuli must pass in order to determine their fate, accomplished seemingly at the speed of light.

First task: Is the new sensation dangerous?

The first task is to analyze incoming sensations for threats. When a warning occurs, an alarm mechanism is automatically set off before one is cognitively aware of what is going on. Defense mechanisms become active in an instant when a basic belief signals danger. For example, in the kitchen, note the reaction difference when dropping a sharp knife and when a greasy spoon heads for the floor. Most people will quickly jerk away from the knife while grabbing for the spoon. Differing basic beliefs control each reaction: the falling knife represents a threat to avoid, while a dropped spoon is merely a nuisance.

Conscious thought occurs only after initiation of the protective reaction. If your brain were arranged so that you had to use your relatively slow cognitive ability to determine the potential danger of every new event, minutiae would overwhelm the cortex and you would be unable to respond quickly enough to protect yourself from events that are actually dangerous. Life may depend on fast you make unconscious judgments related to dangerousness, and you make these judgments based on your belief structure. Since self-preservation is imperative, it is unsurprising that an intuitive system exists to facilitate this protective function.

Second task: Is the new sensation significant?

Let’s consider the second task of the basic belief filter system. When a new sensation is threat-free but is nevertheless significant in some way, the body reacts based on the meaning of that sensation. Our beliefs provide a framework for deciding how to respond to new, nonthreatening information. Every choice, response and decision stems from this source. Without conscious intervention, basic beliefs apply invariably, automatically and almost instantaneously.

On occasion, you will deliberately think about what you need or choose to do. However, absent this purposeful effort, subconscious basic beliefs dictate behaviors automatically, without conscious effort. What a monumental responsibility the subconscious mind has since it determines so much of how we live our lives!

Our everyday well-being, from its most mundane aspects to our continued existence, depends on our ability to interact effectively with whatever is going on around us. Since our actions are based on our basic beliefs, the quality of these beliefs determines the effectiveness of our intra- and inter-personal relationships. Basic beliefs provide the basis for making moral and ethical choices as well as operational judgments and decisions. Without them, you would have no direction, no way of knowing what to do, what choices to make, how to act or which way to turn. Basic beliefs do not define you, but they can profoundly influence your sense of self.

Since you only act within the framework of your basic beliefs (absent a conscious effort to make a deliberate decision), you are a prisoner of your experience. Escaping this prison is possible by learning to change problematic basic beliefs, and doing so improves mental health.

Experience determines your relationship with yourself. What you think of yourself, how you treat your mind and body and the decisions that you make concerning yourself all are a part of your intra-personal relationship, arguably the most significant relationship of all.

Third task: Is the new sensation insignificant?

Finally, consider the third and final task of basic beliefs. Many sensations pose no threat, nor do they have any significance. Therefore, the last task of the basic belief filter system is to allow the body to disregard nonthreatening and insignificant sensations. This prevents a great deal of clutter from reaching the brain’s cortex and allows you to proceed as if the input never occurred, unburdened from the necessity of dealing with useless trivia. Otherwise, your limited capacity for cognitive thinking would be overwhelmed, rendering you incapable of dealing with more pressing matters.

A question for your consideration and comment

What would be the first basic belief you would change in order to improve your thinking, feeling or behavior?

Next step: Go to Qualities and Characteristics of Basic Beliefs