Every single belief that you hold in your mind is like a little entity.
And just like an entity wishes to survive, every belief wishes to survive.
From a scientific perspective, a belief is a neural network (a collection of neurons). Once a neural network is formed, the neurons in the network try their best to maintain the network.
Beliefs (neural networks) survive by means of your unconscious attention and external validation (reinforcement). The more attention and validation a belief gets, the stronger it becomes.
For example, let’s say you believe in veganism. To sustain this belief system, you will automatically be drawn to read literature (or watch/hear stuff) that directly supports your belief towards veganism. You will also automatically shun literature that supports meat eating. You might also engage in fierce debates with meat eaters trying to prove them wrong because for your belief to be true, their belief has to be wrong. Similarly, you will also spend a lot of time thinking (giving attention) about veganism making your belief stronger.
This exact same thing also happens in the mind of a meat eater. This person would be drawn to read literature that supports meat eating. He will engage in debates with vegans trying to prove them wrong, and so on.
In the end, both of these are simply belief systems. From a vegans perspective, veganism is right and from a meat eater’s perspective, meat eating is right. From a universal perspective though, non is right or wrong. Everything just is.
There is nothing wrong in holding beliefs
Now, I am not saying that holding beliefs is wrong.
In-fact, as humans, beliefs add value and purpose to our lives. Without beliefs, our brain will not have a reference point to analyze and make sense of external information. You will not even be able to make simple choices and there will be confusion and chaos.
So beliefs are definitely of immense value.
As long as the belief is positive and is helping you attract positivity into your life, everything is fine.
But the problem begins when a belief starts impacting your life negatively causing you to lead an unsatisfactory life by keeping you stuck in a reality that you do not wish to be a part of.
The elephant story
In Srilanka, baby elephants are tied to a pillar using a coir rope so they don’t run away. The rope is tied to one of its legs. The baby elephant tries to break free but does not succeed. Eventually it stops trying accepting the belief that it is not strong enough to break free.
As the elephant grows up, it is still tied to the pillar using the same coir rope. The grown elephant is extremely strong and can snap the rope with one pull, but it does not even try because of its established belief that it is not strong enough to break the rope.
This example clearly illustrates the power of your beliefs.
Your mind is a collection of beliefs
Your mind is your brain in action. Think of your mind as a bigger entity made of all these little entities (beliefs). Your mind is made up of these beliefs and hence these beliefs are near and dear to it irrespective of if or not these beliefs are positive or negative. To the mind, they are just beliefs. It does not differentiate or discriminate between them. When a belief is killed, your mind takes that as a part of it being killed and hence there is initial resistance to sustain the belief. Only through your awareness can you break this resistance so the belief gets disintegrated.
Your beliefs keep your stuck
All beliefs, be it negative or positive, try to sustain themselves.
A belief needs two things for sustenance (survival):
- External validation: Feedback from external circumstances that make the belief appear true.
- Your unconscious attention: Your attention to thoughts related to the negative beliefs.
The more validation a belief gets the stronger it becomes. And the stronger a belief becomes, the more will it attract circumstances that validate it. So this turns into a vicious cycle.
Also, when you give your attention to these negative beliefs (by thinking about them), you further validate their existence giving them more power.
Become aware of your negative beliefs
There is a concept in neuroscience which is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to discard older neural networks and form new ones based on the need to do so.
The best way to become free of negative beliefs is to cause the brain the discard them. Here’s how:
1. Realize that you have negative beliefs:
The first step is to identify that you have negative/dysfunctional beliefs that are holding you back.
If you are feeling deeply dissatisfied with any area of your life, it has to do with a belief that you hold. In-fact, this belief was with you for a very long time (probably since childhood) and is very deeply rooted in your brain.
Also realize that these beliefs exist at a subconscious level in the form of neural networks. These networks thrive on your attention and external validation. So to break these networks, you need to stop giving them either.
2. Bring your conscious awareness to the belief:
When you are not consciously aware of a belief, you are unconsciously identified with it. Identification always happens on an unconscious level.
Identifying with a belief involves giving the belief your unconscious attention. To put it simply, you engage with the thoughts and emotions created by the belief.
The best way to stop this is to become aware of your thought processes related to the belief and corresponding emotions it generates.
Once you become aware, you no longer engage with the thought, you do not interpret or analyze the thought, you also do not push the thought away – you simply let the thought be.
As you do this, the thoughts will dissipate momentarily. But as you continue to do this over and over, the neural network associated with this belief, begins to disintegrate.
3. Be conscious of events that trigger the belief:
There will be multiple external events that will trigger your belief. These events validate and reinforce the belief in your mind. Previously, you were unaware of these events, but now, as you become aware of the negative beliefs, you will also start becoming aware of the events that trigger these beliefs.
As an event triggers this belief in you, stay conscious instead of engaging with the thoughts generated by the belief. Also stay conscious of the emotions these thoughts generate.
Staying conscious without engagement is a powerful way to discard old belief system.
4. Don’t engage with the belief:
A belief will try to sustain itself by giving your logical reasons as to why it is true. Afterall, when you take something to be true, it becomes a belief.
Simply discard these logical reasons.
Even if a belief appears true based on logic, you still have to power to discard the belief. It doesn’t matter how true it appears, you still have the freedom to believe in the belief and keep it alive, or discard the belief.
For example, let’s say a person holds a belief, “I am inferior because I don’t fit the society’s definition of beauty/handsomeness”.
In this example, the person has a main belief that he is inferior and then there are other sub-beliefs that act as logical reasonings to support the main belief. In this case, one of the sub beliefs the person holds is that he does not fit the society’s definition of beauty.
The mind will come up with logical reasons based on external events to support the main belief. For example, when this person looks at magazine images of air brushed celebrities, the negative belief gets triggered making up a logical reason like, “this magazine is proof that I am do not live up the the standards”.
When this happens, you automatically start believing the mind’s story and start devaluing yourself, sustaining the main belief.
Once you become aware of such triggers, do not engage with the thoughts generated. Simply stay in awareness of these thoughts and let them go. If you do not engage, or give your unconscious attention to these thoughts, the thoughts being to lose energy and so will the underlying belief.
Once you change your belief your external circumstances changes to reflect this new belief
As you continue to be aware of your negative beliefs and their triggers and stop feeding the belief with your unconscious attention, the belief beings to fade – the neural network associated with the belief beings to break down.
As this happens, the lack of self worth belief automatically starts getting replaced by a positive belief of self acceptance.
Self acceptance is one of the most powerful beliefs that you can hold. The more accepting you are of yourself, the more will you attract into your life circumstances that are congruent to your inner reality.
You will start attracting people who accept you for who you are and circumstances that present you with opportunities congruent to your strengths.