Belief systems are the bases of people’s worldviews. We have beliefs grounded in fact, and beliefs grounded in emotion and life experience.
These belief systems shape our world view, since:
“we learn our belief systems as very little children, and then we move through life creating experiences to match our beliefs. Look back in your own life and notice how often you have gone through the same experience.”
Louise L. Hay
If you have not taken time to reflect on the experiences you had, and how they shaped your current beliefs, then this article is here to help.
And if you reflect often on your experiences and world view, when was the last time you did this? This article has some cognitive gems for you as well.
This article contains:
How False Beliefs Develop
Many of our beliefs were ingrained in our brains as children, from our parents and other influential adults.
In most cases, these beliefs serve us well until a certain point. But after that point, some beliefs become limiting and perhaps even damaging.
For example, as a child, you might have learned to clean your room so that your parents would be happy with you. As that type of motivation becomes habitual, you could develop a mindset of only doing things that get you approval from others.
This kind of belief can be harmful as you get older.
As people age, their belief systems can cause much of the pain and suffering they experience. False beliefs are created over many years, and people cement these beliefs without questioning their validity—at the time, you were just a kid who learned to clean their room; now you are an approval-hungry adult.
Even if that example does not reflect our life experience, can you think of any belief systems you formed in your childhood, and how they influence your mindset today?
As our minds conjure thoughts, we have two choices: believe the thought or disregard the thought.
Disregarding thoughts take awareness and acute attention. Many people don’t realize that every thought that pops into their heads isn’t true, and they are unable to decipher authentic beliefs from false ones.
This inability to distinguish false beliefs from true beliefs may lead to painful emotions, even though they are self-created. Negative emotions are a necessary and essential part of life, but they are no longer helpful when they begin to take precedence over rational thinking and joyful living.
When beginning to explore false beliefs, people must realize that their internal worlds are just as important as their external worlds.
The external world of family, friends, and career is pertinent to a person’s development and contentment in life, but concentrating on one’s internal world is equally important, if not more so. The internal world is where false beliefs are created by one’s mind at a rapid pace.
Without looking inward to observe how our thoughts transform into false beliefs, we allow them to contribute to detrimental mind states and prolonged negative emotions. This usually results in feeling mental anguish, without knowing why, and then guilt for feeling anguish for “no reason.”
Taking an objective look at one’s inner states helps a person evolve, especially when growing up.
Teenagers often feel confused about what they are feeling, and they may lack the skills to self-regulate and cope. With the added pressure from schooling and peers, many false beliefs can form that make teenagers feel angry, misunderstood, and insecure. In turn, this makes parenting very difficult.
Fortunately, there are many options available to counteract the pessimism constructed by the mind.
Tried-and-true practices exist in positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and clinical psychology. Positive education is also an excellent method for helping students reduce the number of false beliefs they buy into.
This article will explore all four of those approaches, as a gateway to understanding self-limiting beliefs and how to increase awareness of them.
False beliefs become an issue when they are held as true.
For example, perhaps you assume that every thought that enters your mind is true and maybe that, once they enter your mind, it is not in your power to believe or disregard them.
Most people have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day. Imagine if every thought perceived about ourselves and our world was true—how would we even have that many unique thoughts about it all?
Subconsciously, you already disregard a lot of the thoughts that enter your brain. The next step is to identify the unpleasant thoughts that do not serve you and examine them closely. By understanding the fear behind our self-limiting beliefs, we can begin letting these damaging thoughts leave.
Positive psychologists do not simply get rid of all negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with positive ones. Instead, it attempts to experience negative situations fully, without letting the barrage of harsh thoughts pose as truth.
People have little control over their mental states until they begin challenging and questioning their beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, actions, and emotions.
False and limiting beliefs are like parasites: they stay inactive in the mind until some thought or event triggers their response. Then they impede people’s ability to think sensibly and rationally, and they affect perceptions and perspectives in a pernicious manner (Sisgold, 2013).
Positive psychology offers practical methods that help us question and unravel false beliefs. One of those methods is mindfulness, which is a pillar of positive psychology.
Mindfulness doesn’t just mean meditation. As defined by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is purposefully paying attention to thoughts and emotions without judgment. It is really about living experiencing life in the moment (2015).
Practicing mindfulness arms people with tools to become familiar with their thoughts and emotions. It allows people to label the erroneous stories and scenarios that their minds often create, rather than absorb them as part of our identity.
As people begin to observe these thoughts and learn how the mind generates beliefs, they can determine which beliefs are genuine and which aren’t. With time and practice, mindfulness allows people to no longer live on auto-pilot as prisoners of our own minds.
It has been scientifically proven that practicing mindfulness increases the number of positive emotions people experience.
Since emotions are affiliated with beliefs and beliefs are associated with thoughts, it’s valuable for people to take the time to observe their minds in action (2015).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is premised on the idea that internal thoughts—not external environments—trigger people’s emotions and behaviors (NACBT, 2014).
CBT’s focus is on changing the way people think and shape their beliefs, not on changing people’s external environment.
CBT therapy sessions aim to teach clients how to deal with adverse situations, rather than be squashed by them.
Therapists don’t tell clients what to feel, rather they supply clients with the skills to handle all situations life throws their way (NACBT, 2014). By asking questions that dig into the root of a person’s core belief, as Figure 9.1 demonstrates, CBT offers a way for clients to recognize harmful beliefs they hold about themselves, and how those beliefs shape their everyday experience.
In summary, by using the Socratic method, CBT practitioners assist in breaking down false beliefs by asking a lot of questions about the thoughts and beliefs clients have.
CBT offers a root-based clinical approach that highlights the connections between our thoughts, actions, and patterns of behavior. By becoming self-aware of our basic beliefs about themselves, clients can then use tools from positive psychology as well, such as mindfulness techniques, to re-wire their brain.
As this article continues, you may find that there are many links between these clinical ways of addressing self-limiting beliefs.
If you want tangible techniques rooted in CBT, this article on cognitive distortions can be a resource for you.
Clinical psychology concentrates on unearthing the limiting and false beliefs at the unconscious level.
When the mind is aware and conscious it sees thoughts, beliefs, and emotions distinctly. The unconscious mind can’t discern those things as clearly.
New mind-body therapies such as PSYCH-K and transcranial electrical stimulation are being used to uproot the false beliefs that create people’s negative perceptions. In the same way that meditation can re-wire the brain, this kind of therapy rewires the neurons to alter cellular memory.
This allows patients to not only create new beliefs but also improve their behavior (Chartier, 2010).
Each psychology discipline offers respective approaches to handling false and limiting beliefs. At the core of each of them is the hope of gaining awareness of thoughts, creating a better understanding of one’s belief system.
Positive education focuses on developing a student’s well-being as he or she goes through important developmental stages in their life (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009).
There are a large number of students who experience little life satisfaction, resilience, or meaning (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009). Positive education can help students combat their false beliefs and reduce them before they enter adulthood.
Research on positive education has shown that it not only improves a student’s academic achievement but also increases students’ strengths and decreases depression.
When placed in a positive learning environment at a young age, not only will a student see external improvement in behavior and participation, but the student will also learn how to foster his or her individual strengths (Sheila M. Clonan et. al, 2004).
This can help students learn not to over-identify with their anxious thoughts, and instead, distinguish between false and genuine beliefs.
Positive psychology interventions that are used in positive education include identifying and developing strengths, cultivating gratitude, and visualizing best possible selves (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006).
A meta-analysis conducted by Sin and Lyubomirksy (2009) with 4,266 participants found that positive psychology interventions increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms significantly. These interventions can help students adjust to their developmental stage without feeling anxious about looking inwards to study their thoughts objectively.
Which of these approaches might you use when the next negative and self-limiting belief enters your brain? Are there ways to address self-limiting beliefs that we did not include?
Please leave us your thoughts in our comments section below. We would love to hear from you.
- Al Taher, R. (2015). What Has Positive Education Research Taught Us? Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-positive-education/
- Chartier, L.M. (2010). Powerful unconscious beliefs. Health and Healing. http://healthandhealingonline.com/powerful-unconscious-beliefs/
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015). Mindfulness. Greater Good Science Center. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition
- National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (2014). Cognitive behavioral therapy. http://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt.htm
- Seligman, M., Ernst, R., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education 35(3), 293-311. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.368.7898&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Sisgold, S. (4 June 2013). Limited beliefs. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-in-body/201306