Reader Discussion: Should we have beliefs?

Should we have beliefs? Should we build up a network of thoughts about how we should be, or how the world should be?

This is something I’ve been thinking about – the difference between all the different systems of personal development I’ve investigated, from western psychology, popular psychology, and self-help, to eastern philosophy.

Beliefs and affirmations

This is something many systems of personal development recommend building up your beliefs about yourself or the world. There are a few ways of going about this; one of the most popular would be the use of affirmations.

These beliefs can be about anything and everything. How easy or hard money is to come by, how attractive a person believes themselves to be, how much respect and care they deserve – these are just some examples.

Let’s start with a relatively simple one, though. Ruby, a shy girl, wants to ask her crush out on a date. Many will say that her beliefs will influence the results. If she thinks she is attractive, if she believes the boy likes her – it will influence her confidence, and reduce her nervousness. This in turn means it is likelier that he will agree.

On the other hand, if she is shy, or believes that nobody will want to be seen in public with her, then her reduced confidence will mean that she will mess up her request for a date. Or she might not even find the courage to approach him, and therefore have no chance at all. Or maybe she’ll go on a date, but unconsciously sabotage herself.

In this case, then, it is obvious how many would want to develop a good set of beliefs.

Could good beliefs backfire?

However, a good belief could also backfire. If Ruby thinks that she is an attractive woman, and that every male would be honored to go out with her, what could happen? Conceit, pride, arrogance, or perhaps you could think of some other downfalls.

Some brands of psychology, then, recommend flexibility. Instead of a set of rigid beliefs – I deserve a quality boyfriend, or I don’t deserve love at all – they recommend a preference. I would prefer to be with a lover, but it is okay if I am alone. I am attractive, but not everyone would see me as their type.

Beliefs and emotional distress

And there is another reason for this flexibility – our emotional distress. Our beliefs cause our distress. This might sound very silly, but it actually happened to me.

I once fell into the trap of pride. As I improved my self-esteem and my appearance, almost everyone I came across treated me with more respect. But one day, at a busy bar, I was standing there waiting for service, and got none. People who had been waiting for shorter periods of time got served before I did. After about fifteen minutes standing there, I started to get quite annoyed and just gave up.

Childish, I know. And it is the reason psychologists recommend flexibility. But what I noticed was – I was actually more annoyed than I would be when I believed I didn’t deserve much respect.

It got me thinking – what if, it’s better not to have any beliefs at all?

How your thoughts cause your distress

Unhappiness is caused by our thoughts and beliefs. The world is as it is, and if we accepted it as such – there would be no distress. The problems arise when we have beliefs about how the world should be.

And the greater the disparity between the world and our beliefs, the greater our distress. To use a crude analogy: Ruby’s boyfriend has cheated on her. She believes, with all her heart, in monogamy – 100% conviction. This means her suffering is also a 100%. Christine’s boyfriend has also cheated on her, but her conviction in monogamy is only 80%, and therefore her suffering is only 80%.

What if, you had no beliefs? What do you think will happen to you? Will you be offended? Would you be annoyed?

What about the impact on your life? If you don’t believe you are attractive or unattractive, what are your chances of “making sexy time” with that special guy or girl? (Sorry I rented Boratand it’s playing in the background.)

If you don’t have any beliefs about how much respect you should or shouldn’t get, how will your social interactions go? If you don’t believe that money is easy to come by, or hard to come by – would you be rich or poor?

I would love to hear what you think.

Further feedback

This is a new type of blog post – most of my previous posts have been rather detailed dissections. But I’m going to try a few new types, and this is one of them. For example, this post:

  • is shorter
  • is written in a different style
  • encourages reader interaction and therefore builds a community
  • is timed to provide a break in the series (on Compassion, currently)

What do you think of these factors? This is not to say I’m abandoning my old style of posts, they will still be coming, but I’m just going to mix in a few of these more relaxed posts from time to time. They take a fraction of the time to write, too.

Whats next?

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