July 28, 2023

Beliefs: Invisible architects of our reality

Beliefs are like invisible architects that shape and mold our lives. They form the foundation of our decisions, beliefs and behavior. But what are beliefs really? How do they affect our lives, and how can we recognize, discard, and exchange them for more meaningful ones?

What are beliefs?

Sentences of Belief are beliefs or truths that we hold deeply. They are often the product of our life experiences, upbringing, culture and society. Simply put, they are the rules by which we unconsciously shape our lives and interpret the world.

Typical exemplary beliefs

Some exemplary beliefs could be: “I am not good enough”, “Success requires hard work”, “Power corrupts”, “Money does not make you happy” or “It is easier for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to heaven”, “Sex before marriage is sin”, “The world is full of idiots” and so on. They can be both positive and negative and are often not completely true or false, but rather expressions of our individual perspectives.

The above beliefs could also be seen completely differently:

  • “I am not good enough” can be rephrased to “I am valuable and have unique abilities.”
  • “Success requires hard work” can be transformed to “Success is the result of dedicated action and passion.”
  • “Power corrupts” could alternatively be expressed as “Power means responsibility and offers opportunities for positive change.”
  • “Money doesn’t make you happy” can be rephrased to “Money is a tool that can help achieve satisfaction and well-being and to be able to help others.”
  • “It is sooner for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven” could be positively stated as “Wealth and spirituality are not antithetical.”
  • “Sex before marriage is sin” could be reworded to “Sex is a natural and beautiful part of human relationships that should be treated with respect and responsibility.”
  • “The world is full of idiots” can be positively rephrased to “Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I can learn something from everyone.”

Other positive beliefs might include:

  1. “The world is full of opportunity and adventure.”
  2. “There is something good in everyone if you look hard enough.”
  3. “Money is a tool that helps me achieve my dreams.”
  4. “Cooperation and understanding are keys to positive relationships with others.”
  5. “Other people can be inspirational teachers that I can learn from.”

Effects of beliefs

Beliefs have tremendous power to influence our lives positively or negatively. Positive beliefs can motivate, inspire and drive us to excel. Negative beliefs, on the other hand, can limit us and prevent us from realizing our full potential.

Since beliefs work mainly in the subconscious, we often don’t get why we behaved or decided this way or that, or why certain things in our lives don’t work out the way we want them to.

For example, the belief that “success requires hard work” can make it hard to imagine that you can become successful with work that is easy and fun. It can make you feel that work is a burden. And that you avoid all the things that would actually be good for you, because you don’t see them as “work”. I can tell you a thing or two about that.

Beliefs + selective perception = self-fulfilling prophecy

Beliefs and selective perception are two interrelated psychological phenomena that play a central role in how we interpret and respond to our world.

Take for example the negative belief ‘The world is full of idiots’. This belief set can lead us to focus primarily on the behavior of others, which we interpret as idiotic. We then tend to disproportionately notice examples of inconsiderate or disrespectful behavior, while we may overlook or downplay kind and respectful interactions.

This illustrates the principle of selective perception. Selective perception is the process by which our brain makes us perceive information that confirms our existing beliefs, and either overlooks those that challenge the beliefs or causes us to ignore or perceive them in a distorted way. In this case, selective perception reinforces the belief ‘The world is full of idiots’ and shapes our perception of reality in a way that is consistent with that belief.

This dynamic can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we assume that people will treat us negatively, we may unconsciously react defensively or dismissively, which in turn may cause others to actually treat us in a less friendly manner. This then confirms our original belief and further reinforces it, affecting our future perception and behavior.

To break out of this cycle, it is important to consciously question our beliefs and recognize how they influence our perception and behavior.

Beliefs in the Extreme: The Consequences of Negative Beliefs

In extreme cases, negative beliefs can have serious consequences, both for our mental and physical health, for ourselves and even for the people around us. They can act as powerful internal drivers, pushing us to meet unrealistic expectations of ourselves, which can lead to overwork, burnout, frustration, bitterness, and in some cases, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

These beliefs can cause us to constantly pressure ourselves to meet certain standards, and if we don’t meet those standards, we might hate ourselves or criticize ourselves harshly. Such thought patterns can undermine our self-perception and self-esteem in the long run and lead to serious mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts.

Negative beliefs can also trigger or reinforce fears and phobias. For example, the belief that the world is a dangerous place can lead to excessive worry and anxiety disorders. At the same time, negative beliefs about others can lead to prejudice and bias, which can lead to social isolation and conflict.

Furthermore, the constant stress and tension caused by these negative beliefs can also lead to physical symptoms. These include sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system.

Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of our beliefs and to question and change them if necessary. A positive inner attitude can help improve our quality of life and reduce our risk for various mental and physical health problems. It is never too late to begin this process, and support is always available along the way, whether through psychologists, therapists, or support groups.

The benefits of beliefs

Beliefs are not bad per se.
Even though some have a negative effect, beliefs are also helpful. They give us orientation and help us understand the world around us. Without beliefs, we would be overwhelmed by having to constantly re-evaluate all information and experiences.
Beliefs ensure that we can decide many things quickly and without much effort.

How are beliefs formed?

Beliefs often arise in childhood and adolescence when we begin to understand the world. They are formed from repeated experiences and interactions with our environment. They can also be shaped by significant events or traumatic experiences.

However, we also continuously develop beliefs later in life. This can happen through the environment if it has very similar beliefs on certain topics. Then we unconsciously adopt them when we don’t ask “Is this really true?”

Or also through the things we consume like TV shows and movies but also news. Everything we consume unintentionally contains the beliefs and values of those who produced the content. If we then hear it often enough, we (unconsciously) come to believe that this is a meaningful belief set worth adopting.

The dynamics of beliefs

It is important to understand that beliefs are not set in stone. They are flexible and adapt to our different stages of life. Unconsciously, this process can take longer than when we are aware of our beliefs and make them concrete. Thus, a belief set that was beneficial in a certain phase of life may be less helpful or even a hindrance in another phase. It is therefore crucial to recognize when a new set of beliefs is needed because the old one is no longer taking us forward.

A good example of this can be found in the corporate world. In the early stages of a startup, the belief that “structure inhibits creativity and growth” can be very useful in fostering innovation and agility. But as the business grows and becomes more complex, this belief set can lead to chaos. At this stage, a new set of beliefs such as “structure creates efficiency and stability” can be helpful in successfully managing the growth of the business.

In the private sphere, for example, in youth the belief set: “In order to be loved, I have to be perfect.” can lead to developing high standards for oneself and growing as a result. However, if one continues to pursue this belief set, one eventually feels “never good enough.” As one grows up and gains life experiences, there may come a point where one realizes that true friends and partners love one for who one is, not for forced perfection. This could lead to the development of a new belief, “I am lovable just as I am.” The high standards remain, but one now no longer lives in lack.

This underscores the need to regularly review and adjust our beliefs to ensure they are serving us in our current stage of life. It also shows that shedding old beliefs and adopting new ones should not be seen as failure, but rather as a sign of growth and adaptability.

Recognition and release of beliefs

Recognizing beliefs requires mindfulness and reflection. Often they are so deeply ingrained that we think they are absolute truths. Therapy, coaching or self-reflection can help us discover and challenge our beliefs.

Releasing old beliefs is a process that takes time and practice. One way is to develop alternative beliefs through conscious reflection and positive affirmation training.

It can also be helpful to listen to yourself talk.

Recognizing beliefs in communication

Recognizing beliefs when we talk or listen to others requires keen attention and some kind of analysis. Beliefs are often expressed in statements that reflect general beliefs or ‘rules’ for living. They typically show up in certain formulations:

  1. Absolute statements that include words like “always,” “never,” “everyone,” “no one” can often signal beliefs. For example, “I always do everything wrong” or “No one can be trusted” might indicate fundamental beliefs.
  2. Statements that contain the word “should” can reveal a belief. Sentences like “I should work harder” or “You should always be nice to others” are often expressions of deep-seated beliefs.
  3. General beliefs about the world, such as “Life is hard” or “The world is a dangerous place” – that is, in the sense of “XYZ is [Bewertung]” can reflect beliefs.
  4. Statements about the self, such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m always the lucky one,” can represent beliefs.

Another key word that can indicate beliefs is the little word “because.”
What follows “because” often offers a justification or explanation for a behavior, attitude, or belief, and can give us deep insights into a person’s beliefs.

For example, someone might say, “I don’t like going to parties because I don’t think I’m interesting enough.” Here, the part after “because” signals a belief that influences behavior. In another case, someone might say, “I always work late because you have to work hard to succeed.” Again, the part after the “because” shows a belief about work and success.

Questioning and rethinking such statements can often help identify and challenge underlying beliefs. It reminds us that beliefs are not fixed, but can be changed through reflection and new experiences.

But beware – meeting other people with “That’s a belief” without being asked will knock them on the head.

Detaching and changing beliefs:

For some beliefs, there are simple questions you can ask once you have exposed the belief as such. Beliefs such as I can’t do that because …” or “I can’t do that because …” can be dissolved with a simple magical question.

Another effective way to challenge and possibly change beliefs was developed by author and speaker Byron Katie. She calls this process “The Work.” It is a self-reflection procedure consisting of four questions and a “reversal”.

The four questions we should ask ourselves are:

  1. “Is that true?”,
  2. “Can you be absolutely sure it’s true?”
  3. “How do you react / what happens when you believe these thoughts?”
  4. “Who would you be without that thought?” (or: “What would the situation be like without that thought?”)

I would add to these questions the following:

  1. What would be a more meaningful and constructive view?
  2. Are there examples of this new view?
  3. How would my life change if I embraced this new way of looking at things?

The concept of “reversal” invites us to turn our original belief into its opposite and then look for examples in our own lives where the reversed statement is just as true or even “truer.” In the end, reality is always relative.

Using this method allows us to question our deeply held beliefs and assumptions. It is often a surprise to realize that the stories we tell ourselves are not necessarily the absolute truth, but rather expressions of our individual perspectives and experiences.

By critically examining our beliefs and considering alternative perspectives, we can begin to break free from limiting thought patterns and instead develop empowering and supportive beliefs.

It should be emphasized that this process takes time and practice. Changing beliefs is not a one-time event, but a continuous process of self-exploration and reflection. However, with patience and perseverance, these techniques can contribute significantly to more inner peace and joy in life.

Byron Katie’s method is just one of many techniques for working with beliefs. There are also other approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). All of these methods have similar goals: Helping people change their thinking patterns and develop healthier, more constructive beliefs.


Beliefs are powerful tools that shape our lives. By recognizing them and replacing them when necessary, we can greatly improve our quality of life. It is a challenging but rewarding process that allows us to live a more self-determined and fulfilling life.

It is important to remember that these changes take time and that it is helpful to be patient and kind to yourself while you are on this journey of self-knowledge and growth.

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