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“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
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How False Beliefs Develop
Belief systems are the bases of people’s worldviews. Many of our beliefs about life were ingrained in us 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 approval from others. This kind of belief can be harmful as you get older.
As adults, the beliefs we created as children no longer serve us as well as they did when we were younger. As people age, their belief systems can cause much of the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis. False beliefs are created over many years, and people cement these beliefs by blindly buying into them without questioning their validity.
As our minds conjure up thoughts, we have the opportunity to either believe the thought or disregard the thought as a fallacy. Disregarding thoughts take awareness and acute attention. Many people don’t realize that every thought that pops into their heads isn’t true, so they are unable to decipher authentic beliefs from false ones.
This inability to distinguish false beliefs from true beliefs may lead to lots of painful emotions, which in essence are self-created. Negative emotions are necessary and essential in order to live a fulfilling and happy life, but are no longer helpful when they begin to take precedence over rational thinking and joyful living.
When beginning to understand false beliefs, it is imperative for people to 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.
Taking an objective look at one’s inner states helps a person evolve, especially when growing up. Teenagers often feel confused about they’re feeling, and they may lack the skills needed 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.
Fortunately, there are many options available in order to counteract the pessimism constructed by the mind. Tried-and-true practices exist in positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as clinical psychology. Positive education is also an excellent method for helping students reduce the number of false beliefs they buy into.
False beliefs become an issue when a person is unable to recognize them as being untrue and limiting. Perhaps you are so accustomed to believing every thought that enters your mind that you don’t realize you had any control over whether to believe them.
Positive psychology doesn’t merely seek to get rid of all negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with positive ones. Instead, it attempts to determine ways in which people can live contentedly while still experiencing negative situations. Adversity doesn’t need to shift one’s positive outlook on life.
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. 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 many practical methods that can help us question and unravel false and limiting 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 that help them become familiar with their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It allows people to become more aware of the erroneous stories and scenarios that their minds often create.
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. Through consistent mindfulness practice, people can change the way they think.
It has also 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. 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).
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. When people begin to ask questions about where their beliefs come from or if they are even valid, then they will be able to dig deeper and find the root of the problem.
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 be better at distinguishing 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 in their developmental stage without feeling anxious about looking inwards to study their thoughts objectively.
Al Taher, R. (2015). What Has Positive Education Research Taught Us? Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/positive-education-research/
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