Beyond Beliefs

In the midst of this fiery political season, in which everyone has a strong opinion, The Positive Mind’s Kevin O’Donoghue and Ben Starr sat down to talk about a topic that we’re often told not to discuss in polite society: our beliefs.  

Beliefs inform our understanding of ourselves, others and the world.  They tend to be a critical part of our identity and personality.  But where do they come from?

Previously relegated to the realm of the philosophical, beliefs – how they are formed, how they affect us, and whether they change over time – are now being studied by psychologists and neuroscientists.  We come into life with the predisposition toward a certain set of beliefs depending on the geographical, cultural, religious and economic environment in which we’re raised, of course, but research is beginning to explain how and why individuals find their beliefs and belief systems.  

A recent study by the British Journal of Political Science surveyed the passing of political beliefs from parent to child and found that parents who push their children to hold similar political views as they do inadvertently influence their children to abandon those beliefs later on in life.  One assessment of a healthy upbringing, in fact, is how much children are allowed to disagree with their parents.  

Differentiating oneself from one’s parents is part of the growing process for young adults, and religion and politics are often simple signposts young adults can cling to without having to examine deeper issues like their own identity, purpose and place in the world.  Beyond having beliefs imprinted on us as children, or challenging the beliefs of our upbringing as a natural part of the maturation process, do we come to our beliefs in any other way?

For O’Donoghue, beliefs are rooted in awareness and sensation.  Constantly scanning our environment in search of positive experiences that reinforce our beliefs, this built in judgement system functions like a rudder, helping us to navigate through an ocean of experience and information.  But this system isn’t foolproof.  It really becomes a problem when we aren’t willing to reexamine our beliefs in light of changing conditions or new information.  But how many people really do challenge their core beliefs?  And can they even change them if they wanted to?

It turns out that we can and do change our beliefs and belief systems as we move through different phases in life.  For example, the death of a loved one can radically change how we see and experience things.  Yet even in difficult moments it is possible for people to find a positive and more grounded place within themselves through their beliefs and belief systems.  How to accomplish this?  

It all comes back to awareness and sensation, contends O’Donoghue.  If someone is going through a period of consistently not feeling good about themselves, others or the world, reassessing their beliefs can be a place to start on the path of healing.  Asking ourselves questions like “what are my beliefs preventing me from feeling?” and “what sensations am I denying myself because of my beliefs?” is key to moving forward and feeling better.  

Of course, in this society that feeds on belief systems, it takes introspection, reflection and not a little strength to challenge and change our beliefs.  But one thing is for certain: the path to one’s beliefs should be a lifetime journey.

 Written by Kate Kolendo for The Positive Mind

Listen to the entire discussion with Kevin O’Donoghue and Ben Starr.

Carina Coderis