Developing Positive Beliefs

Belief is a funny thing. I used to think that it was entirely objective. The mind receives information, processes it, and creates the appropriate belief. There is no room for choice — your beliefs depend entirely on the information you’ve absorbed. If this were true, it would be ridiculous to judge someone for their beliefs. After all, they have no choice in the matter!

While I still believe that people shouldn’t be judged for beliefs, time and reflection have reversed my opinion on the matter of choice — all belief is rooted in choice. But why? How can something as important as belief be subject entirely to whim?

The reason is uncertainty. Every piece of knowledge has inherent uncertainty. Our tools for measuring and interpreting information are inaccurate. Although some areas (like science) provide a high degree of certainty, others (such as morals) provide virtually none. Even the most established facts could be (and often are) proved false by new discoveries.

Unlike knowledge, beliefs don’t have the luxury of uncertainty. You either believe something or you don’t. In order to go from uncertain knowledge to certain belief, the mind has to fill in the gaps. It has to look for additional information and draw conclusions. This is where choice is used to develop and reinforce belief. As soon as you choose to believe something, your mind goes to work gathering information that supports your rationale.

This is why positive beliefs are so important. It’s impossible to know for certain if your efforts will be met with failure or success. No matter how confident you are, it’s possible that outside forces will ruin your plans. You make a conscious decision to believe you will succeed or that you will fail. You can always rationalize either belief.

Consider the example of this site. If I choose to believe that will fail, I can instantly drum up a list of facts to support that belief:

  • Other sites have grown more quickly
  • I started blogging 2 years too late
  • I lack formal training and experience as a writer
  • Many people aren’t interested in intellectual topics
  • Blog traffic doesn’t monetize well

On the other hand, if I choose to believe that will succeed, I can create an equally compelling list.

  • The site has several thousand subscribers
  • Visitors have responded positively to the content
  • Numerous articles have become popular with social media
  • Traffic has grown continuously
  • Blogging is gradually becoming mainstream

Every item on both lists is true, but my belief determines which set of facts I focus on. When I lose confidence and dwell on failure, I come up with even more facts to add to the failure list, strengthening the failure belief. When I choose to believe in success, positive facts emerge. The belief you choose to accept will become stronger over time through this pattern of self reinforcement.

Believe You Will Succeed

Although positive belief doesn’t guarantee success, I doubt that success is possible without it. Not because of the belief itself, but because of the chain of thoughts and actions triggered by a positive belief. When you believe you can succeed, your mind overcomes obstacles. You solve problems creatively and are eager to take action.

How do you control your beliefs? The key is realizing that it’s possible. You don’t have to a slave to every thought that pops into your head. If you want to believe you can succeed, just start doing it. When negative thoughts enter your mind, recognize them for what they are and discard them. Don’t be oblivious to negative feedback. Rather, use it constructively and refuse to let it dominate you. Consciously remind yourself of the positive and allow the negative to roll off your back.

There really isn’t a downside to believing in yourself and believing the best about others. You may not achieve your original goal and might get burned, but you’ll be better off than if you’d assumed the worst from the start. Believing you will succeed will also make you happier. Although it may be partly delusion, the same is true of the failure belief. You have to believe in something, why not believe that your hard work is contributing to something positive? Why not believe that your biggest dreams are possible?

It may be idealistic but it’s preferable to cynicism.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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