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 PickTheBrain.com 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 PickTheBrain.com 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.

  • http://www.todayisthatday.com/blog/ Today is that Day

    John,

    Other than just the great quality of this post, what I liked best was that you pointed out that each of the things on your list about the site were true, but that what you FOCUS on is what matters.

    That is such a true statement about everything in life. As I write more and more content about enhancing life, I also see more and more that the methods are not nearly as important as simply placing consistent – and positive – attention on the things that any given person truly desires.

    Awesome stuff, John – thanks for sharing!

    - Aaron

  • http://www.winyourmind.com Quint

    John,

    Your article reminded me of a question I have seen repeated many times in success literature: Would you rather be right or happy/wealthy/successful?

    Studies have shown that pessimists are more often right about outcomes, but optimists experience more success and report higher levels of satisfaction with their lives. Making that difficult choice to focus on the positive is the first step toward self mastery and success.

    Thanks for reminding all of us of this important fact.
    Quint

  • http://www.leithjb.net/blog Barney

    Belief is a lot more complex than this post suggests. Beliefs about existential matters (whom am I? why am I here? what’s the meaning of life? is there a God? etc) are often not open to choice in the way that beliefs about ones capacity to succeed (i.e. attitudes to self and self-worth).

    Having said that, there’s no doubt that we can choose to have positive attitudes about life, ourselves, others, our work, etc. The benefits of this for mental health are not widely enough known. And this is a matter of active choice – I speak as one who has to work at it!

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  • http://www.healthbolt.net Sara

    Beautiful post, John, thanks!

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Barney,

    I agree with you that belief is much more complicated than what I’ve written here. I suppose you could believe in probabilities and contingencies, creating an enormous web of beliefs that adjust to every new event. But when you try to do that, before long everything is so confusing that it loses all value.

    Hopefully, by thinking in the simplest way possible we can make better decisions about what to believe.

    Everyone else — thanks for your responses. Honestly I was a bit iffy about this article before posting. Guess that goes to show that being on the edge is often where the best work comes from.

  • http://togethergirlonline.com Veronica

    Hi, I completely have the same feeling about believing in what you do and carrying it out. I do take it as a deeply spiritual experience, because it is the foundation of my religion. Besides all of the negative talk about religion, in the core of most religion is hope, faith, and trust. When you begin anything in life, there is no promise that it’s going to work out, however, when their is a will based on believing that your actions will lead to the desired outcome, it will happen. Religion gets a bad rap from skeptics, because of those who manipulate religion for their own bad intentions, however to have faith, is a good thing for all. When people begin to think that there’s no such thing as faith and the power of believing, is when quality of life will become even more deplorable and life not worth living. So, for believers and non-believers alike, it is a better to have a positive outlook and want to see desired things happen in life.

  • http://www.shinewithgrace.com Shine

    I had, for very long, thought that our lives were determined and therefore our choices made not much difference anyhow (and how we made our choices were determined too…) Then, I realised that this thinking itself was (i) a choice and (ii) a belief. When we choose to believe that it’s life that made the decisions for us, life made the decisions for us.

    In order to see whether I can gain back some control of my own life, gradually I changed my belief and I started to make some choices and the result – I am shifting towards the direction I crave for.

    Thanks therefore for bringing this up. Whenever we can choose, choose the positive belief. It does increase our chances of success and anyhow, we don’t depress ourselves along the course.

  • http://www.best-of-time-management.com/values.htm Pamela

    Wonderful post. It’s always up to us to have these beliefs. We just need to choose the positive ones if we want it to be a good source of positive results.

  • http://www.psych101online.com Helen

    Great post. I also believe that it’s an issue we can’t just ignore. We form our principles based from our beliefs. It would mean positive behaviors and attitudes if we know the right things to believe in.

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  • http://www.relishinglife.com/ Vishal

    Nice article but positive beliefs doesn’t come easily to everyone. A lot depends on their upbringing. If a child has been hearing lots of “NOs” in his life, then most likely he’ll tend to think negatively. Of course, that doesn’t mean he/she cannot think positively. A much much more sustained effort is required. So if you have kids, you can give him the best gift by nurturing positive attitudes early on.

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  • Natalya

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

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  • DORIS BLACKWOOD

    Seventy-six years of life has produced in me the positive knowledge that belief with faith in God is
    real.
    At the age of six, I asked God with absolute faith and no doubting to hold my right hand all my life even if I let go of His. I state with all the sincereity possible that He has held my hand and brought me through many dangers even though I let go of His hand many times.
    Yes, absolute belief with faith developes POSTIVE BELIEF.

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  • http://na richa

    good stuff, ive experienced first hand the power of positive thinking. At one point in my 20′s I had become so depressed and anxious that I could barely function. I always had this part of me with the will to strive but it got to the point where I felt i had lost control, as much as I felt that I had the will inside of me, i decided my best option was a psychologist. the very first session, after an hour I decided that the only way I would overcome these irrational thoughts was to think positively (since it was the only thing i really believed had any merit.

    I had encountered/read stories of buddha/budhhist philosophy who lived by the power of thought, After hearing the therapist in my first session i realized that what I really needed was to change my thoughts, not an ear to cry on. I truly felt that my thoughts, and actions had successfully brought me down. I believed, as hard as it was, that if I thought positive, no matter how bad i felt, I could believe myself to be anything.

    At that point I decided that I would tell myself exactly what I wanted, and how I wish I could be. I lied to myself (the biggest part of my journey), but I was tired of having negative thoughts consume me. I made it my priority to replace any negative thought with something positive, something I wanted to be true. It worked for me… After consistently replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, no matter how much I was accustomed to them, I overcame many of my fears and insecurities. I became confident and content. By (+) thought alone.

    This in itself has carried me above and beyond what I have thought myself capable. To a fault, many might say, I will continue to find a positive spin to any situation, knowing that there are no benefits to negativity in any situation,

    ice….

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  • Sallyskarma

    I like the way you put that :) Either way, you’re crazy lol 

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  • Joseec4

    it is so simple we all know this but we always forget and it is great to be remined!!! Thank you!!!

  • Joseec4

    it is so simple we all know this but we always forget and it is great to be remined!!! Thank you!!!

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  • Jeffhardy Sachin

    thanks t was of great use 
    u rock dude……

  • Sdfgh

    “There really isn’t a downside to believing in yourself and believing the best about others.” Woah, so not true

  • Chris

     Hi, do core beliefs fall into any sub category of psychology. Have they been studied in depth as a subject. Could you point me to any major references and writers on the topic of core beliefs? Many thanks

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  • Igtoth

    Love it

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  • Know Your Mind Power

    Nice article but it takes a lot of time to really change our limiting beliefs.

    http://goo.gl/V5hpuX