Now, let’s look at another example of how change in beliefs take place.
Consider a man with anger issues. Every time this man drives in heavy traffic, he cannot contain his anger towards other drivers. He gets so angry that he often gets out of his car to abuse people when they make a mistake on the road. This is how this man’s brain is currently wired. So how does he change? Many people would argue that he needs to choose to take more control of his anger outbursts in order to change. But in reality, change will only take place through the data he receives from his environment.
Let’s say this man was driving one day, and as he was worrying about all the things he must do that day, and imagining all the ways in which things could go wrong, he finds himself in the wrong lane and instinctively swerves to cut another driver off. This other driver gets so angry let’s him have it – give him a dose of what he usually dishes out. After this experience, a thought pops into his mind: “wow that person was totally ignorant of the fact I had reasons (usually called “excuses” by society) for why I made that mistake.”
Let’s say that night he has a drink at the pub with an old friend, and the friend says this to him: “Mate, no-one has choice. We live in a world of cause and effect. How can you say someone could have chosen to act differently than they did when they clearly had reasons why they acted that way? It’s a load of crap. Getting angry at someone only serves to make you miserable”.
The next day he goes to a doctors appointment, and the doctor tells him “I think you need to have a look at how stress is affecting your health”.
And maybe he then has a week off work, and goes for a holiday with his family.
Now, the next time he experiences someone on the road making a mistake, he of course gets angry like he always does! But as he goes to get of the car to vent his frustrations, new thoughts he has never had before pop into his mind: “Hang on, maybe there was reasons why that person made that mistake. Maybe he was having horrid day. Maybe he just found out his wife has cancer. Maybe he did not know the road rules, and was not influenced growing up to understand that they are essential things to know for road safety.”
As he was going through all the possible reasons why this event might had come about, he realised how ridiculous it would be to claim that the person could have simply chosen to have acted different in that moment, and his anger dropped back down. In this way, the neurons in his brain formed a new connection. Change did not take place by his choosing, but by his brain adding up all the data encountered from life experiences and coming to new conclusions.
Now, in reality it would probably take a lot more data than what I mentioned to actually start to change someone’s anger issues. And of course, if the data was of a certain type it could even reinforce the cause of the anger he may get even more angry. But what I was trying to highlight was this: The brain takes into account the sum of all life experiences ever encountered and asks “what does it mean?”. And so as people gain more and more data on life through the events they go through, their view on life consistently gets altered whether they like it or not.
This is how beliefs get changed, and this is how the brain gets changed.