Tag Archives: changing beliefs

Changing Beliefs: How does it happen? Pt. 2

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.

 

Changing Beliefs: How does it happen? Pt. 1

If you think back to when you were younger, and remember some of the things you used to believe, you will no doubt find that many of these beliefs have changed. As they say, change is the only constant. But how does this change take place? 

It is very common to hear people say that in order to change, people must take control of their mind and choose to change their own beliefs and attitudes. It is often thought that if you take away the concept of choice (free will), then there is no way for people to change – they are stuck in their current mindset.

Well, quite frankly, this idea is rubbish. I will explain in posts to come all the many reasons why FREE WILL DOES NOT EXIST. And yet, despite not having any free will, people’s beliefs constantly change as they go through their journey in life. Let’s start by looking at the physical seat of these beliefs – the brain.

It is actually quite interesting (and slightly humorous) to think that for many years scientists believed the human brain was a closed system. The belief was that whatever characteristics your brain inherited genetically are hard-wired – the brain you get is the brain you are stuck with for the rest of your life. Well, this idea can be disproven by the simple fact that people learn things. They learn new information, new skills, and new ways of viewing the world. People can change dramatically, and scientists studying the brain have now discovered that when this change of mentality takes place the physical chemistry of the brain is also altered. It is called neuroplasticity, reflecting the fact that neurons in the brain are not set in stone but can be shaped and moulded by a person’s life experiences. So then, how would a person’s life experiences alter their beliefs and behaviour?

The simple answer is that each life event we go through is data to our mind, and as this data adds up, our beliefs get altered.

For example say you are walking through a park, and you see a tree. Your brain does not notice anything that remarkable or important about the tree, so this information barely registers in your conscious mind – you keep walking without any further consideration that you have just walked past a tree. This all takes fractions of a second – but this is a life experience nonetheless.

The next day, before walking to the park, you see a news story on television. In the story, the reporter is standing by a particular type of tree, and saying that a child is in hospital after licking the deadly poisonous leaves from this tree. The reporter then asks anyone who sees such a tree of the same type to call the council to have it removed. Now, let’s say this story connects with data you already have in your mind. Maybe you have a flash back to when you were a kid and got sick from licking something. Maybe you have a child now who might do the same. Maybe you just like how the report looks so you listen attentively. For whatever reasons, the reporter has you convinced that you must write down the number on the screen and call it if you see a similar tree.

Now, as you walk through the park, you spot the same tree as you did yesterday. The moment you see the tree, your mind compares it to the one you saw on TV, and considers it a match. From this moment, the tree is no longer just background, but relevant information worthy of bringing into the conscious thought stream. This time, when considering a response to the situation, your beliefs on what to do have changed dramatically. Instead of continuing on your walk as you did yesterday, you respond by stopping, taking a picture of the tree and calling up the council.

So, you can see how that your behaviour (your beliefs on what to do) in this situation was completely shaped by the data you received from your environment. If you had not seen the news report, you would not have even registered the tree as you walked past. And even if you had seen the news report, if there was nothing about the report that grabbed your attention – no data in your brain it could connect to, then you would have ignored the report just as you ignored the tree the day before.

In pt 2 if this post we will look at another example of how change of beliefs take place!

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Beliefs: What to expect from the brain

I can say with a great deal of certainty that I know the cause and cure of all psychological stress. But it’s extremely important to remember that the process of growing out of psychological stress is just that: a process. Just because I understand precisely what it is which triggers and fixes it does not mean I have suddenly gained some superhuman ability to flick a switch in my brain and have all worries, anxiety and frustrations snap out of existence. In all honesty, I probably currently experience a higher level of stress than some people who don’t understand stress at all. How could this be the case?

Well, the human brain works via networks of cells called neurons, and it is these cells which  correlate with our thoughts and beliefs. So, when we have certain thought patterns, in our brain electrical impulses travel along certain neural pathways.  When we learn new ways of thinking, we create new pathways and essentially begin to rewire the circuits within the brain.

But this is a gradual process, and the old thought patterns and their neural pathways don’t completely disappear from brain – if they did we wouldn’t be able to remember how we used to think. These old networks of neurons will still get triggered by situations in life. It is a process of slowly decreasing the activity of the old pathways, and increasing the activity on the new ones.

For example, take a person with a phobia of elevators. This person’s brain is obviously wired to believe going inside an elevator represents a threat, and must be avoided at all costs. Now, let’s say this person goes to a counsellor and receives information which completely convinces him or her to believe that it was a mistake to view elevators as a threat, and that they are actually quite harmless. What would happen if this person tries to go inside an elevator now? Well, most likely they would have a panic attack as soon as they attempted to get in the lift, because their subconscious brain would remember how scared they were last time they were in an elevator. The new beliefs about elevators would not yet be strong enough to override the old ones, because the brain has been using those old and well-worn neural pathways for some time. But the difference is, now the person might have learnt some reasonings from the therapist to apply to the old thoughts and start taking the first steps towards new thought patterns. This is how change in the brain takes place.

In my life, having experienced an anxiety disorder for many years, I still encounter situations where I get quite anxious. But now, whenever I am anxious, or having a panic attack, I have understandings I can apply to start to neutralize that stress. The key word here is APPLY. Applying does not mean “stopping negative thoughts”. Applying means having negative thoughts and then beginning a process of addressing them. I can often see in my mind quite clearly the beliefs and thoughts behind the stress, and these old thoughts pop in all the time. It is these beliefs which I will examine and disprove on this blog.