Tag Archives: neuroplasticity

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!