Deconstructing Beliefs

(including your own)

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Are your beliefs real or false? How do you know? I mean, how do you REALLY know?

More often than not, once someone’s mind has been made up, once a particular narrative has become so embedded that it is now part of their identity, it becomes very difficult to convince that person of anything else.  The mere act of challenging the belief becomes akin to an attack on them. You can throw up all the compelling facts and evidence you want, but their minds are closed for business.

So what does one do? Perhaps the most effective strategy is rather than attempt to change their mind, figure out ways to open it first.  You can’t convince someone to become more open-minded or curious, but you can encourage them to ask themselves questions that might lead them in that direction.

So many of our beliefs come from a desire to belong, or are formed early on through the lens of childhood and remain unexamined in our adulthood.  If you looked at certain things now through adult-eyes, would you see it differently? Almost certainly.

Some beliefs are formed out of convenience. Many are emotional. A great deal of beliefs are formed while missing essential facts, causing unreliable conclusions to be drawn. For example, on many occasions I’ve made the mental leap that when someone did not say hello when passing me by, it meant that clearly they must hate me and are purposefully avoiding me. But that belief was formed as a perfect marriage between my emotional triggers and a shortage of facts.  For example, did the person see me? How do I know if they did?   And even if the person did see me, how do I know that they hate me and aren’t just in a bad mood or distress? Maybe they’ve just gone to the dentist, got their mouth frozen, are drooling, and trying to avoid embarrassment. What facts support my conclusion? Am I affirming a belief, or forming it based on evidence?

It is critical to examine how these beliefs were formed in the first place, the consequences of changing or not changing them, and inviting the other person (or yourself) to take on the challenge of looking inwards at the nature of these beliefs.

Below are some questions you can drop into a conversation, or ask yourself as you reflect on your own views:

  • Have you ever been wrong?  Have you ever changed your mind on something?  (Everyone has, so it shows the potential for them, or you, of being wrong)

  • How did you form your belief: Was it through facts and systematic critical thought, or is it through emotion and/or affirmation of a world-view? 

  • What evidence do you have that your beliefs are true?  Could you be wrong, or are you willing to accept the possibility that you might be? 

  • Do you feel like your sources of information are diverse enough? Do you listen/reach/watch sources with whom you disagree? Is it possible you may have missed some information?

  • A moment of honesty: How might it be more convenient for you to believe that this is true over the alternative? Is it possible that the consequences of not believing what you currently do make your life more difficult?

  • What’s your level of confidence in this belief? What would it take for your to reconsider? (It assesses whether the person is following a belief blindly, or is willing to change)

  • Just for the fun of it, can you share how an alternative point of view or interpretation might be correct? (This invites us to think from a different perspective on our own and also reveals that since there are multiple points of view, we are CHOOSING this one).

  • Do others disagree with your point-of-view? If so, why? (Alternatively you can phrase it as: Why do you think someone might disagree with your point of view?)

  • What would be the consequence of changing your mind?

  • If you’re wrong but remained attached to your current belief, what could the consequences be?

  • If at any point, the person you’re conversing with begins to ask their own questions, don’t be afraid to follow up with: Would you like to know more about that? That allows them to accept your invitation to choose to be curious.

But remember: It took years to form some of these beliefs, they won’t vanish overnight. Just keep asking questions—with curiosity and openness.

Got your own questions to suggest? Leave a comment below!

PS. I’m considering testing my own belief that dogs are superior to cats using these questions. Watch this space.

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