Do you believe it's possible for you?
Belief is a funny thing. We invest so much in it when it’s utterly intangible. We let it guide our lives like it’s fact (it isn’t). Our beliefs can lift us up and keep us down and they can change in a split second because a belief is simply a thought we’ve decided is true. It isn’t factually, objectively true, it’s what we think is true. So we have free rein over what we believe because we don’t need to know it to think it. We just have to believe.
I've been thinking a lot about beliefs recently – what I believe is true, what I believe is possible, how beliefs move us forward or keep us stuck – and it's something that's been coming up in conversations I'm having too.
Each of us will have some beliefs that we’re absolutely sure of. No, they’re not fact, we may have zero evidence to back them up but we are 100% confident in the belief. Because we have chosen to be. Beliefs are a choice – we had a thought and we chose to believe it to be true. Whether it’s that you can run 10km without stopping or that you can’t speak in front of an audience without going bright red, if you believe it to be true it’s as good as fact to you.
It makes me think of the Henry Ford quote which may sound clichéd but is actually pretty accurate: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right”.
It doesn’t matter what factual evidence there is that the thing we think will happen is extremely unlikely, if we believe it will that’s enough evidence for our own brains. And at the same time, there may be very little or no proof that what we think will happen will but because we believe it we press on, certain in our belief.
There are things in my life, and about myself, that I have total belief in. For some of my beliefs I have evidence to back them up but for others, there’s no proof. I think it, I feel it, I believe it so I’m certain of it. And there’s plenty more that I’m unsure of, that I may want to believe but find it incredibly difficult to.
Studies have found that, as Henry Ford said, whether you believe you can do something or not really does impact whether you can do it, or not. If you have positive self-efficacy, which is the belief in your own capability, you are more likely to do whatever it is that you want to do. Roger Bannister had no proof that it was possible for a man to run one mile in under four minutes because there was no record of it being done before. But he believed he could do it so he tried, and he did.
This goes for everything that’s done for the first time – there was no proof that it was possible for humans to fly or breathe underwater or land on the moon but there were people who believed it could be so tried and found a way.
And that’s the key to our beliefs – action. When we believe we can’t do something or that something isn’t possible for us we do nothing. We don’t take action because what’s the point? We already know (although we don’t, we just think we know) that it’s not possible so we don’t take another step. Or half-heartedly go through the motions with zero intention behind them which is pretty much the same thing.
However, when we think we could achieve success, when we believe something could be possible, even if we only believe a small amount, we take action. We have a go, we try and that makes it far more likely that our belief will be borne out, that we will in fact do the thing that we didn’t know was possible but that we hoped might be.
Because our beliefs create our world.
Believing that you are capable of contributing prompts you to make suggestions in a work meeting. Believing that you will enjoy yourself is what gets you meeting up with friends for a glass of wine. Belief that you’ll feel better after a run sees you tying up your trainer laces. Believing that it’s possible for you to overthink less nudges you into looking for help. Whether you have whole-hearted belief or you only believe a teeny bit, it’s these thoughts that get you taking action.
And the opposite is true too.
If you don’t believe you can cycle 5km you won’t try. If you don’t believe you can get a promotion you won’t apply. If you don’t believe you can bear the embarrassment of karaoke you won’t have a go. If you don’t think you can feel more relaxed and not worry so much you won’t look for support to try.
Believing that it’s not possible for you ensures you won’t try, even if you aren’t consciously making the decision (ever said you don’t have the time when the truth is you won’t make the time?).
What about all the evidence that shows you can’t do the thing, that affirms your belief that it’s not possible for you? Confirmation bias has you looking, perhaps subconsciously, for proof that you can’t do the thing, that it isn’t going to work out as you wanted, and when you find it, you can use it to dispel any shred of belief you had left. But it’s known as bias for a reason because you’re bypassing and ignoring any evidence that you are getting closer to whatever it is that you’re aiming for. The most crucial of which is that you took action.
Because the only real antidote to a lack of belief is action.
Even if you barely believe at all, if you take action there’s a chance that you could grow that belief, along with gaining some evidence, that you can do the thing you’re unsure of. That doesn’t mean that once you take action everything will be rosy and your belief will shoot through the roof. Belief doesn’t work to a specific time frame, you may have to take action over and over, for a long time, to build belief and to get closer to your goal.
It may be really challenging to take action. You may need to make changes, to have tough conversations, to get support but there’s a reason that you have even this tiny amount of belief. It’s because you want it. It’s because you have hope.
There’s a bigger picture here.
You may really want to keep up with your kids when they run around the park and so you hope you can get fitter, you want to believe it’s possible for you so you switch off Netflix and go to a Zumba class in the community centre instead.
Perhaps you want to work in a different industry, you hope your skills are transferable and you want to believe it’s possible for you to change career so you ask a friend to help you refresh your CV.
Or maybe you want to feel calm and in control, to not feel stressed and on edge all the time, to not worry about what’s happened and about everything that could go wrong next, you want to believe that this is possible for you. Perhaps you tried in the past and found you slipped back into your overthinking. You tried to make new habits, to meditate and think positively but it was hard and you didn’t stick to it.
You’ve failed in the past but you don’t want to believe that this is how you have to feel forever. You want to believe that you can let things go, you want to believe that it’s possible for you to not worry about what people think of you, to not feel responsible for everyone, you don’t know how but you really want it.
So, with that hope, with that (however teeny) belief that it could be possible for you, you take a step forward, you take action.
You don’t have to take action alone. You are more likely to make progress, and by doing so strengthen your belief, if you are supported as you take steps forward. Using the above examples that could be following the structure of a Zumba class, a friend helping you tighten up your resumé, or talking to someone who knows not only what it’s like to overthink and how to worry less but who will empower you to live the more relaxed, calm, less stressful life you want.
If you believe, even just a little bit, that it could be possible for you to overthink less, to not get stuck going over the past or what if-ing the future, to not worry so much about what people think, to feel more capable and able to cope, to feel calmer and more confident, and if you’re ready to take the first step forward, talk to me. You don’t have to do this alone.
Because you can. I believe it AND I know it.