How Our Beliefs Form and What Causes us to Question Them

Have you ever started to question what you believe? What was going on in your life at the time?

Have you ever started to question what you believe? What was going on in your life at the time?

It’s just a few days after the inauguration of a new US President, and just a few days after over 3.7 million people gathered for Women’s Marches all over the US, just a few months after the end of an incredibly exhausting election season and something I have noticed is that no matter how loudly or frequently you are sharing your opinion about it all, the only person whose mind you’re having a real impact on is your own. Which, when you think about it is kind of funny – because I think most of us are hoping to convince someone of our way of thinking when we talk about this stuff!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make this a political post (though I may use a few political examples because it’s topical) – I promise! I want to talk about how beliefs work and what needs to happen in order for us to start questioning them.

We all have beliefs – beliefs about the new President, the outgoing President, beliefs about how the country should be run, what should be legal or illegal etc.

We have beliefs about other things too, lots of things. We have beliefs about whether we believe in God or not (and also what we believe about God).

On the smaller scale, we have beliefs about what kind of day we’re going to have when we wake up. We have beliefs about whether it’s best to have breakfast as soon as we get up or that skipping meals prolongs our lives.

We have beliefs about the people in our lives – you may believe that someone has a good heart, someone else is a meddling gossip, another person is reliable, and another is selfish and manipulative.

We have beliefs about the way the world works, about what we deserve, what we’re entitled to, we have beliefs that ours are the right ones, that other beliefs are wrong.

We have beliefs about the best type of music, the best way to raise our kids, the best food to cure a hangover and the best way to spend a vacation (lazy beach? busy sightseeing?). If you live in New England, you probably have really strong beliefs about who the best football and baseball teams are.

We have beliefs about what clothing style looks best on us, what hair color and length is most flattering. We have beliefs about what’s pretty, what’s a desirable body size or shape.

We have beliefs about how an adult should carry themselves, beliefs about the kind of people we want to surround ourselves with.

We even have beliefs, lots of beliefs, about who we are at our core:  do you believe you are valuable and worthy? Or do you believe that your value and worth is conditional? Do you believe that you are creative and talented? Or do you believe that there is something wrong with you? Do you believe you are deserving and capable of love? Or do you believe that no one could ever love you?

If you really take a minute to think about it, we have beliefs about everything in our lives. I bet you could jot down 20 things you believe deeply, right now.

All beliefs really are, are a thought that we have thought over and over and over again. And the more you think about that thought, the more firm that belief gets. Beliefs are just thoughts that we have chosen to think. That’s it. We can always choose to think something different.

We have the beliefs we do because of frequent exposure, whether that exposure is because of someone else sharing with you, teaching you etc (like parents teaching their children their own beliefs about God) or because of your own focus on that belief (like thinking over and over about what is wrong with your body). When you’re exposed to an idea, regardless of what it is, we either discount it as not important or false (because it doesn’t jive with our already existing beliefs) and it doesn’t become a belief or we go out and collect evidence that reaffirms our belief by giving us more “proof” to support it.

So when we broadcast our political beliefs at family dinners and sharing news articles that agree with them on social media is reaffirming our own beliefs and cementing the beliefs of others who already agree with us, and firming the beliefs of others who already disagree with us. The same goes for when we stare in the mirror, pinch our belly fat and tell ourselves how fat we are. You’re just making sure that you’re going to feel fat that day. The same goes for when we keep telling ourselves over and over that we can’t do something, that we’ll never make money doing what we love or that we’ll never find a romantic partner who appreciates us. Beliefs are strengthened by repetition.

The only way we change our opinions or beliefs is if we feel called to question them.

Questioning your beliefs only happens under very specific circumstances (and no amount of broadcasting our opinions will get someone else to do that if they aren’t already open to it).

People have to be ready to question stuff. They have to be in a place where change is absolutely necessary for them to move forward.

To use myself as an example – me, “broadcasting” my “beliefs” about emotional eating and body image here on my blog and on facebook, week after week – I’m really only going to reach the people who agree with me and are ready to hear that message because they’ve  been questioned their beliefs about food, about their body image, about dieting etc. If you don’t give a crap about those topics or this stuff doesn’t affect you in any significant way, you’re not going to understand why I write about it week after week. Your belief is that it’s not an important issue and that I’m wasting my time, while for me and other women who struggle with it, it’s one of the biggest issues in our day to day life and an important source of information.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Why and when do we question beliefs?

Again, I’ll say that it doesn’t matter what the belief is – we could talk about your political, religious, social beliefs (but I said this wasn’t going to be a political post) or we could be talking about what you believe about yourself, your world, your calling, your occupation etc.

We’re usually only willing to question our beliefs when we find that the belief is preventing us from achieving something, causing major pain (even potential loss of our lives) or reducing our quality of life to a point that is unacceptable to us. When our beliefs act as a roadblock and when we’re are faced with facts that we can’t ignore any more, that is when questioning happens and change can take place. Beliefs and questioning them are a very personal thing.

I’ll use an example of this that my regular readers will understand.

If you have been walking around your entire adult life believing that your weight is preventing you from having the life you want, you will believe that until you have sufficient personal reasons to see otherwise. Everything in your life – your job, your love life, social experiences, and even your inner thoughts will be reflected back at you because of this belief. If you don’t get a job that you were hoping for, you may believe that you would have gotten the job if you were thinner. If you get dumped by a new romantic partner, you’ll tell yourself it’s because you are overweight. If you have a crappy week, you might believe that if you were thin you’d never have a bad week.

In some cases, you may take this belief and use it to encourage yourself to lose weight (in fact, a lot of people start using these thoughts in the hopes that it will do that – I promise you that is not a good long term tactic). Let’s say you finally decide to lose weight so that you can have the life you’ve been dreaming about. You’re successful at it – you lose all the weight you were hoping to.

What happens now? Well if you truly believed that it was your weight that was holding you back from living the life you’ve always wanted, you may find that you’re incredibly disappointed.

All the things that were “wrong” with your life are still “wrong”, other than the weight thing. Job interviews are still rough as hell and the job you want doesn’t materialize out of thin air. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (or any other hottie on your list) doesn’t knock on your door and profess his undying love to you. And you don’t suddenly have nothing but good days. You still wake up feeling grumpy sometimes, in fact, just as often as you used to.

Confronted with reality – with facts about your “new” life, you may finally begin to question that long term belief you’ve always held, that your weight was preventing you from having the life you wanted. With time and with some thoughtful analysis, you may come to recognize that it wasn’t really the weight that was holding you back, it was you using the weight to prevent yourself from taking real risks at work, in love and elsewhere (that’s not a criticism, just an observation love!). You realize that the belief that your weight was the issue, wasn’t really the issue and that if you’re going to have the life you want, you’re going to have to start looking at things differently. Cracks in our beliefs form when we can no longer argue with reality. Shit just got real.

A shorter example, and one that relates to my political themed opening – we have seen politicians who have built long careers being vehemently opposed to gay marriage, abortion or the legalization of marijuana turn around and reveal that they are changing their stance after their son or daughter came out to them as being gay, or after their wife had to undergo an abortion due to a major medical issue or because they have a loved one whose seizure disorder has only been helped by medical marijuana.

In these cases, that person’s beliefs are confronted with something in their personal life that calls the belief into question. To an outsider it may seem that the person is flip flopping for “no reason” but in their life, it’s a big reason, something they had no choice but to rethink their position on. It’s a lot easier to ignore when it doesn’t affect you personally – but when it’s going to affect your world in a huge way, we can’t just keep repeating the stuff we’ve been repeating for decades. We are forced to think about another side of things.

If you want to change your life, if you want to lose weight, repair your relationship with food, if you you want to have a more well rounded social life, you want more free time, more money, better health etc. If there is anything in your life that you want that you don’t have right now, if there is something you think you’ve been working at for a long time but really haven’t made progress with – the first step to changing any of it is to take a look at your current beliefs in those areas and question them.

Let’s say you struggle with money – you feel like you don’t have “enough”, you’re always scrambling to pay your bills and you can’t resist a sale. Is it possible that you have beliefs around money that are holding you back from earning/living the way you’d like to?  Do you believe you don’t deserve it? Do you believe you’re not capable? Examine your thoughts and beliefs around whatever subject/area that you feel you are held back in.

In all honesty, you’re probably reading this because you already have a belief that you are questioning in some way (and I will repeat myself one more time and say it doesn’t matter if it’s a big picture belief or something smaller on scale . . .these things ALL affect how our lives go!). You’re questioning because you’ve been confronted with something you couldn’t ignore anymore. My guess is that if you’re one of my readers, you’re here because you’re struggling with a life or body image / eating issues.  🙂

So where do you go from here?

You keep questioning. You question deeper. You ask yourself why you believe what you do, how you got to where you are and where you want to be. And then you think about the steps you will have to take to get there. And you start taking them. And when you take steps to where you want to be, you’ll find that believing something new about yourself, about your world, about the possibilities out there, becomes easier. You’ll find yourself thinking about where you want to be more often than where you were. Over and over. And that is how your new beliefs will form.

If you’re just beginning to dabble in wanting to change your life – especially your life with food, I encourage you to get out a pen (or pencil) and your favorite notebook and spend some time jotting down the answers to the questions below.

  • What situations in your life are not going the way you’d like? What role are you playing in that situation? Are you being passive or active in changing it? What actions are you taking? What actions could you take that you aren’t taking?
  • What beliefs do you have about the situation?
  • What beliefs do you have about your ability to change it?
  • What beliefs are hurting you or preventing you from achieving what you want?
  • What beliefs do you have that are knowingly holding you back in life? In love? In your social relationships? At work? Creatively? Emotionally?
  • Where do you think these particular beliefs came from?
  • If you could snap your fingers today and feel differently, what would you rather believe?
  • What beliefs do you have that have helped you accomplish or receive positive things in your life?

Now that you’ve spent some time exploring your beliefs in an area that is troubling you, keep an eye out for when your original or long held belief pops up in your life. It’s one of those things, where once you notice it, you’ll notice it everywhere!

For example, people who believe they are a victim in an area of their life usually find once they take a deeper look, they have that kind of thinking in many areas of their life. People who believe that they have a right to keep eating what they want despite health issues, will start to see that they have a belief about wanting to do what they want at work, in their relationships etc. People who believe that there is only one right way to do the dishes, probably have singular beliefs about how to do everything else in life too! Sometimes we aren’t aware of how our beliefs color our whole life. They really do – and that can be a great thing or a really bad thing, it really goes back to how you think about it (and how often you do)!

Lastly, if you are questioning a long held belief, know that is totally ok. It’s expected. It’s part of the human experience and a sign that you are growing, evolving and changing as you learn in life. It can feel awful, scary and confusing, but it won’t always feel that way. Hang in there love!


Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!

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