Are your beliefs standing in the way of your goals?
Beliefs may or may not be actually true, but it doesn’t make any difference – because they are our truth, writes Vanessa Bennett.
We all know what a goal is – it’s a desired result. Our beliefs can help or hinder us in achieving our goals because a belief is the acceptance that something is true, especially without proof. In other words, beliefs may or may not be actually true, but it doesn’t make any difference – because they are our truth.
The brain doesn’t want to work any harder than it has to, so to reduce the cognitive load it takes shortcuts. When it first encounters a situation, it creates a filing system for that situation. When anything vaguely similar to that situation comes along, it puts it into the same filing system. This is how the brain reduces the amount of mental energy it spends over the course of a day, because if it were to make a big deal out of every decision, it would be exhausting.
When we were children, our brains loved creating new filing systems but as we get older, not so much. Over time, the filing systems in our brains create what we call our truth… a truth that, as I said, is not in fact necessarily true.
Let’s say you have a goal to write a book and have it commercially published. However, your belief, based on a few rejection letters, is that publishers don’t like anything you write.
What has happened to form that belief is that you had a bad experience and you created a filing system for that experience. Then you had another bad experience, so you threw it into the same filing system and so on. You arrived at a point where you actually believe that publishers don’t like anything you write. What are you putting out there when you try again? Probably something like: "This publisher won’t like what I write either". You can go on believing that if you want to, but it is going to stand in the way of your goal.
Beliefs, even untrue ones, even beliefs that stand in our way, make us feel safe. They give us more certainty and more psychological safety. We can tell ourselves, "It’s not me, it’s everyone else". But to achieve our goals, our beliefs must be aligned and that’s where neuroscience comes in. We can train our brains to break the cycle and align our goals with our beliefs.
To do it, we have to tweak either the goal or the belief. In our book scenario, you could say, "I will publish my book myself". Or you could say, "I don’t want to write a book".
But if you want to keep the goal of writing your book and having it commercially published, then your belief needs to change, because the belief that no publisher will like what you write will not serve that goal. So, you could create a new belief, by looking for evidence that your belief is not true. You could start by saying, "I’ve had a number of rejection letters from commercial publishers, but that doesn’t mean that no publisher will like what I write".
Once you align your belief to your goal you can start working through whatever it is that is actually blocking your success.
You might have a work goal. Let’s say you are leading a team that has a goal to dramatically increase sales. You set aggressive targets and your personal situation depends on you meeting them. Then something like a serious economic downturn hits. If for a second you don’t believe that as a team you can still meet your targets, despite the economic downturn, you might as well pack up and go home. Your job during that time is to keep believing, help your team keep that belief and work through whatever it is that comes along to stand in the way.
If we spend too much energy on wondering whether or not something is going to work, that’s energy we are not spending on working towards the goal, so think hard about your goals. Think hard about your belief systems and how they might be standing in the way of achieving them. Think about whether you want to tweak the goal or change your belief.
It’s OK to have limiting beliefs and high performers often have a lot of them because their goals are really big. The bigger goals you are trying to work towards, the more limiting beliefs you are probably going to find.
Just don’t let that stop you. Recognise what’s standing in your way and change it.
Vanessa Bennett is the CEO of Next Evolution Performance.