HomeArticleDon’t Be Crushed By Your Own Belief System

Don’t Be Crushed By Your Own Belief System

We’ve all known people who’ve changed their belief systems. Whether it’s switching political ideologies or converting to a new religion, we’ve all witnessed with our own eyes that people have the ability to willfully change their beliefs. Unless you’ve been living an incredibly boring and immature life, you’ve probably made such a change yourself at some point, too.

What’s very, very strange, and very very unfortunate, is that when such changes in belief systems occur it tends to go unnoticed and underappreciated just how significant it is and how enormous its implications are. We discover that we have this incredible superpower to change our beliefs whenever we want, and instead of paying attention to that superpower and what it means for our lives, we focus on the new belief system instead.

I once had a friend who converted to fundamentalist Christianity for six weeks, then dropped it like a hot potato. For those six weeks she was absolutely gung-ho, plunged fully into that reality tunnel and perceiving the world through that perceptual lens, and then she was done and moved on to something else. At no time did she ever stop and go “Holy crap! I can change my entire worldview at will! What does that mean for me and my life? What doors can I unlock with this amazing newfound ability?” Instead she focused entirely on her new belief system, then when she dropped it she just reverted to her old one.

How bizarre is that? It’s like if you were straining to reach a book on the top shelf at the bookstore, then you suddenly and unexpectedly levitated off the ground and grabbed it, and instead of paying attention to the discovery that you have an amazing superpower you got all excited to read the book and forgot all about your newfound flying powers.

Because as far as the conventional worldview we’re taught by our teachers and parents is concerned, the ability to change your beliefs at will really is an extraordinary superpower. It’s not an ability we’re ever taught we have; we’re taught in a way that assumes we’re all just floating along taking in information about the world, and whatever that information adds up to is what our belief system looks like. Even in the case of a radical change in belief systems like converting to a new religion, the fact that you’re performing an astonishing miracle by tearing down your old worldview and replacing it with a new one gets de-emphasised and re-framed as you being “saved”. It’s made to look passive. Like something that happened to you.

But it’s not passive at all. You consciously and deliberately replaced beliefs you previously held about the reality you’re living in with an entirely different set of beliefs.

That’s an amazing superpower, and everyone has it. But this extraordinary fact almost always goes completely overlooked. Someone switches from “liberal” to “conservative” and spends their time focusing on how dumb those libtards are. Someone switches from agnostic to Christian and it’s all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. When really, if they weren’t getting ahead of themselves and staring at the new worldview instead of noticing the amazing thing they were doing to get there, it would be all about “Holy shit! I can believe whatever I want about anything! What belief system will bring me the most happiness and wellbeing?”

Because you really can do that. You do have the ability to completely rewire your beliefs in whatever way serves you. There’s often an unquestioned assumption that we exist to serve our belief systems, but actually the opposite is true: belief is a tool that you can use to serve yourself.

One way this can make a huge difference is in your beliefs regarding yourself. Most of us form beliefs about ourselves which cause us a lot of unhappiness and limit us in a great many ways. Beliefs about being deficient, inadequate, unlovable, incapable, ugly, awful, etc, which we internalize and forget about. These beliefs about ourselves continue guiding our inner lives and our life choices unconsciously from behind the scenes, determining everything from our career paths, to our love lives, to our level of inner peace, to what kinds of things we do to make life feel less painful.

You have the ability to simply change these stories at will. You can choose to believe that you are awesome. That you are capable. That you are supremely lovable. That you are the baddest bitch in the room. You’ll experience some cognitive dissonance as one belief is replaced with another, but that will dissipate as you settle on your new belief about yourself. You don’t need to weigh a bunch of concepts to determine whether you are lovable or whatever; you can just decide that that is a true thing that you believe about yourself, and hold it as true and real.

You can also change your beliefs about the world you live in. Many people believe they live in a fundamentally hostile universe that they need to constantly be on guard against or else something awful will happen, for example. You can actually counter this belief by replacing it with its opposite: you live in a fundamentally beneficent universe that is endlessly conspiring toward your wellbeing, and any speed bumps you encounter along the way are just opportunities in disguise. Again, you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to believe this about your world, and you don’t need to add up all the facts and decide if it’s an evidence-based belief; you can just hold it as true for as long as it serves you.

There’s no danger in picking up a new belief system and trying it on for a while, because, as my temporarily fundamentalist Christian friend can tell you, you can put them back down and replace them with something else whenever you want.

It generally serves us to have a worldview that’s based on predictable observations about how reality tends to behave on a pragmatic level; it’s useful to hold as true that getting hit by a car will be hazardous to your health and if you jump off a cliff you won’t walk on air. But those are beliefs based on practical considerations about what’s best for you, which is the same kind of consideration you can give to what type of universe you live in and what kind of person you are. You are the author of your own belief system, and the only beliefs you should hold are the ones that serve you, for exactly as long as they serve you.

Because ultimately it’s impossible to know what this strange reality is. Our ability to perceive the world is limited to a laughably small slice of spacetime, our brains process a very tiny sliver of the tiny sliver of information our senses take in, and science can’t even tell us what things like consciousness and matter are at their most fundamental level. We’re all just making this up as we go along, so rather than trying to add up a bunch of facts and figures to form a belief system about this mess, it’s much wiser to consciously and deliberately construct one which actually benefits you as a person.

Another thing you have the power to do, which I highly recommend, is to get rid of beliefs which do not serve you and replace them with nothing at all. When you notice a belief you have about the world, or about yourself, or about someone else, or whatever, you can ask yourself how that belief is beneficial to you. If you conclude that the belief harms your ability to enjoy life or to succeed at your goals, or even if it’s just not particularly useful, you can simply consciously relinquish it by ceasing to energetically hold it in yourself as true and real. You don’t actually need to replace it with another belief if you don’t want to; you can just let it exist as one big question mark.

In fact it’s possible to live life with very few beliefs, because very few of them will be useful to you at any given time. You can comb through your entire belief system and consciously relinquish almost all of it one item at a time, leaving nothing in its place but question marks. You can choose to experience life as a mystery, without holding any beliefs about what this whole explosion of sensory impressions and thoughts we experience in our field of consciousness fundamentally is. You can determine what assessments about this world are useful to hold as true to some extent (you can even choose to hold them loosely so that they can be readily dropped at any time), and then leave everything else as one giant unknowing.

Not knowing can be intimidating at first, but once you’re comfortable with it it’s very expansive and makes life extremely enjoyable. When we’re not filtering our experience of the world through a whole bunch of beliefs and labels and “knowledge”, its innate beauty can be deeply perceived. And this makes our time in this weird universe a lot more fun.

It also makes us a lot more efficacious in our interactions with other people. When we’re meeting others without a bunch of beliefs about them or ourselves, a very free-form improvisation is able to take place in real time, with your reactions based on what you’re both actually saying and doing rather than a bunch of preconceived notions. Anyone who’s ever played a fast-paced sport where you need to be fully in the moment knows how much more effective you can be when you’re not mentally trying to anticipate what will happen and going with the flow instead. With a lens free of rigid beliefs, you can flow with all of life like that.

To be able to grasp and release beliefs at will takes some practice, just like grasping and releasing with your physical hands took practice when you were little. But once you’ve got the hang of it you can create a very artful, beautiful life for yourself.

_____________________

Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for my website, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, checking out my podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following me on Steemit, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypalpurchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone, or my previous book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish or use any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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Latest comments

  • The author has zero clues. It’s not MY belief system, it’s God’s. And it’s not about you or me, it’s about him. Changing what you “believe” doesn’t change that, just like it doesn’t change physics.

  • I will always believe in the Father ,the Son and Holy Spirit. What I have noticed in life… When the shells are exploding, the Cancer is on you, Divorce, Death of a loved one… You will come back around to it or suddenly you believe in Jesus.

  • Another great post Caitlin.

    Probably the most destructive belief in our culture today is that the “ends justify the means”. It has been used for centuries to justify the coercion and violence of the state and its ghastly and horribly destructive wars.

    For those prepared to abandon that disastrous belief and fully embrace freedom and peace, I invite you to join me at TheNonAggressionPrinciple.com.

    Peace!

    • “If one takes care of the means….The end will take care of itself” period

  • There can’t be many people who consistently put out so much intelligent observation and insight. The work is much appreciated. Thank you.

  • LOL … I was trained as a scientist. Thus, I considered it perfectly normal to change one’s beliefs to fit new evidence. Its a part of the package, in fact, its pretty much a requirement to join the club. 🙂

    • Your post reveals that you may have been “trained as a scientist” but you are not a scientist.

      • Hmm, you left out the part where you explain what you mean?
        ———–
        What I meant is that the history of Science is littered with stacks of theories that once were what the most learned and honored scientists would have told you were absolutely true. To be a scientist means always being willing to toss out any belief or theory or hypothesis when the evidence says that this is not true.
        Once upon a time, honored scientists would have told you that the space between the planets and the stars was filled with a substance known as ‘the ether’. That was only about 150 or so years ago. Or more recently, as a lot of early 20th century science fiction refers to ‘the ether’. Now, go into any university and you’ll be told that was nonsense.
        From this, any good scientist knows that today’s beliefs might be overthrown in the future by new evidence in the same manner, and thus that any good scientist has to be willing to look at new evidence and if necessary change their beliefs.
        ———-
        But then again, with today’s corporate degree mills, who knows what they are teaching people.

  • No More War

    • No more government = no more war.
      Drop the belief in “government authority” and truckloads of problems will disappear.

  • You can change your “ism” but what you can’t change are the “cookies” that are left on your psyche from that experience. It becomes a small part of our totality. If we are walking ‘the path’ and learning about our reality and our reason for being, then each of our observations are valued building blocks to a better you. Trying to understand the origins and destiny of mankind becomes a preoccupation that begs for change. So, it best to embrace change or even force change because when one becomes trapped in repetitious patterns not much new happens, like growth.

    • “Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
      In the only way that it’s granted:
      In a place among the fossils of our time”
      — Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”

      • Digging your input on multiple levels, brother! 🙂

  • No. No. No.
    Believing in things prevents you from learning, thinking, debating, seeking truth.
    Believe nothing that cannot be independently verified and that is not congruent with other known truths.
    Question everything, even the things you think you know to be true.
    Surprisingly, if you take this approach, the ground doesn’t vanish from beneath your feet. Instead, you may actually see it for the first time in your life.

    • Why should I believe you?

  • So well said, thank you

  • Really great article Caitlin. I’ve shedded so many beliefs through the course of my life that I finally have come to the understanding of how little I truly know. And this is where the real fun part of life begins. My teacher Prem Rawat suggests four things to guide me through this journey
    1) Get to know myself
    2) Always try to be in gratitude
    3) Keep the internal noise in my head in check
    4) Even though I fail again and again, never accept I am a failure
    Peace and keep 2020 vision clear
    Jeff

    • Nice List!
      Funny how its when you are 20 that you think you know everything, but when you are sixty you’ve long since had to face up to how very little you actually know.

  • You talk about beliefs, OK, What about truth?

    • What is truth?

      • Well I BELIEVE that TRUTH is…

        aw hell… this isnt going to work at all.

  • A person who is constantly changing their world view has a diminished sense of self constantly trying to find themselves. A person either lives a man centered life or a God centered life. All other views revolve around one of these.

    • Maybe they are learning about themselves and changing their world view as those changes happen. Mine have changed over the years and I feel well grounded with an increased sense of who I am

    • Define God.

      • Cannot be defined or put in any box.
        Best words I’ve found – I am – that simple!

        • For the record, Please indulge us and prove your statement of fact, with reproducible results and I shall concur with your statement: “I am”

          Until such time, it’s up for debate.

          The question is, do you KNOW? additionally, how do you KNOW? How does one prove such a thing?

          These are difficult questions, possibly without acceptable answers, but that does not render them unimportant.

          • I know I am. Do you? There are things that our logical mind cannot comprehend.

            “Are you looking for me?
            I am in the next seat.
            My shoulder is against yours.
            you will not find me in the stupas,
            not in Indian shrine rooms,
            nor in synagogues,
            nor in cathedrals:
            not in masses,
            nor kirtans,
            not in legs winding around your own neck,
            nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
            When you really look for me,
            you will see me instantly —
            you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
            Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
            He is the breath inside the breath.”
            ― Kabir

  • So one can choose to believe that which is not true? I’m afraid that’s a flaw that engenders much of what’s wrong in the world today. Pursuit of truth is fundamentally superior to pursuit of belief. Believe what you wish about what truth cannot determine, but belief in that which denies truth is a spiritual error, and a danger to the species.

    • “Pursuit of truth is fundamentally superior to pursuit of belief. ”

      But, as Nietzsche analyzed in great detail, to value pursuit of truth over so-called “belief” is nothing but a belief itself. It’s certainly not empirically obvious that the former is better for whatever purpose than the latter. It’s not like Caitlin’s cliff example.

      • Our models of the world, which guide us in practical choices, are all over-simplifications or flawed analogies, but usually better than just jumping around and getting burned by fire again.
        “Search for truth” means having flexibility in one’s preferred model for a situation, testing it against outcomes, modifying it to match better, and exchanging it for a model that works better, when that becomes apparent.
        It’s not fair to reduce that process to “nothing but a belief”.
        Not all can engage the process of self-assessment. You might now a person or persons who can’t. Most people will be served most of the time, by allegiance to the beliefs of a large enough social group, with which they are engaged in mutual support. That has it’s limits when the reality-model of the group diverges severely from the events and processes of the time.

    • I started to reply. But, Dr. Stephen Hawking said it better. Go read “The Grand Design”.

  • There are two inclinations in us that often conflict. One tries to find a comforting beliefs to give us a reason to go on living in the face of life’s painful trials. The other wants us to get real and face the facts no matter how unpleasant.

    Somehow we must learn to carry both. We need to believe in something positive otherwise our spirits are toast. We need to be real otherwise we are constantly trying to defend fairy land. The symbols we find in dreams can help us to reconcile them.

  • And this all assumes that we have free will, and that we as individuals actually make these conscious choices, which in reality can’t be proven. There is plenty of science out there that questions that underlying premise. Read some David Eagleman, and it brings all of this all under serious scrutiny. Decisions get made, and then our minds make up stories about how that happened.

    • Very good point. “I” was talking about that last night at dinner. “Free will” is a perceptual model, as is egoic-self. We have a feeling that this is the case, but it’s not really subject to confirmation or refutation in any absolute way.
      Go with it and keep your eyes and ears and mind open.
      Don’t freeze up. What can you “do”?

  • Great essay, though, I did find myself at times asking, WTF? I couldn’t help but notice that much of what you described are the hallmarks of becoming either a sociopath, or psychopath. They become invisible to themselves and their perception of others is that they too, can’t see them.

  • Exactly! I’ve read somewhere a long time ago: If you want to change your life, change your conversation.

    • In as much as that statement makes sense, I sometimes find myself conversing with myself.

  • Amazing, Caitlin. You write wonderfully well. What an incredibly inspiring and life affirming post. What a great way to herald in the New Year.

    happy new year

  • Great piece. Yes, I’ve changed major belief systems a few times in my life. Sometimes it can be scary. At least it was for me at one point. But I think that as more people realize how malleable our beliefs can be, such perspective becomes more and more easily available to people.

    Thank you.

  • You lost me on this paragraph: “It generally serves us to have a worldview that’s based on predictable observations about how reality tends to behave on a pragmatic level; it’s useful to hold as true that getting hit by a car will be hazardous to your health and if you jump off a cliff you won’t walk on air. But those are beliefs based on practical considerations about what’s best for you, which is the same kind of consideration you can give to what type of universe you live in and what kind of person you are. You are the author of your own belief system, and the only beliefs you should hold are the ones that serve you, for exactly as long as they serve you.”

    The worldview of vehicular suicide or cliff jumping is not malleable, as one’s religion, political ideology, or perception of self might be.

  • I find peace in ” being who I am “; I do not have the values that other people have and I do not let their beliefs alter mine. Everyone is ” entitled ” to the things and the beliefs that they wish without being judged. Everyone is entitled to live and let live. Everyone is entitled to their own mistakes and experiences. Your ethics, morals, beliefs, etc., etc. are your business. Some people have no beliefs at all; that is their business. I tell others to find the ” rules ” that they are comfortable with and just obey them.

    • Ron, this is all well and good up to a point, but what do you do when someone else’s belief system makes it perfectly acceptable or even laudable to them to harass, kidnap, imprison, torture, and/or kill you and yours? What do you do with people whose belief system includes, “The only good ______ is a dead ______.” What do you do with those who would ruin, imprison, or even kill anyone who dared impair their ability to destroy the world for profit? How many genocides have been committed and are currently being committed against peoples who were or are perfectly content to “live and let live, ” but were not allowed to live because someone else’s belief system said they shouldn’t be? Should warmongers, school shooters, child molesters, hate criminals, serial rapists, serial killers, and mass murders be allowed to obey their belief systems without judgement? Would you be a peace if you found yourself in the cross-hairs? If we lived in a society full of sane people, “live and let live” would work. However, as Caitlin pointed out in a previous post, we’re all f*&$!d. So, shat do we do now?

      • Sorry, that was supposed to say, “WHAT do we do now?” Couldn’t find an edit button.

      • Unfortunately, unless you are willing to mirror the actions of these evil people, you and yours will have to endure the suffering.

        • Why do you think there is no other answer besides suffer or become the monster? This is the kind of false dichotomy that allows evil to go unchallenged and spread until we what we have now.

          • “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
            Edmund Burke

      • You seem to have overlooked Ron’s “entitled to live and let live” clause, which I construed to exclude genocide and child molestation.

        Yeah, what’s a society to do when confronted with that?
        Fight fire with fire and become the evil you hate?
        Tough spot; really tough spot…

        I think we all contain the seeds of becoming the evil we detest, and those seeds grow best when we do not look inside to see them growing, but just focus on killing the evil outside.
        Any “answer” is an ongoing process, which takes a lot of effort and uses a lot of energy and social capital.

        • All over this entire planet human beings are ruthlessly killed by other human beings who get away with it because ” justice ” does not exist there. President Trump just pardoned a manic killer because the people he killed were not considered ” real human ” by the killer or Donald Trump. The British have just authorized the killing of any citizen by MI5 without any ” due process ” at all. Humans like killing people and any ” reason ” will do.

  • Interesting, but we have to consider another aspect. For example I was brought up as a Catholic and went to Mass, sang in a choir and went to a religious school and was taught by priests. I have a some wonderful world views from this experience….for example I cannot abide unfairness or hypocrisy. I believe that the teachings of Jesus are a wonderful way to live and wish that the church (both the institution and the folk that go to Mass each week) truly tried to live as Jesus wished instead of claiming to be Christian and then citing the 10 commandments (OT) as the way to live ie full of vengeance, greed and lacking compassion and love.

    However the Catholic christian experience shaped me in other ways for example my views on sex. While I can rationalize my own particular very liberal, sexual needs, when it comes to the act itself, I am under subconscious control and have difficulty doing things that would be ‘sinful’.

    And again I can rationalize an anti-racism stand from a logic point of view but when I am alone in a roomful of another ethnic group (as I often am) I feel uncomfortable. I realize I am hard wired to discriminate because 100,000 years ago the need to discriminate between friend and foe meant the difference between life and death and 50 years or so of philosophizing against race or religious based hatred will not change that.

    • A lot of tendencies are hard-wired, though subject to shaping and modeling along the way.
      Lots of sexuality is learned through pleasurable feedback.
      Xenophobia exists as a survival trait, and helps firm up group identity, which is good for survival. What one identifies as familiar is not abstract, but comes from long experience. It runs beneath cognition, and is not controlled b y abstract reason in the short term. Abstract reason can set up life circumstances which will gradually change perceptions of familiar & unfamiliar over time.
      I grew up as a military brat in the Vietnam War years, moving all over the US, going to high school in rural Texas and Yokohama, Japan, then working my way through college in a historically all-black hospital kitchen, usually the only white-boy working long weekends.
      I am xenophobic against fraternity-sorority-gated-community types, though.

  • Trouble with this relativistic world view is that you are just switching from one set of manufactured mental narratives to another and will remain trapped below the subject object abyss of the Qabala. This might be fun and worthwhile and be useful in toppling existing mental structures, new ones will just step in. You will have Samadhi but not Satori. Oh well everyones gotta start somewhere, but this is in no way the path to consciousness.

    • Exactly, and if you want to throw in some science, read some David Eagleman. Free will is a mythological belief system in and of itself.

  • I’m saving this one and will read it again and again

  • I believe in you Caitlin. This is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to hear from you tonight!

  • Thanks Caitlin, in future whenever I change or modify my beliefs i will focus on the actual process of change and enjoy it!

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