There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer.
And the atheist says, “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’”
The religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.”
The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”
David Foster Wallace told this anecdote in his commencement speech at Kenyon College, which in turn went viral, and now a lot of people are using bits and pieces from his speech to add weight to their own beliefs and ideas.
What I mean by this is that I am not the first person who writes about the power of belief, and how our beliefs shape our reality. After all, even though few bother to look behind the curtains, you can notice kind of the same things.
Or do you?
This is what’s fascinating about this topic. We go through life with a sort of “I’ll believe it when I’ll see it attitude.” We wait for the weekend to relax, for summer to fall in love, or for retirement to follow our greatest passion. There’s a lot of waiting for stuff to happen. We ask a bit too much out of life.
The truth is that it’s always been the other way around: “I’ll see it when I believe it.” What you believe, that’s what you notice. Your brain is primarily an exclusion device: it has to eliminate 99.99% of what’s around you, otherwise it would go mad because of so much information.
Don’t believe me?
Look around the room you’re in right now. Look for everything that’s red. Red, red, red, red… everything that’s red. Good. How many blue items did you notice?
Yeah, I know, that’s an old trick, but it does prove a point: we only see what we want to see.
Did it ever happen that you bought a shirt or a dress and then you saw EVERYONE wearing the same shirt or dress? Before, you never noticed anyone wearing that particular item, and now you see it EVERYWHERE.
Well, that’s the Reticular Activating System, a bundle of nerves that filter out unnecessary information, so you can focus on what truly matters.
We’re pretty much a visual species, which was required of us back when we used to run twenty miles a day and hunt for food and stuff. The good old days. Our psychology hasn’t changed since then, so we need to visualize what we want in order to get it. That’s why writing your goals down is important.
If you can see it in your mind…
Yeah, this is not a self-help-motivational-conquer the world type of post.
And I am not trying to change your beliefs in any way. You’re free to believe in anything you want, as long as those beliefs serve you.
That’s it. Not asking for much from you.
Of course, there are a lot of nuances here, and I believe that a healthy dose of common sense and self-awareness is required.
Because people hear about this or read The Secret or whatever, and then they sit on a couch, watching TV all day long, working on having a million bucks materialize on their coffee table.
If you have a health problem, don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re healthy. Go to a doctor. Really.
I know what you’re thinking. This whole power of belief think is utter nonsense. Because you tried it. And it didn’t work. But did you really try?
I think that a lot of people try to change their beliefs because of external circumstances. And that’s the problem. They are searching for external validation for something that is internal.
Beliefs are tied to our identity, and are difficult to change. That’s why millions and millions of people died for their beliefs.
Doing affirmations won’t do much, unless you act on them. It takes time. You’re basically rewiring your brain. Beliefs form habit, and changing habits is such a tricky thing to do.
I’ll tell you what worked for me, because I’ve been doing affirmations for a few years now, and they didn’t work until recently:
- First of all, see the ridiculousness in all of it. You can reduce any belief into it being stupid to the point of making you laugh out loud.
- Look for instances that support your new belief. Use that RAS to work for you, rather than against you.
- Act on your beliefs.
- Take your time. You’re not going to change a belief by doing affirmations a couple of days. Give it some sixty days before you see results.
To conclude, I’d like to say that self-awareness is key. And that’s what most people lack. They are oblivious to their own beliefs and how those beliefs influence the way they perceive the world.
They keep thinking that life sucks, and then they want to be happy and fulfilled. Yeah, it does not work like that.
Whenever I recognize a belief that does not serve me, I change it. I also go super in depth with it. I am basically brainwashing myself into thinking something that is going to work for me, rather than against me.
Changing the way you think about yourself or the world is not easy. But it’s a simple process. And it’s important. Because unless you change your mind, you cannot change your life.