Here's something that may surprise you: Many of the beliefs that hold you back from living your best life are not true -- at least not in the objective, scientific sense. In other words, they are not absolute, inviolable laws of nature. Rather, they are only subjectively true to you. The reason they seem true is because of a quirky, built-in mechanism your brain has.
Psychology has a name for this mechanism. It’s called confirmation bias -- the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms your pre-existing beliefs or theories.
Basically, when you think something might be true, your brain immediately goes to work to find evidence that supports your theory.
For example, when I had acne in high school, I would attribute every one of my failed social interactions to my skin. "My pimples make people uncomfortable," I thought. "That's why most of my interactions with people are awkward."
What I failed to notice were the many examples of my peers whose social lives flourished despite also having acne. However, this data didn't support my negative belief so my brain discarded it.
You might be surprised to learn that this tendency to jump to conclusions about our theories is not a flaw in our human brains -- it's a feature! It is an evolutionary adaptation that helped early humans quickly recognize patterns in their environment. It enabled them to survive when rational deliberation would have taken far too long.
Googling Your Symptoms
Here’s an example of confirmation bias you might relate to:
Have you ever made the mistake of googling your symptoms when you felt sick? If so, you probably discovered that whatever condition you suspected yourself to have, there was plenty of information on the Internet to back up your theory.
Never mind the fact that you probably selectively "overlooked" many other symptoms and diagnoses you came across that didn’t match yours. Your brain only catalogued the evidence that supported your theory.
The more you focused on this evidence, the more convinced you became that you were indeed sick with whatever condition you originally suspected (or maybe even something worse!) This is one example of how confirmation bias can affect your thinking.
Usually, when people talk about confirmation bias, it is in a critical way -- often in the context of pointing out faulty logic or biased thinking.
It’s true that confirmation bias can cloud our reasoning, particularly if our goal is to think in a strictly scientific way. What most people don’t realize, however, is that we can also use this psychological principle to our advantage if we're clever enough.
Why Your Beliefs Seem So Real To You
Almost any genuine belief will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning it will prove itself to be true (or at least it will seem to be true). This is because when you want to believe something, your brain will interpret any new information in such a way that confirms your belief and therefore keeps you believing it.
In other words, all beliefs work when you actually believe them and act as though they are true.
For example, it may not be a scientific fact that everything happens for a reason, but if you believe and act as though everything does happen for a reason, you will see opportunity where others will not.
This goes for both positive and negative beliefs.
When a belief is negative and you act as though it is true, it will produce a negative result in your life. Your brain will then interpret this negative result as “proof” that the belief is true, which will cause you to continue to hold the negative belief. It is this vicious cycle that makes beliefs so, well...believable!
This is also the reason why you can switch beliefs and even entire belief systems and each time, think your beliefs are true. Because they are true—to you!
Think of confirmation bias as a kind of survival mechanism that's built into all beliefs. Just as animals in the wild have certain defense mechanisms to help them survive in their environment, beliefs have this mechanism that helps them survive intellectual scrutiny.
So how does this help you?
You can use this mechanism to your advantage.
Instead of letting your brain run wild collecting evidence that supports your limiting beliefs, you can consciously redirect your focus to find evidence that supports new, empowering beliefs.
Here's the really good news:
You can create new beliefs about virtually anything if you find enough evidence to support it.
Here are three simple steps to help get you started.
Create Better Beliefs Using Confirmation Bias
1. Identify a limiting belief you have. (See this previous blog post for a couple strategies to help you uncover limiting beliefs).
2. Choose a new belief to replace the old belief. If your old limiting belief was: “I don’t have good people skills,” your new belief might be something like: “People respond well to me.”
3. Make it a point to find evidence in your life that your new belief is true. For example, if you want to reinforce the belief that people respond well to you, make a concerted effort to notice all your interactions that go smoothly, while minimizing or discarding the memories of awkward conversations. Once you tell your brain what to focus on, you’ll be surprised at how well it follows your direction. (Combine this with actually learning about the mechanics of social interactions and you will improve both your perception of yourself and your actual social skills simultaneously).
There you have it! Hopefully this post has given you some useful knowledge and practical strategies for exercising greater control when cultivating your beliefs.
To your success,
P.S. Want to dive deeper into this subject? The Mindset Shifts Masterclass is a 3-week course that will help you identify the beliefs that are out of alignment with who you want to be and adopt new beliefs that empower you to live your best life. Registration will only be open for a limited time.