The Neuroscience of Belief
You may have heard many people speak about the importance of beliefs as being influential in how we think, feel, and act. Henry Ford said, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Peter Singe, in his book, The Fifth Discipline, defined one of his five disciplines as “suspending our beliefs,” or holding them up to the light and the scrutiny of others to see if they are indeed the perspectives that we want to follow. If you search Amazon books for “beliefs,” you get over 90,000 hits, and if you search Google for “beliefs” you get over one billion, seven hundred, fifty thousand hits.
In life, these beliefs show up as “Difficult people make me angry”…or “My kids and traffic drive me crazy”… or, “I failed the test because the questions were unfair”… or “I’m just not very good at math.” In other words, our beliefs affect our interpretations, which then affect our emotions, behaviors, and, ultimately, our experience of life!
So, now we know that beliefs are important, but few people tell you why (or the science behind the power of our beliefs) or how to become more influential in this aspect of life. This is what I want to do here.
To do this, I’m going to draw upon a system, philosophy, and framework that I have been perfecting for over thirty years. I call it “Life from the Top of the Mind,” and it is designed to help us become more influential in our lives and the lives of others by understanding and influencing how the brain processes information.
Of course, the brain is very complex, so to avoid getting lost in all of the medical terms, I suggest that we divide the brain into three parts: top, middle, and lower brain. The lower brain is called the brainstem, and is where our fight-or-flight responses are located. The upper 80% of the brain is called the neocortex (what I call the Top of the Mind), and is where we have access to our best interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and our ability to make purposeful decisions.
The part of the brain we want to focus on, however, is the middle brain, or limbic system, because it is this part of the brain that gets data first and uses beliefs to determine whether the data should be routed down to the lower brain, or up to the Top of the Mind. Here is a good example. Let’s assume that you have two people in a room. One is afraid of dogs and the other loves them. If you bring a dog into the room, you will have two very different reactions. The person who believes dogs are dangerous interprets this as a dangerous situation and runs from the room. The person who believes that dogs are just about the best of God’s creations is delighted and goes to pet the dog.
You see, neither person was making a conscious decision about the dog. The decision was being made for them by the unconscious part of the brain (the limbic system) based upon their beliefs about dogs. The problem is that these unconscious decisions are being made all of the time, and if we aren’t purposeful about what beliefs we hold on to, they will be made in ways that are outside of our awareness or control.
Therefore, I suggest that we use four Top of the Mind questions to determine what beliefs we want to hold on to… and what to change.
1. Was this belief chosen on purpose or deliberately?
2. How is it working for me? Is it helping me create the experience of life I desire?
3. Is this how I want to be defined? Do I want to define myself as someone who believes ______? (Traffic drives me crazy, for example).
And maybe the most powerful question:
4. Would I teach or recommend this belief to someone I love?
Using these questions has the conscious, purposeful part of the brain (the Top of the Mind) determining how the limbic system is interpreting life, and allows us to become more influential in our lives, and in the lives of others.
This is what I teach…how to shift from that lower brain to the Top of the Mind and then have that clear, confident, creative part of who we are make decisions about what we believe to be true and who we are. Further, my system also teaches how to engage others in how to shift from the resistant brain to the receptive brain so that we can create more solution-focused conversations.
If you feel that this skill would be valuable for you and/or your organization, I suggest that you contact me, because, until we consciously decide to choose the beliefs that drive our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we will be driven by the unconscious, fear-based part of the brain.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill