Beliefs are tough little mothers. On one hand (the hand that’s reaching out to grasp what we want), personal beliefs in integrity, honesty, and hard work are probably the most positive. We can build useful lives around those beliefs, assuming we’re sincere about them. Integrity and hard work are probably the most lied-about beliefs, after all. There’s not a man among us who would say, “I believe in dishonesty and butt-numbing sloth,” and yet we all know men who base every (in)action on those principles.
On the other hand (the hand that’s holding on with all of its strength lest it lose its grip), personal beliefs in virtually every other area—from the biggies like politics and religion to more specified zones like health, fitness, money, role models, all the way down to sports teams—are the most likely to hold us back.
Take a look at the news today, and what inspired this post: We have two teams in D.C. basing the future of how the country spends its money on their beliefs. We have a renewed debate—fueled just as much about belief as science—about the safety of nuclear power. We have ongoing horror shows in the Middle East and Africa based on religious and political belief. And belief in power.
At this point, can anyone say that good things have come from any of these wars of belief thus far? Time will tell.
Okay, let’s dial down the bile a second. Take a look at your own life. I would bet that at some point, probably even recently, that you made a choice based on something you believed and it turned out to be a crappy choice.
And yet: You were as certain as a concrete wall that it was the right thing to do. How did you react to those beliefs blowing up in your face? That says a lot about what kind of man you are. No one likes to be wrong. Wrong is the other guy’s problem.
Back in high school, I screwed myself out of success because of faulty beliefs. My junior year I emerged as a fair-to-middlin’ long jumper on the track team. Which was enough to make me the best option on the team. But back in the mid-80s, the Internet didn’t exist and modern training methods for high school athletes didn’t really exist, either.
I trained on my beliefs.
Flash forward to the winter before my senior year track season. I spent the cold weather in the weight room with a bunch of my buddies who happened to all be football players. Now, back then, a football player at my high school had two goals: Weigh 200 pounds and have a bench, squat, and dead lift combo of 1000 pounds.
That formula became my belief system. At age 17, who doesn’t want to be a solid, big-lifting dude? No steroids in high school back then, remember. No supplements. No everyday knowledge about carbs vs. protein. Just barbells, burgers, and my mom’s fettuccini alfredo. And if someone had come along and said, “Why the hell are you training this way, Mr. Sprinter/Long-jumper?” I would’ve dismissed it. Not because kids are stupid. But intelligent people with ingrained beliefs can be incredibly stupid.
I put on 15 pounds that winter. And when I finally got to the long jump pit that spring, I couldn’t get off the friggin’ ground. As in, I couldn’t clear 17 feet. Oprah can clear 17 feet.
So I ruined my season because a belief system that had been instilled in me by the culture I’d been immersed in had let me down. No, scratch that, I had little interest in using my brain to figure out that it was the wrong training program for me. Everyone I knew powerlifted. End of discussion. Meanwhile, while I’m at the pit trying to figure out what went wrong, one of the guys I trained with was over yonder heaving the shot and discus all the way to states.
Now, this is just one dusty story from one grumpy aging man. But men, I implore you, take an open-minded look at the media carpetbomb coverage of what are essentially rabid beliefs turned loose not to solve problems, but to dominate.
It’s far easier to judge than understand. Judgment requires beliefs and little else. Judgment gives us instant gratification. No one gives two shits about trying to understand something because that requires time, as well as integrity, honesty, and hard work. Oh, wait—thought we all believed in those three things?
Serve yourself and take an honest look at your beliefs in money, love, health, fitness, all of it. What if today you found out that every one of them was wrong? How would you react? You’d be hurt, though you’d never admit it. It would mean that people you trusted taught you the wrong thing, or the culture around you isn’t what you thought it was.
See? Tough little mothers, beliefs.
Remember, a belief exists right now that LDL cholesterol is a terrible thing, an enemy of humanity. We’d take LDL out behind the dumpster and whip it with a chainsaw chain if we could. Well, guess what? LDL analysis can now be broken down further and certain larger, fluffier LDL particles are happy LDL particles. It’s the smaller, stickier ones that you have to watch out for.
It happens in business, too, and if you can’t open your mind as beliefs crumble, so shall you. My business is writing, and I see a massive, longstanding belief system in book publishing crashing down around the devout as we speak. The ability to self-publish e-books and make more money that way is very real. This didn’t exist even a year ago. Look at your own field. What beliefs hold you back?
Here’s a fun exercise: Pretend your beliefs are your annoying little brother and mess with them. Challenge them. Go against them.
One of two things will happen. Either your beliefs will be proven sound, or a waste. That’s some useful information.