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  • Writer's pictureCrystal D. Thomas

How Underlying Beliefs Affect Behavior

As human-beings we are extremely complex. Over the course of a lifetime, we have a magnitude of experiences, encounters, mishaps, highs and lows; and in the process beliefs are created and or shaped. The way we behave is a reflection of what we believe. In fact, we are who and what we believe. A belief is defined as an opinion or conviction and we form our beliefs through our environment (e.g., relationships, culture, family, incidents). It is the core of who we are. Most of our beliefs are subconscious and are deeply ingrained in our sense of self and how we do things. Because our beliefs are deeply ingrained, most people cannot see them without self-awareness.

We carry our beliefs around with us subconsciously and, as a result, react to our environment. The deepest beliefs are learned and stored over a lifetime and we pick them up from our family, school, friends, etc. Sometimes, our conscious thoughts conflict with our underlying beliefs and can be perceived as a barrier in life. At times, there is a contradiction between what a person may want to achieve and what a person will actually do. By understanding and having awareness of one’s underlying beliefs, one can understand the motivation or intent behind their behaviors. In examining underlying beliefs closely, one will gain a closer understanding of the process of how underlying beliefs are developed and how they affect behaviors in one’s life.

The mind is defined as the part of the human that reasons, thinks, feels, memorizes, wills, perceives, or judges. In psychology, the mind is defined as the totality of the conscious and the unconscious mental processes and activities. The mind is frequently synonymous with thought or, put another way, the private conversation with ourselves that we carry “inside our heads.” Thus we “make up our minds,” “change our minds” or are “of two minds” about something. No one else can “know our mind.” They can only interpret what we consciously or unconsciously communicate.

In our minds, we form certain beliefs that something is true. Core beliefs are the long-standing views that we hold about ourselves, other people, the world and the future. Usually formed during childhood or other important times in our lives, they serve us as a sort of ‘guide’ to life – they tell us how things are. We filter our experiences according to our beliefs – in a way, it’s how we make sense of the world. These core beliefs are sometimes helpful, and sometimes just the opposite. They can work against us, thwarting all our efforts to grow, be happy, and get ahead in life. They aren’t always accurate, and in fact can be grossly skewed at times. But nevertheless – they always make sense, at least according to our experiences. If you were able to rewind your life and watch it in slow motion from its very beginning, you would be able to see the key times when certain beliefs were formed and you would understand why you developed those beliefs.

Core beliefs, especially negative ones, can lie dormant most of the time and only become activated when a crucial situation triggers them. For example, if a person was bit by a dog as a child, they may develop the belief that all dogs and even pets in general are “bad” and thus refuse to engage with a pet.

Beliefs can positively affect the growth and maturity of a person and other beliefs can stagnant the growth and present as a barrier in one’s life. Negative core beliefs can be rigid and exaggerative and not open to other possibilities or evidence. If a student is a perfectionist and receives a B on a paper, a negative core belief may be, “I am a failure because only failures get Bs”, and thus present certain anxious responses and withdrawal behaviors. This person has labeled and identified himself as a failure which can be perceived as harsh and rigid. This person did not see his strengths and all the wonderful things about their paper or identify themselves with areas of improvement. This person will not look at the situation as being an opportunity to grow and learn, but be stuck in the misbelief of himself. A positive core belief may be, “Well, I tried my best and will learn from the mistakes that I made on this paper. I am a hard worker and determined to improve.” This kind of person is open to evolving and accepts what has happened as a way to improve. Getting to that place should be the goal for everyone when it comes to navigating our belief system and the subsequent impacts it can have on our behavior.

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