Why is it that most people are unable to keep their resolutions? Is it because they are controlled by other people and other people’s agendas? Is it because of negative emotions such as fear, guilt or obligation? Or is it because they lack the desire and focus necessary for change to occur?
The inability to keep resolutions can be blamed on any one of the above factors (as well as a number of other factors); however, what it all boils down to is that before a person can change or add a new behavior, one or more beliefs must first be changed.
When I was growing up, both of my parents used the word “integrity” a lot. I can remember occasions when my brothers and I would get into trouble and would get a lecture on the importance of having (and maintaining) integrity. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, most people no longer place any emphasis on the importance of integrity.
Dictionary.com defines integrity as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”
A person adheres to moral and ethical principals by behaving in a certain way. But the behavior itself must originate with something inside of the person. What is that “something” that a person needs before he (or she) can manifest a particular behavior? That “something” is a person’s beliefs.
But what is a “belief”? Can you define what a “belief” is for me? Do me a favor and try to come up with an acceptable definition. It’s not an easy task.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a belief as “(1) a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; (2) a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; or (3) a conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.”
I don’t like Webster’s definition, so I’ve come up with my own. Here’s my definition of a belief:
A belief is a hypothesis, theory, or concept that has been
constructed by the mind and accepted as true.
While we ordinarily think about beliefs in the context of God and religion, each person has thousands of different beliefs. Other than (1) forced behavior, and (2) built-in behavior (such as driving), all behavior is based upon (and arises out of) one or more beliefs. Name a behavior for me and there’s a good chance I can name the beliefs that make up the foundation for the behavior.
In addition to our beliefs about whether or not there is a God, we have beliefs about the church we belong to, the people we communicate with, how we should save and spend our money, how our children should be raised, what the appropriate age is for our children to start dating, whether we should take a shower once a day (or less often), how often we should wash our hair, how much we should be paid to work, how much we should pay someone to work for us, how many hours of sleep we should get at night, whether eating eggs is harmful to our health, whether or not global warming is fact or fiction, whether smoking marijuana is helpful or harmful, whether there is life on other planets, whether people who are rich are evil, whether it’s wasteful to throw food away, whether premarital sex is destructive to a relationship, and whether the earth is flat or round (yes there is still a large number of people in the world who believe that the world is flat). I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point.
Since we were all born with a blank slate (with no knowledge or experience), all of the beliefs we possess were, at one time or another, constructed in our minds and eventually accepted as true. Most of our beliefs about God, ourselves, and the people around us, were formed and constructed automatically and unconsciously as a result of what we were exposed to while we were growing up.
While some beliefs can be proven with certainty, most beliefs cannot be proven. For example, I can prove with certainty that if you walk off of the roof of a 10 story building, your body will immediately plunge to the ground below. My belief that you will fall to the ground is based upon my own knowledge and experience. If you don’t have any knowledge or experience concerning gravity, you may very well choose to disregard my warning and walk off of a roof. In that case, your behavior would be based entirely upon your own belief that you will not fall to the ground.
On the other hand, I cannot prove with certainty that a child customarily reaches the age of reason at (or around) the age of seven years old. Although this particular belief comes from Catholic teaching, my experience with my own children has “proven” to me that it is true. The construction of this particular belief started when I learned it from my mom and was later strengthened by my own experiences. Consider the woman at the grocery store who yells at, and then spanks, her 2 year old son after he fails to understand and respond to her reasoned explanation as to why he should stop crying. Her behavior clearly shows that she does not have the same belief I have about a child’s inability to reason. (Her behavior also shows that she has different beliefs than I have concerning what an appropriate punishment is for a 2 year old child.)
You know those little snow globes that you can buy at the store? The ones that have water, fake snowflakes, and little people on the inside? Every time you turn them upside down or shake them, the snow swirls around and provides you with a glimpse of winter. Regardless of how many times you turn a snow globe upside down, or how hard you shake it, the people inside never move because they are glued into place.
Although most of us have beliefs that are beneficial and helpful to ourselves and to others, we also have toxic and disabling beliefs that we are glued to. Regardless of how upside down our lives are, or how many times the people who love us try to shake us into reality, our behavior never changes. Why doesn’t our behavior change? Because like the little people in the snow globe, we are glued to our toxic and disabling beliefs.