What do you believe?
The verb ‘believe’ is defined as follows:
‘To have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so. Only if one believes in something can one act purposefully.’
How ironic that the example used to illustrate the definition of the verb ‘believe’ should also make a commanding statement about the verb’s absolute significance. Only if belief is present will someone be sufficiently resolved in their own mind to act decisively or with meaning. Think about this in the context of your own life, does it resonate? If you don’t really believe in something (a job, a project…a relationship), how much focused energy do you give it? Perhaps you still act but do you act purposefully or do you hold a little commitment back in case your efforts fail or so you can easily quit to pursue other options?
It would seem our brains are wired to work more effectively when belief is present. The more we believe the more purpose we feel which in turn creates the energy to act purposefully. Common sense, right? But not necessarily common practice. In fact it’s fairly common practice to approach this the other way around: reserve judgment (and belief) until there is proof that the purpose is worth putting energy into.
Conserve that scarce energy until you know it’s going to work out. Play it safe. But does this keep you safe or does it just expose you to other risks or blind you to the opportunities you’re missing? What if energy is not scarce, what if it’s actually abundant but the only way to access the abundance is via belief? What if your scarcity attitude keeps you stuck and averse to change, or worse it breeds a cynical worldview; never finding anything or anyone worthy of believing in?
Belief stops short of faith. The latter implies complete trust or confidence in someone or something. But as the definition above emphasizes, to believe you only need sufficient confidence to justify the believing rather than absolute proof or certainty about what is going to happen. Faith does not accommodate questioning, belief does. With belief, you don’t need to eject your skeptical mind or your conservative approach to managing risk. You should in fact bring them along because they will be useful tools to help you ensure your belief is justified.
Belief and faith may start in similar places, with the benefit of the doubt given to the affirmative, but then they depart ways. Faith remains absolute, more like a command. Whereas belief becomes more dynamic and interactive. Take the example of believing in another person. The default starting position for belief or faith could be to assume the person has the potential to be successful. To have faith in that person would be to continue to maintain this position even in the face of contrary evidence. Whereas to believe in that person would require maintaining sufficient confidence in them which would likely get depleted by the contrary evidence.
Believing in someone does not require that you pretend or fake it. This is deceit, even if it does seem like you’re being supportive. Having unwavering faith in someone may work but what if it doesn’t? It could backfire and unintentionally destroy that person’s trust in your authenticity. Belief is more realistic and more honest than this and its presence can have a tangible impact on someone’s life.
Belief relieves fear
If you can accept the definition above, believing in someone requires that you have sufficient confidence to justify your belief. You do not need to know with certainty that they will succeed in order to believe in them. Obviously it’s easier to believe in someone once they’ve proven their capability but proof is not available for many of the things we have to tackle in life in order to grow and move forward. It requires a leap into the unknown. We don’t know if we’re going to succeed or fall on our faces and that creates a lot of fear, which can be paralyzing.
What do you need most when you’re paralyzed by this sort of fear? Belief that whatever you’re tackling has a possibility of success or a chance of ending suffering. Where do you get that belief from if you don’t feel it yourself? Other people. Knowing that other people believe in you even when you don’t can be a catalyst to breaking the deadlock of inertia. The belief doesn’t guarantee success but it certainly helps stoke the fire of confidence to get going so you can find the proof you need to believe in yourself.
Belief seeks the truth
If belief had no end point we would see even more business failures and unhappy marriages. Not everything that starts off well is going to survive and continuing to believe in it past the point of failure doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why waste precious energy in something that doesn’t provide sufficient confidence to maintain your belief?
In the startup world, entrepreneurs talk about getting to failure fast. This doesn’t mean you start out intending to fail but rather it acknowledges the very real possibility of failure and of not overinvesting valuable resources into something that’s likely to fail. It’s better to seek out the truth as quickly as possible and to accept it and move on if it’s bad news.
This might not be a particularly sensitive strategy in an unhappy marriage but it still makes sense to seek out the truth as quickly as possible to restore your belief or to accept its demise. Sitting on the fence and hoping things will get better is not the same thing as believing they will. Hope is closer to faith, it requires denying or ignoring the contrary evidence. Belief requires seeking it out and processing it. As the saying goes the truth can set you free, in this case from the confusion and disheartening nature of half-hearted or dubious beliefs.
Belief raises energy levels
Have you ever felt like a victim? How were your energy levels? Typically people who are in a victim state complain of feeling drained or apathetic. They report low self-esteem or act in hypersensitive ways that lead to more failure or more reasons to doubt themselves. Conversely people who believe in themselves tend to develop self-efficacy or an inherent belief in their ability to succeed or accomplish tasks. Their success creates more options and they find it easier to make decisions or take action. In both cases a self-fulfilling prophecy is
created and the spiral of energy either goes down or up.
~ Bruce Schneider, Energy Leadership
It’s easy to pontificate about the benefits of changing how you show up or the importance of managing your energy levels but if you’re in a funk, you’re probably not going to be too interested in theories. You’re going to need more than someone telling you to believe in yourself.
You might need an energy boost first. Consider the possibility that the act of believing in someone or something will provide that energy boost. Because the act of believing generates energy. It focuses the mind on the opportunity or challenge at hand and it’s like starting an engine that pumps more awareness into your consciousness. You’ll start seeing sources of inspiration for new ideas or options that previously you couldn’t.
People everywhere overcome adversity or achieve feats they never imagined possible. These are not just flukes, they are valid proof that belief can generate extraordinary energy or precipitate astonishing shifts in people’s circumstances. What did they have that you don’t? Belief that it’s possible perhaps…and they didn’t have proof either.
It may seem like mental trickery to put so much confidence in the power of believing but if it works, so what? If all you are doing is telling yourself or someone else that they have more potential than they currently believe and it sufficiently shifts the internal narrative or how they feel about themselves to the point where they feel compelled to take action…you’ve changed someone’s life.
I believe in my clients. Not out of sentimental obligation but because it works to do so and because not believing in them doesn’t. I find it is a more powerful platform from which to navigate a relationship and truly help someone accomplish their goals or dreams. This doesn’t mean I avoid the truth and tell them what they want to hear; rather I seek the truth as a way of strengthening my belief in their potential. It is easier for a person to overcome obstacles to their progress when they are fully accepting of their presence. The truth does not crush belief as much as set it free to pursue other paths.