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Understanding Belief Systems

All people have belief systems. They can vary widely from superstitions to practical ideas. People develop belief systems to protect themselves and function in the world. 

These belief systems reflect the two basic needs of humans:

  1. People strive to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. They want to be happy and avoid frustrating situations.
  2. People also want to have close relationships with others. They want to form friendships and other types of bonds.

How beliefs relate to needs

Your belief system provides structure – it helps you understand information and apply it to the world. They give you predictability, meaning, and control. For example, if your belief system is based on the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, this would provide structure for you in the following ways:

Predictability – You know that if you are a good person, things will work out for the best for you, and you’ll have few bad experiences. You have a general idea of how your life will be because you are a good person.

Meaning – The world makes sense to you because people basically get what they deserve. It’s not random. Bad things don’t happen to people who don’t earn them. Good people have positive experiences and lead rewarding lives.

Control – Your actions determine what will happen to you. You have control over your future. If you act appropriately, good things will happen to you. Bad events are a punishment for bad things you’ve done. You can limit your negative experiences by being a good person.

Belief systems are individual and can be shaken if they are challenged. For example, if your belief system is like the one above, then a tragic event would force you to decide whether the belief system is flawed or accept that you are a “bad” person.

Belief systems aren’t based on facts. People interpret events to fit in with their belief system. The way people act usually reaffirms rather than challenges their belief system.

Beliefs help people understand the world. Beliefs come from basic human needs, including the needs to find meaning in life and control events. Belief systems aren’t based on facts and vary greatly from person to person.

Why people don’t change

Thinking is a learned behavior. It’s difficult for people to change their thinking skills because their ideas have been learned from the events they experience. This is especially true for negative thinking. What you learn out of fear of punishment is very difficult to unlearn.

Extreme events can change the way you think. For example, a positive person may find his confidence is shaken and his beliefs are challenged after a very negative occurrence. Similarly, a negative thinker who experiences a piece of great fortune may start to think in a more positive way.

Thinking styles tend to maintain themselves. Constructive thinkers build their positive attitudes over time, while destructive thinkers tend to keep a negative outlook.

Thinking systems usually only change during dramatically positive or negative events. A destructive event can have positive results when a person rises to the challenge of overcoming adversity.