Here’s a challenge: Come up with pivotal moments in your life that radically changed your thinking, behavior, relationships, or even your career path. Narrow the search to something someone said, a tidbit you read, or a favorite catchphrase. You can probably find instances where a particular string of words caused you to change something in yourself and go on to develop new approaches to how you live and work.
Our beliefs are the architects of our experiences. Reading this phrase from “The Nature of Personal Reality” by Jane Roberts created a ‘gotcha’ moment in my psyche that transformed my approach to teaching and ultimately led me to research the profound dimensions of our inner dialogues, or self-talk. This statement informed me that we are intimately involved with exterior events, circumstances, and conditions composing our lives. Our lives present a kind of living feedback, or mirror image, of our expectations and beliefs.
Our beliefs can act like fences marking the boundaries of our experiences, limiting our growth and potential, destining us to live cocooned in the same modes of thinking and behaving. I heard students reveal self-deprecating or restrictive statements that were evidence of entrenched self-fulfilling prophecies in their academic, athletic, emotional, or social conduct. Those ‘thinking out loud’ overtures often became teachable moments when we’d put down the books and examine the impacts of such thinking on who we are and who we can be.
Our beliefs act like filters that compel us to accept what affirms our beliefs and reject the stuff that contradicts or clashes with them. I remember one year when the high school freshmen class was criticized for being generally unruly and disrespectful by many in the faculty. A colleague was on her way to her classroom when she spotted a squashed orange right in front of the door. Her immediate response was to angrily exclaim, “Those darn freshmen trashing everything in sight!” — while ignoring the cleanliness everywhere else in the freshmen’s precinct.
However, believers beware! We can staunchly embrace our beliefs as truth and not question them even in the face of mounting factual evidence to the contrary, stranding ourselves in quagmires of intolerance and ignorance. The belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen essentially seeded the storm clouds that erupted into the Capitol violence on Jan. 6 and continues to perpetuate its hostility, convulsing political and social climates here and abroad.
A young man I met at a brain trauma rehab facility summed up best how our beliefs, above all, can be formidable motivators, coaching us to become effective in our quest for self-mastery. He was dealing with the aftereffects from a severe car accident years ago that had crushed part of his skull, leaving him with difficulty speaking and partial paralysis. He also professed a love of spelling which blossomed into participation in spelling bees and a great source of achievement and pride. When I asked to what he attributed his accomplishments, he explained, “There are those that say they can’t do it and they won’t. Others say maybe they can do it. Then there are those who say they can do it and it gets done.” This one I’ve permanently stored in my belief inventory, and it comes in handy in all types of circumstances. Word.
Dr. William Kolbe, an Andover resident, is a retired high school and college teacher, former Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga and El Salvador, and a mentor in Big Friends Little Friends. He can be reached at email@example.com.