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How to Believe

States of mind

Accomplishing new goals in our lives usually means changing our habits, and changing habits requires commitment to a goal. Underneath that commitment, though, there has to be faith. There’s a goodly amount of research out there to support the idea that if we don’t believe we can do something difficult, we won’t make a very good attempt at it.

Why belief is important to success
Belief’s importance makes a lot of sense: after all, accomplishing something difficult means putting in effort and attention over time, and as human beings, we tend to be very bad at putting time and effort into something when we don’t believe we’ll succeed–and rightly so! It doesn’t make much sense to expend our efforts in areas where we expect to fail.

But a problem comes up when something that we really can do feels impossible. We might want very much to do that thing and know exactly what steps we should be taking, but if we have trouble picturing success, eventually resolve tends to falter. We stop putting in effort because we have a crisis of faith, and that interruption causes our effort to fail, which reinforces the idea that what we wanted to do was impossible in the first place.

While fortunately we human beings tend to compensate for this sometimes with bull-headedness and unrealistic expectations (and I really do think that’s fortunate–otherwise we’d be like movie studios that only produce copycat movies for fear that something original will flop), more often, lack of belief leads to failure.

So sometimes, the reason you don’t believe you can earn a degree and get a better job is just that you’ve never had a better job, or the reason you can’t really believe you’ll lose weight is because you haven’t done it successfully before. Yet both of these things, for example, are achievable by almost anyone.

Building belief
So how can we help ourselves believe in our goals? Here are some ways to make that happen:

  • Talk to or research someone else who’s done it. Seeing is very close to believing.
  • Learn about how things work. For instance, learning about the relationship between building new muscle and increasing metabolism can provide more reason to be optimistic that exercise will lead to weight loss.
  • Root out broken ideas. It’s common to tell ourselves “facts” that don’t really hold up on examination. The page “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair” provides resources to learn how to repair broken ideas.
  • Track your progress. Every step toward your goal provides evidence that you can get closer. Be aware of your successes to bolster your confidence and your missteps to know where you need to be cautious. For more on this, see “How Feedback Loops Maintain Self-Motivation.”
  • Revisit past successes. If you’ve quit smoking for a couple of months in the past, or if you’ve been caught up with all of your correspondence at other times in your life, remind yourself of what you did and what you were able to accomplish.
  • Visualize success. Imagining a situation vividly enough helps it feel more real. Visualization is a way to get motivation from our own potential future successes.
  • Talk it out with someone supportive. Finding someone who wants to encourage you toward your goals can make a real difference (see “How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us“). Sympathetic friends or family members may not have the same blind spots we often have about ourselves, and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Photo by ornellaswouldgo

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