Making meaning of our experiences

Humans, unlike other animals, are naturally inclined to make meaning of the things they do and the world around them. You will not find a dog wondering why he chewed a slipper or a cat trying to understand why she likes to lie in the sun, but you will find all humans posing similar questions about the behaviour of themselves and others. We compulsively make meaning of our experiences and we start this process from the moment we exist.

Meaning becomes belief

When we have formed the same meaning a few times through repeated experience (or just once if the experience was traumatic) and have no new or conflicting information to compare our meaning to, it becomes a belief. The younger we are, the less information we have and the more likely it is that our beliefs will be incorrect and therefore limiting. This is how ‘mistaken beliefs’ are formed.

The brain matches experience to mistaken beliefs

Our brain endeavours to match up our life experiences to our existing beliefs, to enable us to make sense of life. Our brain is constantly scanning every experience we have, searching for anything that could possibly match up with our existing beliefs. When our beliefs are negative and limiting, our life begins to reflect that. When someone believes “I am not good enough”, every criticism is immediately taken as truth rather than just another’s opinion. A raised eyebrow may be interpreted as, “They think I’m not good enough” rather than “Hmm, I wonder if they have a query?” Every mistake is seen as evidence of “I’m not good enough”, rather than simply an opportunity to learn.

Examples of mistaken beliefs

Examples of mistaken beliefs include (but are not limited to), “I don’t count”; “I’m not important”; “I’m dirty”; “I’m ruined”; “I’m contaminated”; “My body is bad”; “I am not safe”; “I’m not important”; “Feelings are unsafe”; “I deserve to be punished”; “I will never be safe”.

The good news

The brain does the same diligent job with positive beliefs as it does with mistaken beliefs. If you have the positive belief “I am successful”, the brain searches out anything that could fit in with that belief. Phrases such as, “You can do anything you set your mind to” would be eligible to match up. Of course, any direct positive comment will also be recognised by the brain as a match, for example, “You’ve done well”; “That was a good try”; “You really have a natural ability for that”.

In summary, the brain works to match incoming information to currently held beliefs. When a match is identified, the brain collects it and accepts it as truth.

Nothing can stop us but our beliefs

When people have unhealthy mistaken beliefs they are unable to be propelled forward by their own attributes; instead they experience the old ‘Yes, but…’ syndrome: “Yes, but I can’t do it because of my problems.”

Conversely, when people have positive beliefs they are able to reason and work through their own drawbacks and approach life with a positive attitude: “Yes; I can do this in spite of my problems.”