It seems that most people would rather die than change their mind and nobody is asking why. It is somehow noble to “stick to your guns” regardless of the truth. Politicians are criticized for changing their mind and labeled a “flip-flopper” often ending a career.
This blog is all about our most cherished possessions. It’s about what people have fought and died for, often without question. It is about what has caused the most needless suffering in all human history. This blog is about our beliefs and how they control us by hijacking our minds.
Who’s the crazy one?
What do you do when the person you are with starts talking about some irrational belief you are sure is false? You have three choices:
- Change your mind
- Ignore the crazy guy and act as if you agree
- Give them your point of view with all the facts, proving they’re wrong and they should change their mind immediately.
Admit it, you are not going to change your mind because you are right after all and unless you are feeling feisty you will probably go with option two, “ignore the crazy guy.” Even if you do go with the third option, how is that working out for you?
Now imagine that the other person has made the same calculation about you. You are now at an impasse knowing that the other one must be stupid or crazy. Multiply this over time and you have a divided country. So half this country is stupid or crazy?
Assuming one of you is correct, why is it so hard for the other to change their mind? There must be an answer, preferably based on scientific principles and evidence.
Hijacked by Beliefs
An average man once asked a profound question, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Wouldn’t the answer to that question be what humanity has been looking for since we started walking upright?
Why can’t we all just get along? –Rodney King
We all go through life acquiring beliefs – some true, some not so much – that turn into habits of thought and behavior. They are a part of us and arguably make us who we are. But if you grew up in another part of the world with a completely different set of beliefs would you still be you? Genetically you would be the same but your thoughts and behavior most likely would not. You are in that sense separate from your beliefs yet they control who you are.
How Beliefs Work
If we really are hijacked by our beliefs how do they do it? Imagine that beliefs are the puppeteers and we are the puppets. Then our own brain chemicals are the strings used to control us.
Beliefs make us feel good or bad depending on their needs. Neurotransmitters including dopamine and oxytocin pull us to do things and adrenaline and cortisol push us to avoid things.
The reason life fills virtually every niche on earth is because it evolved to feel good to reproduce and it is the same reason beliefs fill every mind on earth. Why do you think people enjoy talking so much? Or why the fastest growing religions have some doctrine to spread the word. This obsession we have to pass on our ideas and beliefs exists because it makes us feel good to do it.
But there are far more beliefs than there are minds so they must compete to get into as many minds as possible. It is this competition that has made beliefs arguably the most powerful and prolific replicator on earth.
To Protect & To Defend
Once beliefs infect the host they use the hosts own brain chemicals to protect themselves against competing beliefs. Only beliefs that support the core belief will be allowed in.
Let me ask you a question. How do you feel when you are wrong? Do you feel embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated or even guilty?
Think again! You don’t feel any of those things when you are wrong. You only feel them when you REALIZE you are wrong. Most people will go to great lengths to avoid feeling those emotions. This is the defense mechanism used by beliefs to overstay their welcome.
The next time you see two people arguing, imagine two beliefs battling it out for survival, not two people. Beliefs are causing adrenaline and cortisol to be injected into their host creating the “fight or flight” response.
This is why people sweat, gets red in the face and can even come to blows over beliefs that have no basis in reality. They quite literally feel physically threatened when their beliefs are threatened. Nature uses this trick all the time as we will see in a later post.
This effect is so powerful it causes blindness to facts and evidence. Rather than change a worldview or dogma, reality is twisted to fit the dogma. This is why we live in a world full of alternative facts, fake news and science deniers. Beliefs are controlling their hosts for their benefit.
Now who’s in control?
Knowing that your beliefs control you, you now have some control over them. If you have ever been wrong or made a mistake it was probably because something you believed to be true simply wasn’t. Blame the belief! Great you are off the hook! Not exactly. You still have the responsibility to make sure that, your beliefs are actually true, or as I like to say, “aligned with reality.” Much easier said than done as we have seen!
Also consider the other person, you know the “crazy” one. They still do not know they are hijacked by beliefs. But you do, so take it easy on them the next time you try to change their mind because beliefs do not change without a fight.
For a summary watch Episode #02 – How Beliefs Work