“I don’t want to stop [thing],” my client told me.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because it’s helped me [reach my goal] before and I know I can do it again.”
“What if there was a better way to [reach your goal]?”
Unfortunately, these conversations are never as direct as this scenario. When someone comes to me for help, they already have and idea or a full blown plan of what works and what doesn’t. The thing this hypothetical client doesn’t want to stop could be running, CrossFit, or a raw foods diet.
Whatever it is, they don’t want to stop it. Said another way, they are not open to new ideas.
You can imagine, as a health and fitness professional, this could be potentially frustrating. Where do people get off, coming to me – the expert – telling me what they are or are not going to do?
In case you are not getting my sense of humor – I’m joking. This is very typical. We all see the world through beliefs we carry with us.
In order to make lifestyle changes, you may need to ditch your old way of thinking and put your faith somewhere else.
Grains: good, bad, or just an entertaining debate?
You may have realized there was a bunch of blogs reporting a “pro-wheat” comeback. If you are not aware, there has been an anti-gluten frenzy over the past decade. Wheat, specifical gluten, has been characterized as evil.
The #glutenfreelife has tripled between 2009 and 2014 according to researchers from Rutgers University, while the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease has remained consistently around 1% for decades.
Despite the surge in people eating gluten-free, there is little evidence to back it up. If you have celiac disease, you cannot tolerate gluten and should be gluten-free.
For everyone else, it’s possible your perception is totally false. Gluten is protein found in grains, including wheat (and flour), and is found in most bread and pasta. So, if you are trying to lose weight, going gluten-free might be an effective weight loss tool. Because going gluten-free means giving up a ton of delicious foods like pizza, Chinese food, cakes, and etc.
There’s more to it, but that’s what I believe. What do you believe – click here – let me know?
NOTE: I’m researching a more well-rounded article about the “great grain debate” that I’ll insert here later.
What is Belief?
Plainly, a belief defines an idea or principle which we judge to be true. If you have ever stopped to think about your convictions, you would know this is not a small thing. Your whole life is based on what you believe.
Even still, I regularly work with people who believe things that aren’t just unproven but have been proven to be false (like grains make your fat and sick). It’s so common to hear potential clients confess ideas with insufficient evidence to support their claims.
It no longer surprises me.
Now, I reserve myself and do not challenge false beliefs until after the consultation is completed. I use to think I could change people’s body because of what I knew. I was dead wrong. But now, I’m wiser.I know I cannot help change someone’s life if they are not open to changing their thinking.
Success, whether in health and fitness or business and life, starts with mindset.
What’s going on here? Why are we (myself included) so apparently predisposed to believe false propositions?
Neuropsychology provides the answer by recognizing that our thinking is both irrational and rational. Because of science we now know that your intellectual value judgments – the degree to which you believe or disbelieve an idea – are significantly influenced by your brain’s predisposition for attachment.
A brain is basically an attachment machine.
It’s attached to people, places, things, and ideas. It also goes beyond rational. Irrationally, our brains have intimately emotionally attachment to ideas and “emotional allergies” to ideas we believe as false.
This emotional aspect of our rational thinking explains measurable biases that show up in our minds:
- Confirmation bias causes us to pay more attention and assign greater faith to ideas that support our current beliefs. Meaning, we hand-pick the evidence that supports a contention we already believe and ignore evidence that argues against it.
- Disconfirmation bias causes us to expend excessive energy trying to disprove ideas that contradict our current beliefs.
While the accuracy of a belief is one of your cognitive goals, another goal is the validation of pre-existing beliefs. Ideas that have been built block by block into the fabric of our lives need to be protected. The weapons of choice: confirmation and disconfirmation bias. When using these weapons, the downside is that new ideas are not judged by their own merits or evidence for or against them.
Evidence VS. Emotion
Through hard work you can guard your mind, becoming aware of your cognitive biases. If you want to get to a place where you find the truth, it’s necessary to work at it.
If you want to limit the control of confirmation and disconfirmation bias, become more childlike.
Stick with me. Play is experimental and serious business. The older we get, the less we play. In order to grow, we need to be in a perpetual state of experimentation.
Most people think only species of higher intelligence, humans, can be self-aware. You should know both babies and animals believe things. The difference – the are not aware they believe them. This means they do judge ideas as “true” with minds that act based on the truth of them nonetheless.
The belief called object permanence helps babies learn objects don’t stop existing when placed behind another object around 8 to 12 months. Yes, the game peek-a-boo is based on a belief. Animals run from predators because they know, or believe; they will be eaten if they don’t. Even simple, single-cell organisms like protozoa believe in things, seen when they move toward energy sources because they know it’s key to their future existence.
The emotional biases that adults use for reason are not developed in babies (and never develop in animals) are the meta-cognitive abilities of adults. The skills to look back on conclusions and form opinions are a few. Babies and animals draw conclusions on “compulsory” beliefs, that infants and animals are not free to disbelieve.
Ironically, this leads to the conclusion that babies and animals are better at reasoning from evidence than adults. Adults can form compulsory beliefs in the presence of incontrovertible evidence, but meta-cognitions allow only a few facts to be absorbed without the attachment of biases. These are “rationalized” beliefs.
The judgment of whether an idea is true or false is based on whether a person wants it to be true or false.
- Creationists still disbelieve in evolution in the face of overwhelming evidence in support of it
- Activists (actors and actresses) with children who have autism still believe that immunizations cause autism in the face of overwhelming evidence against it
Let’s be clear – if you are now looking down upon those among us who remain blind in the face of proof while you think you can reason and immune to false conclusions, you are deceiving yourself about the strength of your objectivity. We are all subject to contend with our biases. Yes, some of us are better than others at managing our biases.
Here are a few tips to weaken the impact:
- Be honest with yourself with how biased you are
- Identify the particular biases you have accumulated
- Have to practice noticing how (not when) those particular preferences are exerting influence over the judgments you make about new facts
There’s evidence that suggests we are less likely to turn a deaf ear to new ideas that contradict our current beliefs if those ideas are presented:
- in a non-worldview-threatening manner
- by someone whom we perceive thinks as we do
My point here is that beliefs are dominant. What you believe has enough power to affect us all.
Reflect on the theory that goes like this – if you kill an infidel, you will be surrounded by many virgins in your afterlife. This belief, held by only a small portion of the world, a region, religion has done incalculable harm. (There Have Been No Fatal Terror Attacks In The U.S. By Immigrants From The 7 Banned Muslim Countries)
Now think about this theory – if you moved for 30 minutes 4 times per week, ate a balanced diet with variety 80% of the time, and managed your stress through breathing exercises, you will live healthier and longer. This belief, virtually common sense can literally change the world. (Nearly Half of US Deaths Can Be Prevented With Lifestyle Changes)
For yourself and society, you have critical and important reasons to do two things regarding beliefs:
- Reject bad, or untrue ideas
- Spread good, or correct ideas
You are not alone. And correcting misconceptions are not going to be enough.
If you want what’s good for everyone, you must avoid the tendency to hold emotional biases because they prevent you from seeing the truth and living with a healthy life.