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Studying Your Beliefs

The process uncovering and shaping your beliefs is never-ending. I think it’s a healthy and worthwhile endeavor. Have you ever taken the time to write down your beliefs so you can really study and examine them? This is one of the exercises that I do in my journal from time to time. As we grow and mature, it’s natural to question old beliefs and sometimes change or modify them.

In order to keep challenging my beliefs in an effort to improve them, I’m constantly reading what other people have to say on the subject. I have a long list of authors who have influenced me greatly. I recently came across Will Durant’s short essay titled “This I Believe” that I think you’ll enjoy reading. It’s an amazing example of how a great writer and thinker clarified his beliefs into a succinct statement. Will Durant, a highly regarded American writer, historian, and philosopher, became best known for his work “The Story of Civilization.” The groundbreaking work includes eleven volumes that were published between 1935 and 1975. Many were written in collaboration with his wife, Ariel. Will Durant also wrote many other books including his first best-seller “The Story of Philosophy” and my personal favorite, “The Lesson’s of History.” I’ve learned a great deal from his writings over the years.

The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. Below is a copy of the essay on beliefs that Will Durant wrote after a lifetime of serious study and reflection. No matter what you believe, I think you’ll find Durant’s essay worth reading and thinking about.

It’s not necessary that you believe what Will Durant chose to believe. What’s important is to decide for yourself what you believe. I have a rule that I never tell anyone else what to believe. I’d rather ask others to tell me what they believe. Then I ask them what they think the consequences will be from having those beliefs. I also love this question: Is what you believe good for you, good for others, and does it serve the greater good?

Using Will Durant’s essay as a model, create your own “This I Believe” statement. Save it and then see if it evolves over time.

* * * * *

THIS I BELIEVE

by

Will Durant

I find in the Universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order and law of the world.

I do not understand my God, and I find in nature and history many instances of apparent evil, disorder, cruelty and aimlessness. But I realize that I see these with a very limited vision and that they might appear quite otherwise from a cosmic point of view. How can an infinitesimal part of the universe understand the whole? We are drops of water trying to understand the sea.

I believe that I am the product of a natural evolution. The logic of evolution seems to compel determinism, but I cannot overcome my direct consciousness of a limited freedom of will. I believe that if I could see any form of matter from within as I can see myself through introspection, I should find in all forms of matter something akin to what in ourselves is mind and freedom. I define “virtue” as any quality that makes for survival, but as the survival of the group is more important than the survival of the average individual, the highest virtues are those that make for group survival: love, sympathy, kindliness, cooperation. If my life lived up to my ideals, I would combine the ethics of Confucius and Christ; the virtues of a developing individual with those of a member of a group.

I was a Socialist in my youth and sympathized with the Soviet regime until I visited Russia in 1932. What I saw there led me to deprecate the extension of that system to any other land. Experience and history have taught me the instinctive basis and economic necessity of competition and private property. I’m not so fanatical a worshipper of liberty as some of my radical or conservative friends; when liberty exceeds intelligence it begets chaos; which begets dictatorship. We had too much economic liberty in the later nineteenth century due to our free land and our relative exemption from external danger. We have too much moral liberty today, due to increasing wealth and diminishing religious belief. The age of liberty is ending under the pressure of external dangers; the freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole.

I do not resent the conflicts and difficulties of life. In my case, they have been far outweighed by good fortune, reasonable health, loyal friends and a happy family life. I have met so many good people that I have almost lost my faith in the wickedness of mankind.

I suspect that when I die I shall be dead. I would look upon endless existence as a curse as did the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew. Death is life’s greatest invention; perpetually replacing the worn with the new. And after twenty volumes, it will be sweet to sleep.

Source: http://will-durant.com/believe.htm

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Do You Create Your Own Reality?

How many times have you heard this said, “you create your own reality?” If you Google the phrase, you’ll find endless support for this popular idea. Do you believe it’s true? Do you indeed create your own reality? I used to accept this concept and even teach it, but not any longer. It fell apart for me after years of careful examination and study.

I’ve learned that it’s important to be open to challenging any and all beliefs, even if they appear to be sound at first glance. This is where lifelong learning comes into play. It takes courage to question an idea that you’ve been led to believe is true. Unfortunately, many people won’t even consider challenging their beliefs. Yet I’ve learned that anything worth believing must be able to withstand the assault of reason and science. A combination of reason and science always supports and enhances the best ideas.

Of course, all of us have beliefs that aren’t serving us. It’s easy to believe things that aren’t good for us or anyone else. I plead guilty to harboring more than my share of bad ideas. I’ve spent my life working on improving my beliefs while, at the same time, helping others to do the same. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to find a few strategies that have proved helpful in this process.

Here are my three rules or strategies for examining beliefs:

  1. The Prime Directive– I never tell anyone what to believe. Period. I think of it like the old Star Trek Prime Directive Motto about not interfering with developing planets. However, if someone asks my opinion about a particular belief, I’m happy to offer my perspective on what I think the consequences of holding such a belief might be.
  2. The Belief Challenge– I love to question beliefs in search of the truth. I think the best any of us can do is to work relentlessly to get closer to the truth, knowing that the absolute truth may not be knowable right now. The best way I’ve found to determine if a belief needs to be eliminated or replaced is to examine if the belief is good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good. Many beliefs completely fall apart after a few questions in this regard, especially once you learn the consequences and ultimate outcome of beliefs. I like to say it this way: all beliefs have consequences. Do you know what the consequences of your current beliefs are? Where are your beliefs taking you?
  3. The Belief Substitution– I think, if possible, it’s best to replace a belief rather than just eliminate it. If a belief cannot pass the test of rigorous reason and analysis, it’s time to throw it out. However, it’s often better to replace a limiting belief with an empowering one as opposed just eliminating it. The loss of a belief can create a vacuum that is best filled with something better.

Let’s get back to the popular belief that you create your own reality. If this idea is true, why don’t you have everything that you want right now? Why isn’t your life exactly the way you want it down to the smallest detail? As an example, why are doctors of any kind necessary if you can simply wish away any mental or physical challenge you may have? Surely if you create your own reality, it follows that you can create whatever reality that you want including making yourself look, feel, think, and act in any way you wish. And money, that’s no problem, right? Just visualize the amount of money you want in your bank account, and you’re good to go.

Now if you’re thinking that you haven’t created your own reality yet but you just need more time, why? Doesn’t it follow that if you create your own reality, you control time along with everything else? If this is getting a bit absurd, then you can see where I’m going. If a belief cannot withstand the ongoing assault of logic, reason, and common sense, then there’s something wrong with it. In the case creating your own reality, it leads you down a path that involves “magical thinking.” While it may be fun to believe that you create your own reality, it can also be quite dangerous and destructive.

Think about it this way. If you create your own reality, then it follows that you have the ultimate super power. Forget about the other Marvel comic strip characters because with the ability to create your own reality, you control everything. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and all of the others need not apply. You’ve got it covered.

But alas, there is no evidence that a real super hero exists other than what I call “the best version of you” which doesn’t require any hocus pocus. All you need to be “the best version of you” is the courage to learn and apply a common sense set of rules and guidelines that produces real results.

Because I want to really drive home this point, here are two examples of the kind of damage I have observed in myself and others when magical thinking takes over:

  1. Believing that you create your own reality tends to develop deeper and deeper levels of unhappiness and inadequacy as you learn that you can’t turn all of your beliefs into reality. The worst part is when you beat yourself up because of what you might see as your failure to believe. You might even get the well-meaning, yet misdirected, advice to just try harder.
  2. Believing that you can create your own reality can lead you to waste valuable time wishing and hoping when what’s called for is clear thinking, strategic planning, and massive action. Don’t waste your life with magical thinking when intelligent thinking is the answer.

So, here’s my opportunity to help you eliminate this belief if you’re interested. Let me suggest a replacement belief. Read the following quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and see what you think:

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

Notice the difference between believing you create our own reality versus believing you are a collaborator in the creation process. I find the idea of being a collaborator in creation very empowering. Notice how it’s focused on stretching your abilities to the max while also suggesting that you are a creation collaborator. This idea proposes that you are capable of much more than you currently realize while also indicating that you are a member of a team. It’s not all about you. It says that your job is to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible while working with others to do the same. It leads to questions like these: Are you pushing against your comfort zone with the best team you can find? If not, why not?

Write down the above quote and put it somewhere you can see it every day. Then the next time someone tries to convince you that you create your own reality, read the quote again. It is estimated that 100 billion people have appeared on planet earth; however, you are unique and special. No one exactly like you has ever before appeared on planet earth. Moreover, an exact copy of you is not possible because of your unique combination of genes, environment, and thoughts. You are a one-of-a-kind individual. That should provide you with all of the motivation you need to stay focused on discovering what I call your Unique Talent™ and then using that talent in the service of others. That’s what is most important and, moreover, I believe that is something you were born to do. Just remember to collaborate because the better your team, the better your results.

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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where medical help would be the best answer.

I’ve had clients over the years where it was clear to me the challenges they were facing ran much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. This is when self-help or life coaching may not be the right approach. Some problems require medical assistance, and  it’s important to recognize the difference and always err on the side of caution. Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. But again, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get the right medical help.

I’m especially attuned to this topic because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health challenges. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his own life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

Are you experiencing any mental health challenges that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, the sooner you get medical help the better. Remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.

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The Limits of Self-Help

Are you interested in self-help? Have you ever read a self-help book, listened to a self-help program, or attended a self-help seminar? I can’t imagine that you are reading this blog if self-help is not a huge priority in your life. In other words, I’ll bet you’re a person who is interested in self-guided improvement be it intellectually, economically, physically, or emotionally. You want to improve and you want to be in the driver’s seat of making that improvement. Am I right?

You want to control your life. You want to make your life better. You want to direct your next breakthrough and be responsible for the next personal and professional transformations that you need in order to reach the next level of success. You want to summon the iron will and steadfast courage to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way.

I can promise you that this is exactly who I am. I’ve been hooked on self-help ever since I learned I could make a difference in how my life turns out. From the moment I learned that I could make choices, the game of self-help was on. I wanted to make the best choices, and I wanted to win the game. I was ready to play. I was all in.

I instinctively knew how the game was to be played. It is based on a very simple idea. The fundamental belief of self-help is the belief that you can make yourself better. That’s it, and I agree.

Now here’s the question: Can this idea be taken too far? I’ve learned in my own life that it can. In fact, I’m embarrassed to tell you that while I have worked extremely hard to make everything about my life the best it could possibly be, the major advances that I’ve made have come from others helping me. It’s true. My major successes have come from Other-Help, not Self-Help.

Now I don’t want to say that I haven’t played a major role in this game I’m playing called MY LIFE, but I’m saying that self-help is not enough, not nearly enough. My guess is that self-help has not helped you through the most difficult times in your life such as those times when everything just fell apart and you were so disillusioned that you didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Haven’t you had times when you’ve been so lost and alone that you couldn’t decide what to do next? If not, then you may be an alien or you may have some special super powers I’ve never witnessed in anyone that I’ve ever met or read about, and that’s a lot of people.

I’m willing to bet that you understand what I’m talking about in terms of the fact that self-help can only take you so far in life. Self-help does indeed have its limits. It’s not enough to get you where you want to go and it most certainly will not provide you with the lasting achievement and fulfillment that you desire.

Self-help is definitely part of the formula involved in getting what you want but without the help of others, the game is over. The victory is both lost and hollow no matter what the achievement.

My suggestion is to make a list of the people who have helped you the most in your life. After each of their names, write down what they’ve done for you. Just this simple exercise will lead you to the underlying truth behind the game of life, which is this: Life is a team sport, and you can’t win a team sport by yourself!

So let’s add more people to your list who you may have never considered. For example, what about all of those opponents you’ve faced in your life? Did any of them make it on the list of people who have helped you in life? Why or why not?

Haven’t the people who challenged you the most also caused you to grow the most? How about writing down the names of your so-called “adversaries” along with a list of what they “helped” you learn and achieve. It’s been said that we learn more from failure than we do from success. Why? Because while we celebrate in some way when we achieve something, it’s when we fail that we are forced to ponder. What happened? Why did I miss my target? How can I get back on the right track? What can I learn from what happened? I know that I can succeed, so what’s the answer that I need? What else can I read or who can I ask for help? Asking questions leads to answers, and it often takes failure to get us to ask the questions we need to succeed.

As is so often the case in life, a change in perspective is needed when we miss one of our goals, and maybe it’s time to rethink self-help alone. It’s refreshing to turn things around now and then and look at life from a different perspective. There’s no need to stop studying self-help principles, just don’t limit yourself because there are a lot of people who can help you if you’ll only ask. You can also expand your reading to include books with the topic “Other-Help” to your library. That may not be a category in the bookstore but you can start with biographies and autobiographies of what people did who achieved what you want to achieve, and maybe you can even meet those people. The answers are always within reach and others will help. People are standing by to help you if you’ll only ask.