You Are Not What You Believe
For almost 2 years now, I’ve considered myself a vegan.
Today not any more.
Don’t get me wrong. For the time being, I will not change my diet. Until I have a good reason to, I will still not eat anything a vegan wouldn’t eat.
I will do all the same things a vegan does. But I won’t be one anymore.
What the fudge is the difference then?
Well then read on until the very end, my friend… Because the difference is big. And it can liberate you as wel!
The Function of Beliefs and Ideologies
Every day, you get overwhelmed by a whole bunch of choices you need to make. Ranging from:
• What to eat for dinner
• Whether you should say yes to an opportunity or not
• 2 articles are based on scientific studies but come to opposite conclusions. Which one should you trust?
Imagine you’d have to take the time to carefully evaluate every single choice you had to make in your life. That would be a very inefficient strategy. There are hundreds of mini-choices you need to make every day. And they would slow you down so much that you’d get very little done in your day.
To make it easier, we all adopt guiding principles to live our life by (whether we know it or not). This is our personal ideology, based upon things we believe are “true” or “right”.
While we share many beliefs with others, this ideology is not the same for everyone. As evidenced by that one person who takes the last piece of pie left on the table without feeling bad about it. Or the person who will not take it simply because they believe it’s the wrong thing to do.
Luckily, we don’t always have to come up with all these rules and beliefs ourselves. There’s are many books and leaders who can inspire us or give us ideas. And often these ideas are great.
When Beliefs Become Identity
There is nothing wrong with believing in something. In fact, some people say it is crucial for our survival.
Most religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Capitalism, Democracy, Atheism …) have a tremendous amount of wisdom in their message. They truly help you make better choices in life. That said, every single one of them also contains ideas that are outdated, unhelpful or easily misinterpreted.
But people rarely take these different ideas out of their context to form a nuanced opinion. Most people have a general opinion about Capitalism for example. But they haven’t formed a specific opinion about all the different details of Capitalism. Most people (myself included), usually take the entire ideology that contains the ideas, and decide whether they love it or hate it.
When people are talking about “Islamic terrorism”, they’ll either say that Islam is a horrible religion, or that it is a very beautiful culture and that “those terrorists” are by no means “true Muslims”.
We like to make black and white statements like that. Because they add to our ability to make quick in-the-moment decisions about which opinion to have and what is good vs. What is evil.
But at the same time we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why not look at the whole tub and conclude that Islam is a religion that contains a lot of wisdom for us to learn from. But also a lot of ideas that can lead to harmful behavior. Just like Christianity.
There’s nothing wrong with taking the parts of a religion that you like, without subscribing to the entire ideology. Most belief systems have a lot of ideas that contradict themselves anyway.
• Why not take all of the constructive, positive behavior that is included in Christianity without turning the other cheek to your rapist. Or marrying someone before knowing if you are sexually compatible?
• Why not take some awesome ideas from Buddhism that free your mind, without robbing yourself of bodily pleasures like sex and a certain degree of materialism?
• Why not implement all the positive habits and behavior of vegans, without adopting the victim complex and sense of moral superiority most of them feel towards meat eaters?
All of these ideologies contain ideas that can make you a better and a happier person. Satanism does too.
But it’s when you become a Christian, when you become a vegan, or when you become a Satanist that things start to go awry.
Because once a belief becomes part of your identity, the game changes. From that moment on, you no longer make all your choices and decisions based on what you think is the right thing to do. Instead, you’ll make them based on “What’s the most Christian thing to do here?”, “Was my Facebook comment vegan enough?” or “What would Satan do with this?”
And there’s an even bigger problem that comes with making a belief part of your identity. Your ego will now start defending its survival as if it the belief system was you.
Normally, as we get older in life, we start growing up and get a more mature view on things. This is the result of the fact that we keep learning new things and acquiring new information that allows us to update our map of reality. As we live more life, get a better understanding of things that allows us to move through life more effectively.
However, when you think that one of those little dots or lines your map (in other words: one of the beliefs you have that you consider true) is actually you, you will fight to the death to keep that belief on your map.
Because if that little belief would no longer be on your map, psychologically, that would mean that you yourself no longer exist. Can you follow?
When you identify with an ideology, any information that is actually true but threatens that ideology is interpreted as a threat to who you are. It is no longer your opinion that is at stake, it is your entire personality. So any information that challenges its unquestionable “rightness” will now be refuted and attacked. Even if it would be the golden nugget of wisdom that you’ve been waiting for all your life.
But refusing to update your map in this area will also mean that your psychological development from here on is limited. You can still grow. But instead of becoming more conscious and more capable it life, you will grow like a crooked tree. Bending and twisting in weird ways, to move around that one object stuck in the middle that prevents it from growing straight.
And there’s the problem…
What if you became a vegan to reduce your environmental footprint and someone discovered eating a certain type of meat is more eco-friendly?
I’m not saying such a thing exists. But if it did, and you identified with the ideology of veganism, your would react to this by telling that person he’s a liar and a horrible person for promoting meat. Which is too bad, because he was actually helping you get better at the original reason you adopted veganism in your life.
If you were a hardcore democrat, and a republican came with a superior solution to the problem you care most about… Would you vote for them?
What if you were religious because it makes you happy. And you learned about a proven system to make anyone happy. But in order to do so you have to stop believing in God(s). Would you do it?
Now what if you were an atheist and you had to START believing? Would you do it?
Now what if you were neither an atheist nor religious, but simply someone accepting that they don’t know everything and can always learn?
I think you know the answer.
If you are not the kind of person that follows the rules of a certain religion / subculture, you may have been nodding along here.
It’s something we do a lot, right? We read something and then we say “yes, that’s the problem with those other people” (I’m equally guilty of this by the way 😉 ).
Well most of the time, we have the exact same problem as those people. Only in a different disguise.
No matter who you are, religious or not. This advice still applies for “regular folks” like you and me in our day-to-day lives.
Beliefs That Are Not Part of an Ideology
You don’t have to consciously subscribe to group think to have beliefs in your head that are tangled up with your sense of identity. And when this happens, it will always cause trouble.
For example, in pre-school I was branded by teachers as intellectually gifted. Luckily, my parents were aware of the trouble this can cause. So they stopped the school from getting my IQ tested and went through serious efforts to stop every teacher from calling me that. Still, in every school the teacher would treat me differently (for better or worse).
This saddled me up with the belief that I was smarter than other people, which I identified with. That means I always thought I knew better. Which is a terrible strategy if you want to continue learning about the world.
When I was going through a major depression, I couldn’t see it was my responsibility to climb out of that hole. Because I could conveniently blame the rest of the world for “being stupid”. And see my depression as the result of being the only sane person left in a crazy world.
Not a very empowering point of view, huh?
Ironically, it was only when I stopped identifying with that belief that I start to be humble enough to learn new things and train my own mind again. Now I’m definitely smarter than everyone else 😉
Kidding of course 😉 It continues to amaze me how much I can learn from just about anyone. Including people I used to think were wrong, CEO’s, and homeless people. What I now do is remind myself that I’m probably no more intelligent than the next guy, I was just framed that way in the past.
Just like I used to believe that I was gifted, there’s probably a lot you believe about yourself that is causing trouble for you.
• Maybe you think you have “fat genes” and it’s that belief that keeps you from reaching your fitness goals?
• Maybe you think you’re not a relationship person, or take pride in being a player. But consider this: If suddenly you met your soul-mate… Identifying with that belief would actually ruin the whole thing for you.
• One of the best examples of this I encounter are people who believe they are socially challenged. Especially when diagnosed with something that makes it even more part of your identity (like assburgers).
If that’s you, think about this the next time you encounter a social situation. Are you an awkward person? Or are you just an awkward person because you believe you are?
It’s not who you are… it’s what you’re doing!
You don’t have fat genes. And you can break the cycle. You’re not socially incapable. You just have to learn some skills that come naturally to other people.
Sure, in both cases you may have gotten a bit of a setback at birth. And that makes it a little harder for you. But that doesn’t have to define who you are. All it does is define your starting point.
The same can be said for nearly everything… Your lack of empathy, your jealousy, your learning abilities. Even the idea that you tend to have a lot of “bad luck” or “good fortune”.
Whenever you make your beliefs about these part of your identity, you ruin your chances at making a change in that area. And you may even get mad at everyone who tries to help, free you or empower you.
Your real true “self” is ever-changing and has much more freedom than you think.
So whatever you believe right now, realize that it is only what you consider to be true based on the limited understanding of reality you possess in this moment.
I know those constant Windows updates can be a little annoying sometimes.
But when it comes to debugging the operating system that runs your own mind, think twice before you say no to something that could actually improve the system 😉