When I was growing up, nearly all of the people in my life – family, friends, and classmates – identified themselves as Christians. I did too of course, not knowing of other viable options. The alternatives all resulted in eternal damnation, so it didn’t seem like much of a choice at the time.
When I eventually sloughed off those crusty old beliefs and decided to make my own choices in life, I realized that beliefs are like clothing. We can change them, and in fact we should change them. If we never change our beliefs, then like unwashed clothes, they tend to get pretty smelly.
I’ve met many people wearing Christian beliefs, but I’ve never met an actual Christian. It doesn’t make sense to identify someone based on their clothing, nor does it make sense to identify someone based on their temporary beliefs.
Beliefs are lenses through which we assign meaning to events. If we cling to static lenses, we limit our options for assigning meaning, and that eventually gets us into trouble when the world changes, which it always does.
Assigning meaning to events is useful. Any communication requires the assignment of meaning, even communication between devices. Otherwise a signal is just garbled noise. Similarly, when interesting events occur in your life, you have options for assigning meaning to them. If you never evolve your lenses for assigning meaning, or if you keep them boxed inside an outdated interpretation, you’ll find yourself falling out of sync with the world.
Just as you need to wash or replace your clothes now and then – and there are social and health consequences if you don’t – you also need to wash and replace your beliefs from time to time. Beliefs are useful for a while, but they eventually fall out of sync with reality. And when they do so, they need to be given space to evolve.
You’re already evolving your beliefs in many areas of life. I’m sure your perception of social media has shifted in the past several years, for instance. But there are other areas of your life where the assignment of meaning is probably stuck, and this leads to stagnant results. Just look at those areas of life where your results are still pretty much the same as they were five years ago, and there’s a high likelihood that you’ve got some stagnant beliefs in those areas too – beliefs that aren’t evolving.
Beliefs and Identity
The most insidious form of stuckness is when outdated beliefs have gradually woven themselves into your identity. That’s such a huge trap that can repel opportunities, much like going around wearing smelly clothes every day. People may be too polite to tell you that your beliefs stink, but many interesting and worthwhile people will avoid you because you’re unpleasant to be around.
Don’t you automatically avoid investing time and energy with people whose beliefs emit a certain stench when they’re expressed?
Now also consider that you probably have some stagnant old beliefs that have fallen out of sync with reality, but you’ve mistakenly wrapped them into your identity, so those beliefs can’t evolve much. A lot more is possible for you, but you’re unable to tap into an empowered direction of growth. This can be frustrating, making you doubt if you’ll ever be able to get into a healthy flow of progress.
For instance, have you allowed any stagnant beliefs (and stagnant results) to seep into your identity in any of the following areas?
- Your diet
- Your current city or country
- Your living situation
- Your lifestyle
- Your social situation
- Your hobbies
- Your job or business
- Your family
- Your relationships
You could take all of these areas and make radical changes in them, and you’d still be you. You won’t lose your identity as the person you are just by shifting your beliefs. You may feel differently about yourself, and you may have different thoughts, just as you might when changing up the clothes you wear. But you’ll be the same person having different experiences and assigning different meanings to events.
Evolving Your Beliefs
I know that it can feel a bit ungrounding to let your beliefs evolve, especially since you usually have to abandon the old ones before the new ones fully come into view. The truth is that you get used to it. You learn not to cling so dearly to lenses with an expiration date. Once you let go of old lenses that no longer serve you (like outdated religious beliefs that are long past their prime), new ones will arise to take their place, and they’ll sculpt your character in some amazing ways.
You really can get back into the flow of incredible progress in previously stuck areas of life, but trying to take more action or set different goals isn’t enough. You must also allow your assignment of meaning to evolve. Those old meanings are keeping you stuck, probably running you in circles too.
When you allow your beliefs to evolve, the irony is that you’ll actually feel more yourself. You’re not a static being. You’re a growing and evolving one, and your beliefs need the freedom and flexibility to grow and evolve with you.
Whoever you think you are right now, that’s a self-limitation. And that’s okay as long as you don’t overdo it. Some constraints are good because they provide structure for interpreting and understanding events. But eventually those same constraints can get in your way and knock you out of sync with reality, such as self-identifying with an old income level, lifestyle, or relationship that no longer empowers you.
On a grander scale, our collective beliefs must evolve for humanity to grow as well. By aligning ourselves with the best parts of humanity that are growing and flourishing, we encourage other people to do the same.
Even seeing ourselves as human is an identity with an expiration date, isn’t it? We can improve ourselves beyond the limits of our biology. It would be more accurate for many of us to self-identify as partially technological, given how much tech is already woven into our lives.
If you cling to outdated beliefs, and especially if you wrap them into your identity, then you’re acting as a drag coefficient on the world’s ongoing evolution. This reality discourages that type of behavior – usually with stagnation, rejection, and isolation – just as it discourages wearing stinky clothes.
Consider that if you’ve been experiencing stagnant results, it could be reality’s way of pinching its nose in response to your stubborn clinginess to misaligned beliefs. That isn’t meant as a punishment but rather as an invitation to freshen up your assignment of meaning, so you can get aligned with where the story wants to go next.