Let’s Talk About… Beliefs

By Jeremy Godwin

What are beliefs, and how do you separate fact from fiction when it comes to the things you believe about yourself and the world around you? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

Versión en español (clic aquí)

Versione italiana (clicca qui)

Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.

Find links to other available podcasting services here.

As well as my podcast, I publish videos on my YouTube channel every Wednesday (Tuesday afternoon in North/South America). This week: quitting drinking improved my mental health.

Watch this week’s episode below or visit the channel on YouTube:

Join my mailing list to receive episode transcripts in your inbox each Sunday and my weekly mini-newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, with a quick round-up of interesting and inspiring stuff every Thursday:

This podcast episode was originally released on 24 July, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 141, and thanks so much for joining me as I talk about beliefs and mental health!

I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.

In this episode I’ll be talking about what beliefs are, why understanding them matters, and how to manage your beliefs in a healthy way. So, let’s talk!

Introduction

In 2004, Kylie Minogue declared “I believe in you” and the first line of that song (“I don’t believe you know me, although you know my name”) is one of my favourite lyrics of all time because, frankly, does anybody ever truly know who we really are, at our core? I say that because so much of how we view the world, and how we choose to go about our lives, is based on our internal beliefs about ourselves, about the people around us, and about the world in general. 

Now, I don’t want to break your brain too early in this episode however I’m going to say something quite philosophical to begin with: so much of what we believe and hold to be true is actually an illusion. We believe the sky is a pale blue, but it’s not; that’s just a reaction that happens in the atmosphere and the way that our eyes perceive light that combine to make it appear that colour during daylight hours… I know, mind-blowing information that doesn’t actually change the way you live your life, but there you are.

But the reason why I start this episode by questioning your entire reality is that if we don’t learn how to question our beliefs and challenge them sometimes, then we can wind up limiting ourselves in multiple different ways… but more on that shortly.

First, let’s explore some definitions and let’s talk about…

What are beliefs?

And ‘beliefs’ can be defined as an acceptance that something is true or that something exists, as well as being something that you have trust, faith or confidence in (and that definition is adapted from the Oxford Dictionary, which I tell you because I believe in using reputable sources and not getting my information from social media!). 

Let’s look at an example of a belief where there are basically just three main options: whether or not you believe in life on other planets. You either (a) believe there is, (b) believe there is not, or (c) are not sure one way or the other so you don’t have a firmly-held belief (and, for the record, my beliefs on that can be summed up by the words of Jodie Foster from the movie Contact, “if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space”). 

However, most beliefs in life are not quite as clear-cut or binary as that example; there are very few things that we can be so ‘yes’ or ‘no’ over, and it’s a very personal thing because we each have beliefs that we formed very early on, back in our childhood, as well as the beliefs we have developed throughout our adult years. Many people find themselves being raised in households with specific belief systems that shape their identity from a young age; some of us might go on to question those beliefs when we grow up, and others might not choose to ever do so. Either way, neither approach is right or wrong; it’s just different. The reason I say that is because I make a point in this podcast quite a lot to remind anyone and everyone who might listen to me that there are billions of us living on this planet, each with our own unique set of life experiences and our diverse range of beliefs, and it is that diversity that defines us as human beings; when we reject someone because they don’t have our beliefs, or we try to make them conform to our beliefs, we can end up doing harm to others and to ourselves.

Beliefs are just the thoughts we have thought over and over again, and a lot of them are tied up in our assumptions and expectations. Here’s the thing: the beliefs we have about ourselves, about others and about the wider world are not necessarily true. Why do I say that again? Because we have to recognise that your beliefs are not facts, just like our thoughts are not facts, because they are based on our limited perspective as well as our individual wants, needs and values (and I just talked about needs in Episode 137 and values in Episode 138). 

In the words of Alanis Morissette, “you live, you learn” — and the more you learn, the more you grow. I don’t know about you, but my beliefs today — at the age of 46 — are very different to the beliefs I had at 26 or even 36, because I’ve found myself over the years going through so many things that have turned my life, and my belief systems, completely upside-down (whether it’s been due to my breakdown and mental health issues, or family matters, or work stuff or whatever). If you had have told me ten years ago that today I’d be living in the countryside and doing the kind of work I do while just having celebrated four years of being completely alcohol-free, I would have laughed at you right before I then finished off two or three bottles of Prosecco and wondered why I felt rough the next day. 

My point is that the more you live the more you learn, and that means that you grow and evolve… so I think that it’s only natural that your beliefs grow and evolve with you. I certainly look at the world very differently than the way I used to, and I think we need to bear that in mind when we’re dealing with other people as well; not everyone chooses to grow as they age (I mean, I know some incredibly immature older people!), but I think that — for most of us — we are very rarely the people that we once were, and that’s a healthy thing because if you’re not growing then you’re stagnating, which isn’t a particularly pleasant way to live your life. I can definitely say that the people who knew me 20 years ago would not recognise me today because I’m a very different person; you might believe you know someone but you probably only know one aspect of them, like who they are at work, or one specific version of them from a particular period in their lives. 

Anyway, that feels like it was a bit of a tangent (and no real surprises that I would go a bit off-topic), so let’s move on and talk about…

Why understanding your beliefs matters

And it matters because all things begin with self awareness… which is why that topic is the first chapter of my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One), because it’s the foundation of everything! You can buy my book on Amazon and Apple Books; you’ll find it linked in the episode description. 

The thing is that we don’t need to stay stuck in old beliefs or outdated ways of thinking about ourselves or the wider world; it’s why we’ve moved on from old beliefs and customs like thinking that smoking was actually good for you (and a side note here: did you know that in the 1700’s, doctors believed that blowing smoke into a patient’s rectum was a healthy thing to do? Seriously! I’ve even included a link to an article from the BC Medical Journal about the practice in the transcript if you’re interested… I really do come across some random things while I’m researching these episodes so I decided to share this one! Find it here: https://bcmj.org/special-feature/special-feature-tobacco-smoke-enemas). 

Anyway, the point is that our beliefs are not fixed; for example, the ancient Iberians “believed the stars to be golden nail-heads holding up the ceiling of the universe” (and that’s a quote from another journal article that I’ll link to in the transcript — find it here: https://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1931JRASC..25…55T) and many ancient civilisations had their own belief systems about what the stars were, beliefs that we now know to be inaccurate. And yet, our beliefs are constantly being challenged; even now, in mid-2022, we have just seen amazing new images from the James Webb Space Telescope that scientists believe will completely change much of what we think we know about the universe. 

Why am I giving you a lesson on comparative ancient astronomical beliefs? Because beliefs can change and evolve, and it’s not the end of the world. When you cling on to your beliefs at the expense of learning, you shut yourself off to all of the wonder and possibility that life has to offer. Beliefs based on narrow-mindedness and fear are dangerous, and so are beliefs based on a total lack of evidence or rejecting clear and obvious evidence… for the 500th time, the Earth is not flat and I don’t care what your Uncle Bill says on Facebook! 

Being open to new ideas and considering how you approach life, whether with a positive mindset or a negative one, is a choice that you can make. Why does it matter? It matters because what you focus on is what you focus on; your mind will pay attention to what you deem to be important, so whether you look for the positive or the negative, what you look for is what you will find. You can choose the way you look at the world (which I talked about in Episode 31, about mindset) and it’s the choices you make that influence your general life satisfaction (and I covered satisfaction in Episode 110). Instead of believing in limits, believe in potential. Instead of believing in lack, believe in abundance. Instead of believing in fear, believe in hope. What you believe is your choice, and what you believe is what you will receive. 

Another reason why understanding your beliefs matters is because the stories that we tell ourselves, and the narratives that our ego can create sometimes (especially if we don’t have clear and accurate information) can be damaging if we’re not able to pull back and look at them objectively and thoughtfully. For example, if you have a general belief that you aren’t worthy then you might find yourself reacting emotionally if someone says something mean to you; in the absence of an understanding about why the person has acted the way they have, our beliefs about ourself can step in to create a story to ‘fill in the gaps’ rather than letting us take time for our emotional reactions to settle so that we can consider things more thoughtfully and logically (and, by the way, I’ve covered a few topics that might be helpful for that type of situation: self worth in Episode 78, thoughts in Episode 123 and self belief in Episode 125). 

So how do you do all of that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…

How to manage your beliefs in a healthy way

OK, first: know who you are and what you stand for today — because, as I said earlier, all things begin with self awareness. This is something I just recently explored in Episode 138, about values, and the fact is that knowing who you are helps you to be more authentic (a topic I covered in Episode 55). The other reason why that matters is that knowing yourself also helps you to see where you have potentially-limiting beliefs that might be holding you back from growing or impacting on your relationships with others. That’s an important thing to understand for my next point, which is…

Know who you want to be — and although you will very often hear me talking about how life is lived here in the present (which it absolutely is), the challenge for each of us is to be constantly growing and evolving. To do that you need to think about who you want to be and how that aligns with the choices you’re making today (and I talked about choices in Episode 135). For example, I said a few episodes ago that I went through a phase where I wasn’t making time to write (other than for my podcast and YouTube videos) and so that was actually holding me back from achieving the things I want to achieve. If you have a fair idea of who you want to be (whether in terms of the type of person you are or the specific things that you do, or both) then it allows you to have a broad idea of what direction you need to head in as you move forward. And that leads to my next point… 

Consciously challenge yourself to grow and evolve — because we human beings really do like familiarity and comfort, but you’re never going to get anywhere by playing safe and sticking with the ‘same old, same old’ approach to life. In the words of Jessie Potter, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” When you choose to pursue personal growth and development, you open your eyes to all of the infinite possibilities that exist in the world and you realise that there is so much left to learn (which I think is a great thing; it beats being bored because you have nothing to do!). One of the best ways to learn is with my next point… 

Be curious — and that means being curious about the world in general, about other people and, most importantly, about yourself… because the more you learn, the more you realise how much there is to learn. Personally, I love the fact that there is no limit on the amount of things that I can potentially learn (having said that, I choose to watch documentaries in my spare time so I realise that not everyone is that much of a dork!); but it is our curiosity as a species that has brought us to the place we’re at as a society, and when we use our inquisitive nature for positive purposes we discover that we can do, be and have absolutely anything we want to in life. I love it when I surprise myself with an ‘a-ha!’ moment about something to do with myself; just the other week, I was talking to my therapist about a very specific memory of my Dad (when I spent hours sitting on the front steps waiting for him to come and pick me up, but he never showed) and as we explored that more and more, it was like a long-locked door had suddenly been open and I could see how that event — which actually happened much more than just that one specific time — how that had led to a whole bunch of limiting beliefs about my worth and value as a human being. At the time of talking about that it honestly felt like being hit by a truck emotionally, but with the benefit of time to sit with it I’ve been able to have more and more realisations about things like that and it’s almost liberating (I mean, it’s not exactly great sifting through unpleasant memories and emotions… but it beats being in denial). When you are curious about yourself, about others and about the world in general, you’ll learn much more than you will if you just go about your business the same way day-in, day-out. Ask questions, seek to understand, learn how to spot the difference between fact and fiction, seek evidence rather than opinions, and choose to look at things from different angles. Speaking of that, my next point is… 

Listen without judgement — or, as the late great George Michael said, listen without prejudice. What I mean by that is that we all come into any interaction with other people with our own beliefs and perspectives about things, but when you hold on to those for dear life it can prevent you from actually hearing other perspectives and ideas… many of which might actually be true. Can you imagine if Marie and Pierre Curie had have just been laughed at and ignored when they discovered radium and radioactivity (although I’m sure there are probably still some people in some corners of the Internet who are convinced radiation is a hoax and that in fact the Curies just found some spicy rocks, but that’s the Internet for you!). What about if the inventor of the wheel had have just been ignored? Would we all still just be walking around today, limited by how far our feet can take us? When you cast aside judgement and prejudice, and truly listen to what others have to say, you can find yourself discovering things you might never have even considered. Which leads to my next point… 

Be open to new thoughts and ideas — because it’s new thoughts and ideas that enable us to evolve, both as individuals and as societies; it was only about a hundred years ago when many people with mental illnesses would be locked away in an asylum to rot so that they wouldn’t ‘infect’ the rest of society with their madness. Over time, in most parts of the world, old attitudes and ideas have slowly made way for new ways of thinking that are based on greater kindness and compassion (even if there are some people in the world who seem hell-bent on clinging on to old, outdated beliefs for grim death because they either don’t like change or they don’t like that change takes away their power and social dominance — but that’s a conversation for another day!). And the other thing I’ll say here is that I’m quite certain that there will be plenty of things from today that even the kindest and most compassionate among us believe in that our descendants will look back on in horror in a hundred years time; I mean, the Victorians genuinely thought that locking up the so-called ‘lunatics’ was the kindest thing to do. My point is that, to quote Gandhi, you can choose to be the change you wish to see in the world… and that requires you to be open to different perspectives and allowing your beliefs to be challenged so that you can grow. OK, moving on from this episode of ‘Jeremy Tries To Create A Utopian Society’, my next point is specifically about you, and it is… 

Instead of ‘can’t’, focus on ‘can’ — because like Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you can’t, you are right.” This is all about your mindset (which I covered back in Episode 31) as well as your sense of self belief (which was the subject of Episode 125); when you think positively, you find more and more to be positive about. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, “Believe you can, and you can. Belief is one of the most powerful of all problem dissolvers. When you believe that a difficulty can be overcome, you are more than halfway to victory over it already.” Alright, my next point is… 

Challenge your self-limiting beliefs — because sometimes the things we think about ourselves can be limiting and they can hold us back from discovering new capabilities and realising our potential. For example, you might believe that you’re terrible at public speaking and so that belief can potentially hold you back from learning how to improve those skills (or it could even make you run for the hills at the mere suggestion of doing a presentation). Some of the most common self-limiting beliefs are things like “I’m too old” or “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never be able to do that” and, quite frankly, all of those are pretty rubbish; you can have, be and do almost anything with time, effort and perseverance, so stop telling yourself otherwise! Take small steps to build your skills and you’ll see your confidence grow in time. And if it’s proving difficult to overcome those types of beliefs, get professional support; for example, with that public speaking one you might choose to work with a coach or specialist who can help you to build your skills and your confidence. OK, so speaking of support my next point is… 

Seek support if your beliefs are holding you back — because it’s easy to let ourselves become stuck in old patterns of thinking, and if you’re having a tough time working your way out of that headspace then you’ll definitely find it helpful to work with a professional (like a counsellor or therapist). I’m going to quote one of my favourite mental health Instagrammers here, Nedra Glover Tawwab, from a post she recently did that I shared in my weekly Thursday Thoughts newsletter and which describes why I see my own therapist on a regular basis; the quote is: “Therapy is a space to learn more about yourself, your relationships, and how your life experiences impact you. You can go to therapy without having a major life problem and with the intention of growth, remaining productive, and just to talk to a neutral party.” (And that post is linked in the transcript https://www.instagram.com/p/Cf1lU4OueDa/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link)

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to beliefs and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When we push ourselves to learn more and to reject assumptions in favour of knowledge — even if what we learn completely changes everything for us — we are then able to grow and evolve as human beings. You don’t become the best version of yourself by clinging on to the things you believed 10, 20, 30 years ago; I once believed in the Easter Bunny, but I’m old enough to know that there’s no point holding my breath waiting for a magical rabbit to deliver chocolate every April (which is a shame, though). What you believe shapes the way you approach life and so the choice is between being closed-minded versus being open-minded; and only one of those choices will enable you to grow and evolve. 

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, and it is:

“We are what we believe we are.”

Benjamin Nathan Cardozo

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about disappointment. The Rolling Stones once sang, “you can’t always get what you want,” and I’m sure nobody really wants to hear that piece of advice, but sometimes we need to hear it because it’s true. So, when we’re faced with disappointment how do we deal with it in a way that ensures we’re looking after our mental health and wellbeing? Well, next time I’ll be talking about what disappointment is, why it can have a positive impact on our lives, and how to deal with disappointment in a healthy way.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 31st of July, 2022. 

In the meantime, you’ll find more content about better mental health in my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One); you can buy it now in print or eBook from Amazon or buy the eBook from Apple Books and it’s linked in the episode description, or visit my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.

And watch my weekly videos on YouTube for more tips on better mental health, plus sign up to my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, where I share a quick dose of inspiration (and those are all linked in the episode description).

And if you find my content helpful then I’d love it if you joined me on Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters. Plus find me on Instagram @ltamentalhealth and say hi! 

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

Special thanks to my wonderful supporters on Patreon for helping to keep my work free of ads (in alphabetical order): Amanda K., Bill R., Brandalynn A., Carol B., Charlie C., Chris E., Christina C., Christina W., Conrad F., Doc A., Iain G., Isabel, Janis & Steve A., Jaslyn N., Kaiulani B., Laila L., M., Madina T., Maya H., Michael W., Monique T., Monte W., Rachel D., Rhonda P., Richard W., Roxanne L., S. L., Sonia K., Susan S., Tatiana A., Terry L., Vanessa P., Wilfriede K., William S. — your support is greatly appreciated and it helps me to keep my content ad-free.

For a small monthly amount, you too can become a supporter on Patreon and access exclusive content while also supporting my work so that I can remain ad-free; click here to find out more.

Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworkerbecause word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂

Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.