What Do You Believe?
My grandma Rachel grew up on a farm in North Carolina. She was college-educated, raised her family of five, and then for the duration of my childhood, cared for my sisters and I while my mother worked and traveled full-time. What Grandma Rachel said was gold. It was true. It was a fact. So when a thunderstorm would start to roll in on a summer afternoon, we jumped into action. We had to immediately report indoors as soon as the leaves started blowing. All electronics and lights had to be turned off. We could not talk on the phone with friends. We couldn’t shower or bathe or flush the toilet. We couldn’t sit near the window. We had to sit together in the kitchen, in the dark, and wait for the storm to pass. Storms were to be feared. I did not grow up in Tornado Alley. I can’t remember there ever being a tornado in suburban Maryland, but this “hunker down for a storm” behavior was what I was taught. And it became what I believed.
It wasn’t until I was visiting my college roommate in Iowa that I had my belief challenged. The local news flashed an alert about a tornado warning. I was ready to dive inside and shut down the house. But Chrissy’s parents were busy setting the lawn chairs up on the front porch so we could watch the clouds roll in. They assumed I would want to see the light show in the clouds. They believed that storms were serious and dangerous, but not to be feared. Storms in Iowa were a way of life. My long-held beliefs came crashing down. And the light show in the clouds that I witnessed that evening, as the storm stayed in the distance, was marvelous.
Our beliefs are constructed from real experiences that we have had. Our beliefs come from what people have said to us. They come from how we have felt along the way. Often our beliefs are just carry-overs from what a parent or trusted adult told us, like my grandmother’s storm preparedness. Despite all of that, you can believe whatever you want.
I wonder if that comes as a surprise to any of you. It is true. Your beliefs, true or false, helpful or not, old or new, are up to you. You get to decide what you want to believe - about everything. And your beliefs are a game-changer. What you believe is what you think. And what you think affects how you feel. And how you are feeling affects what you do. Have you ever really thought about how your beliefs affect what you do….and how your life goes?
If you allow yourself to continue to believe in the magic of Santa Claus, doesn’t that change the way you feel about the holidays when they take-over our minds, grocery aisles and radio stations?
If you believe in yourself, doesn’t that change the way you approach a new task? Imagine yourself capable and ready, you might be happy with the challenge and result. But imagine yourself not able, you might walk away from the challenge, or dislike the outcome.
If you happen to believe that you have something worthy to contribute to a conversation, you speak up in a meeting. A lack of belief in your voice might lead to a missed opportunity to express your opinion.
If you believe the glass is half-empty, or half-full, how different does that make you feel about the breaking news of the day? A half-full glass means this too shall pass while a half-empty glass means this news is only the beginning of the terrible that is coming around the corner. How could feeling like that not affect your attitude, or your day?
Do you believe in what others say about you? Positive or negative?
Do you believe what you say to yourself? Positive or negative?
Do you believe in your own worth?
Do you believe in your capacity to change?
So, what would happen if you just decided to believe something else? What would happen if you replaced that problematic belief with one that works better? How different could your life be? How different could you feel? How different would you show up in this world?
Remember that beliefs are what we think to be true. They are not universal truths that EVERYONE holds, though many things we believe are indeed what most people also believe. What you believe can be the difference between success and failure. What you believe can be the difference between feeling good or not, having good relationships or not, or rising above your circumstances to live the life you want, or not.
You get to believe whatever you want. Regardless of your upbringing, your experiences, your financial status, your location or your looks, you are allowed to believe whatever you want about the world and your place in it. Assess your beliefs. Question from where they originated and why you also believe them to be true. Decide which beliefs propel you forward, and which ones are holding you back. And then give yourself permission to just believe something else. What you believe is your choice, every single time.
Years after my grandmother passed away, I learned that while growing up on that farm, she had been struck by lightning as a child. Not once, but twice. Her beliefs about storms came about as the result of an experience. And she believed that her beliefs helped protect her, and those she loved. What now to me, as an adult who has survived all storms intact even with lights on, seems totally irrational, was grounded (no pun intended) in solid reality for that little farm girl from North Carolina. I don’t blame her for giving me that belief, or so many others that I hold tightly to in her memory. Beliefs, even the ones we decide to let go of, are part of who we are. I can’t know how different her life would have been had she decided to believe something else about our weather. I do think she would have loved the light show in the clouds as much as I do.