We each have our own belief systems that help govern our lives. These belief systems—and the actions that support them—are often crafted in childhood. What starts as survival mechanisms or learned behaviors end up becoming entrenched—and faulty—belief systems as an adult.
- Conformity. We all remember standing in a straight line with our classmates or sitting in straight rows of desks, and some of us remember wearing uniforms to school. We were all taken through the same sequence of classes, and taught to solve math problems the same way. In addition to this structured learningenvironment, our peers often reinforced the importance of conformity by picking on the "weird kid" on the playground or calling attention to those who were different. Growing up in this structure of sameness, many of us feared "being different." As adults, however, thinking and acting differently is what sets us apart, and often ahead.
- Perfectionism. As children, we were told to do our best. In sports, we kept practicing our baseball swing to achieve perfect form. In class, we strived for a perfect 4.0 GPA. And often, we were rewarded based on how close to "perfect" we were able to get. Consequently, you may believe that if you get as close to perfection as you can, then you are a more successful individual or a better person. The problem: It’s an impossible standard. When perfect becomes the standard, you become less willing to take risks. The fear of failure or imperfection generates more power than it should, and you consequently are unable to live to your full—and perfectly imperfect—potential.
- Affirmation. Growing up, we sought the approval of our parents, older siblings, teachers, and peers. We wanted high marks in school. We wanted those around us to recognize and appreciate our accomplishments. While it’s important and healthy to receive support from those around us, this belief system—that approval of others is necessary for self-worth— causes us to constantly seek external affirmation for internal confidence. When you give other people control over how you feel about yourself, then, for better or for worse, what they think begins to really matter. The more positive things the person expresses, the better you feel about yourself, and the more confidence you have. Conversely, receiving criticism can swiftly strip you of all the confidence you’ve built up. Finding our own, internal self-worth can be an incredibly freeing achievement.
The following three belief systems are both the most common and the most toxic we develop as children:
As you think through the belief systems that govern your own thoughts and actions, pay careful attention to those that may no longer serve you well. Take a deep look into each of these belief systems and try to understand where they came from. Then, allow yourself to let them go.
In today’s world, our ability to be a unique individual, to take risks without fear of failure, and ultimately to affirm our own self-worth, are the skills we need to thrive.