I like to say, “You only truly believe that which activates you.” In other words, you can say you believe it’s going to rain, but if you leave the house without your umbrella, do you really believe it? Belief leads to action (by the way inaction is an action for our purposes just like not making a decision is a decision). Since results come from actions there is a direct connection between what you believe and the results you’re getting. W. Edwards Deming said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” You could say something similar about our lives.
We get the results we get in life largely because of our B.S. Funny, what first comes to mind when we see those initials often describes our Belief Systems, which is what I mean by B.S. Many people are held back in life because of faulty or limiting beliefs. Beliefs like, “I could never do that,” or, “Nothing good could come from this,” or, “I have to be certain of the outcome before I do that,” will lead you to act (or not act) in certain ways. Voila! You have your results.
Actions Not So Much
In business we want results. If we don’t like the results we’re getting, we work to change people’s actions. It seems to make sense because you can draw a straight line from actions to results. The problem is that if you make people act outside of their beliefs, they may change for a short time, but they will usually snap back to their previous actions that align with their beliefs pretty quickly. It isn’t enough, by the way, to get them to “believe” that if they don’t do this or that, they will get a beating!
We can use “carrots” and “sticks” to “motivate” people into certain actions. But real change will come from addressing their beliefs. For example, let’s say I’m a hospital housekeeper. I’m in my area, doing my thing but I never see my supervisor. They never come to my area to see how I’m doing, to see if I need anything, to see if I’m doing my job right or not. What will I believe about the importance of my work or about whether or not quality matters?
On the other hand, if my supervisor comes two or three times a day and provides support and constructive feedback, what will I believe about the importance of my work and about whether or not quality matters? Can you feel the difference? So can our people.
I Believe What I Believe
True. But where do those beliefs come from? In my example above, I believe what I believe about my work based on my experience with my supervisor. Our experiences inform if not shape our beliefs.
A good friend of mine grew up with a father who was critical and demoralizing. There was one particular event in his early life that crippled his belief system about himself. Later, as an adult, he was talking to a counselor who had him revisit that crippling memory. “This time,” he said, “Imagine it like this …” and he gave my friend a new way to imagine the event that turned it into a positive. This new way of “experiencing” that event led to a new belief system that truly helped my friend.
Athletes use something called “visualization” to help them prepare for their events. It’s a form of mental practice and is based on the reality that the mind doesn’t make a huge distinction between real and imagined activity. An athlete can imagine performing a certain way over and over until that imagined experience boosts their confidence (belief system) and alters their performance (actions and results). If athletes can do it, so can we.
On April 25, 2014, I heard an interview with musical artist Jewel talking about her song, “Hands.” She said, “I was homeless at the time and I was shoplifting . . . I realized I couldn’t get track of my thoughts, but I could watch what my hands were doing, and your hands are the servants of your thoughts. And I thought if I could see what my hands are doing and change what my hands are doing maybe I can change my life. Which was really learning to control my thoughts because its the only power I had. That’s how my life turned around.”
If you want to know what you believe, look at what you’re doing. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, ask yourself what B.S. is driving those actions. Then ask yourself where that B.S. came from. Then, like my friend, like Jewel, like athletes, imagine a different experience that will support a better belief system. It may just turn your life around.