Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true (Bacon)

Here are some interesting questions that may shed some light on your beliefs. Think about how you would respond to someone who made the following statements, write down some notes if you wish, and then read the commentary. You may also check whether you have any of these beliefs, or similar ones.

The lift always seems to be heading in the wrong direction.

We naturally notice when things go wrong. The times when the lift came in the right direction are simply taken for granted. We notice when it was not because it is frustrating and we register these times and forget the others.

There is such a thing as a winning streak.

We may experience a number of wins in a row, but unfortunately it has no statistical significance. Winning streaks are random sequences. In a series of twenty coin tosses there is a fifty fifty chance of getting four heads in a row, a twenty five percent chance of five in a row and a ten percent chance of a streak of six. Throwing four in a row does not increase the chances of throwing a fifth. And whether it is a winning or a losing streak depends on whether you backed heads or not.

You cannot count on winning streaks, and certainly not bet on them.

Compulsive gamblers have conflicting beliefs. When they are winning they believe in a winning streak so they keep betting. When they are losing, they believe in the laws of chance and think they must win soon. So they keep betting. Fortunes are won and lost not on chance but on peoples’ beliefs about it.

People are motivated by money.

Which people exactly? And how much money? In order to believe this you have to generalise from what you hve been told, the cases you have seen where this has been so, to the whole of humankind. You also need to ignore all the work you have seen yourself and others do for no financial reward.

I am not musical.

There are many beliefs like this, such as, ‘I am not good at mathematics’. In order to believe this you have to do three things. First of all there is a distortion here, because music is something you do not something you are.. Secondly, music is not an all or nothing talent that you have or not. Thirdly, you may be generalising from a few experiences, probably in school where you did not succeed in music according to a teacher or other expert. Who may not have been very good at passing on their knowledge. This belief then, could be rephrased more rationally as ‘When I was at school, I did not succeed in music, I find it difficult to sing in tune.’

I always know when people are upset.

We often become sensitive to other peoples’ moods, but always? Suppose you did not realise that someone was upset. They do not tell you. Then you would never know, and so your (mistaken) belief would be intact. Some beliefs are expressed in such a way that they are impossible to disprove.

People should know when I am upset without me having to tell them. How are they to know? They may think you are pensive, or feel like a quiet time. What we have here is a belief in mind reading. This can become really highly charged emotionally if a person says, ‘If you cared about me, you would know how I feel.’ This makes mind reading the evidence for caring.

I am easily bored.

This is interesting, it may go with a belief like ‘I am a creative person’ In which case is it possible to be a creative person without being easily bored? Does this mean the person has no choice in the matter? When we say things like, ‘It makes me bored (or miserable or angry)’ there seems to be a belief that it acts automatically with no possibility of choice. This is not rational. Laws of physics like gravity act automatically, but human beings can change their experience.

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