Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast for Brain Fact Friday and EPISODE #173 on “The Neuroscience of our Beliefs” where we will take a deeper dive into what are beliefs are, how they impact our day-to-day life, habits, successes, and failures, and how we must pay attention to them “because they can make the difference between life and death, health and illness” (Larry Dossey, MD)[i] and increased clarity in our life.
In Today’s Brain Fact Friday, You Will Learn:
✔︎ What are beliefs from the perspective of neuroscience?
✔︎ What’s the problem with what we believe?
✔︎ Understanding our Cognitive Biases.
✔︎ Becoming a Better Believer in 3 Steps.
For those who are new here, I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator from Toronto, Canada, now in Arizona, and like many of you listening, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies that we can use to improve our own productivity in our schools, our sports, and workplace environments. The purpose of this podcast is to take the fear out of this new discipline that backs our learning with simple neuroscience to make it applicable for us all to use right away, for immediate results.
This week’s Brain Fact Friday comes to you as I am in the final stages of writing a research paper, or an abstract to complete a year-long neuroscience certification course I have been taking with Mark Robert Waldman, who began teaching me how to understand the impacts of neuroscience on the brain and learning, back in 2014. I know that I was one of his very first students who began working with him years before he launched his training program that is rigorous, and not everyone who joins, completes it. Learning anything new requires consistent focus and effort, and my hopes are to continue to translate the most current and accurate neuroscience research, to be useful in your daily life through this podcast.
Once this abstract is graded, I will share it with you for a more in depth look at the future of educational neuroscience, with a look back at where it began, some of the criticism it’s faced, while sharing the impact I see it having on our future generations of teachers and learners. Stay tuned for this, and for more interviews coming next week, but until then, for this week’s Brain Fact Friday, we will examine how beliefs show up in our brain and what we should all know about what we believe and how to sharpen and even challenge our beliefs, for improved results.
If I asked you right now to define what a belief is, I am sure we would all come up with a different definition.
But did you know that from the perspective of neuroscience that all beliefs (factual beliefs, self-beliefs, social beliefs, monetary beliefs, health beliefs) just to name a few- are “incomplete predictions, formed in the Default Mode Network (Imagination Network—the yellow and orange areas in the brain). These predictions (whatever it is that we believe) combine subjective feelings (that are mostly imaginary and a product of the DMN-our Imagination Center) with factual observations, forming an emotional cognitive bias which is embedded into our long-term memory.
Remember that “all beliefs have limitations, and every one of them contains assumptions and inaccuracies concerning the true nature of the world.” (Born to Believe, Mark Waldman and Dr. Andrew Newberg)[ii]
“Our beliefs are incomplete predictions about the future, formed as a part of our imagination network, combining current feelings with factual observations, with bits and pieces of old memories, forming a cognitive bias (whether you are right or wrong—this is how your brain sees the world). Your brain doesn’t care if it’s true or false, right, or wrong. It will create what you need to help you to go after the rewards that are important to you in your life.” (Waldman)
Wait a minute, I’m thinking, and I know YOU are thinking, stop for a minute! You mean our deepest beliefs, or what we strongly believe, are false, or imaginary, or have inaccuracies?
Simon Sinek launched his career with his first book, Starts with Why that’s all about how great leaders inspire action[iii] by saying what they believe, and I know that when I worked for Pearson Education in the publishing field, I believed in their mission statement of “Doing the Right Thing Every Day” that was behind the high level of work ethic that governed what I did from the minute I woke up, until I went to sleep at night. So how on the earth can what we believe be inaccurate?
Tom Beakbane got us started on this train of thought on EPISODE #144[iv] with his topic “Consilience: A New Way to Look at the World” and expert in psychology, Dr. Howard Rankin kept our thinking going on episode #146[v] with “How Not to Think” when he reminded us that “our thinking is illogical.” Then this week, I joined a discussion with my neuroscience class where we looked at how our beliefs can be irrational, and how important it is to recognize that “the memories and beliefs we have about ourselves are the most untrustworthy of all.” (p127, Born to Believe).
I know that these past episodes resonated with you, the listener, as they remain in the top performing list of this podcast the past couple of months, so I think that you, like me, are willing to challenge some of our beliefs, and in turn, increase our self-awareness. John Harmon reminded us of the importance of believing in our students, or the self-belief we must have while doing math on episode #170 and I know that my Mom’s personal story of how she thinks she beat uterine cancer in the late 1990s, stemmed from her belief in her wellness, so I’m not ready to cross all beliefs off our list yet, but am open-minded enough to take a closer look at what I believe and why.
ANDREW NEWBERG, MD, AND MARK ROBERT WALDMAN remind us in their book Born to Believe that “The human brain is really a believing machine, and every experience we have affects the depth and quality of those beliefs. The beliefs may hold only a glimmer of truth, but they always guide us toward our ideals. Without them, we cannot live, let alone change the world. They are our creed, they give us faith, and they make us who we are. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” But viewed through the lens of neuroscience, it might be better stated as “I believe, therefore I am.”
So what is the problem with our beliefs when it comes to looking at them through the lens of neuroscience? There is no such thing as “truth” from a neuroscientific perspective. Just look at the list of cognitive biases, reminding us that our beliefs are an illusion. We have beliefs that help us to avoid mistakes, beliefs for staying focused and beliefs for confirming our existing beliefs. Looking at this list, can you pick out what you believe, and then look at the cognitive biases associated with your belief?
What Exactly Are Beliefs?
We listed a few of them at the start of this episode, like factual beliefs, or self-beliefs, and we’ve talked about beliefs on other episodes, specifically #66 where I did a deep dive into the lessons learned when I worked with Bob Proctor in the motivational speaking industry. Proctor’s work was centered around changing people’s self-limiting beliefs (that we should know never to trust) specifically with regards to someone’s ability to earn money. If you go back and listen to episode #66 you’ll see where I had an AHA moment around my original belief of earning money, changing the belief that we have to trade our time to earn income, when I saw how many people earned money through multiple sources. Some sold products and services online, others earned commission through sales, but this changed my belief and opened up the keyhole and level of awareness. Changing our beliefs can be known as changing our paradigms which are a multitude of habits that guide every move we make.
I learned so much from those early days working with self-limiting beliefs when Proctor said to me “Andrea, what do you really want?” and I remember quietly answering him, not at all believing what I was saying, stating something about wanting to make an impact with the education and youth. I knew I had a lot to learn before I experienced what he called praxis, which is when we integrate our beliefs with our behaviors. What I believed and the actions I was taking hadn’t yet lined up. With time and experience, I began to integrate my beliefs with my behavior and actions. The stronger our belief, the more steadfast you will be with your actions, changing your thoughts and feelings, and eventually your conditions, circumstances, and environment. This is when the true magic associated with belief occurs.
This is the magic that Waldman and Newberg talked about when they said that our belief “gave us our faith and made us who we are.”
IMAGE SOURCE: Mark Waldman “Beliefs and the Brain” showing what our beliefs look like in our brain in the Default Mode (Imagination) Network.
How Do We Become Better Believers in 3 STEPS?
1. BELIEVE WITH YOUR BRAIN IN MIND: The belief system that you have that feels the most true or important to you “is a combination of the salience network that puts a value on what you think is the most important and meaningful in your life, from your DMN or Imagination Center.” (Waldman). Think about what you value. What is true to you? This will help you to get closer to seeing how you believe with your brain in mind. For example—have you ever changed an old belief based on something new you have learned? How did this happen? It happened when you changed what you valued, and your brain (your Salience Network) was involved in this process. I think about the fact I would NEVER grab a stick of butter, and even consider eating it, let alone put in my coffee, when I was in my late 20s. Butter was full of fat, and something I believed we should avoid. Fast forward to 2016 when I found Jason Whittrock from EPSIODE #94[vi) on YouTube and along with the Availability Heuristic Bias (since I saw it on YouTube, and this trainer was in good shape, so I believed him) and changed my belief that eating fats won’t make me fat and this belief changed the way that I eat. Think about the beliefs that you used to hold that might have changed, and then look at the list of cognitive biases to see why they might have changed, based on the value that your brain put on this belief.
2. INTEGRATE YOUR BELIEFS WITH YOUR BEHAVIOR WITH PRAXIS: by Celebrating Small Wins with Your Goals. Brendon Burchard, the author of High Performance Habits[vii], talks about the importance of “celebrating small wins into your weekly schedule so that you integrate these wins into your identity.”[viii] He often coaches people who forget to do this, as they are so focused in pursuit of a large goal, that in the process of being laser focused on the end result, they forget to integrate or even feel the small wins along the way. This is much like what Proctor was talking about with the concept of Praxis where someone never does integrate their beliefs with their behavior. Without Praxis, or integrating/feeling small wins, you never gain the belief needed for the realization of the end goal. To do this, make sure you carve out time in your schedule to look at, and celebrate your small wins.
3. CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEFS: If our beliefs really are inaccurate, why not be open to the fact that “We think, therefore we are wrong?” and look at the world with a scientific lens where we see our beliefs as cognitive biases and challenge them.
The more we can challenge what we believe, think about how our thinking is flawed, the happier we can be, the less conflict we will have in our personal and professional lives, and we will in turn become better believers. I hope these ideas have added clarity to your perception of beliefs, not confusion, and of course, this is because I operate with the need to please everyone bias!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this episode, as it still has me thinking. In the meantime, I will see you next week with an interview with Dr. Lee Stevens on his new book that’s coming out this fall, Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy that will take us deeper into understanding our emotions at the brain level, and their influence on our behavior, memory, and judgements.
Have a good weekend!
[i] Larry Dossey, MD testimonial on the book “Born to Believe”
[ii] Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs by Andrew Newberg, MD and Mark Robert Waldman Published October 2, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Born-Believe-Science-Ordinary-Extraordinary/dp/0743274989
[iii] Simon Sinek “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” TEDx Puget Sound https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action/up-next?language=en
[iv]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #144 with Tom Beakbane on “How to Understand Everything” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/author-and-marketer-tom-beakbane-on-how-to-understand-everything-consilience-a-new-way-to-look-at-the-world/
[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #146 with Dr. Howard Rankin on “How Not to Think” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/expert-in-psychology-cognitive-neuroscience-and-neurotechnology-howard-rankin-phd-on-how-not-to-think/
[vi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #94 with Jason Wittrock on “Health, Nutrition, Intermittent Fasting and the Ketogenic Diet” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/personal-trainer-and-fitness-model-jason-wittrock-on-health-nutrition-intermittent-fasting-and-the-ketogenic-diet/
[vii] High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard Published Sept. 19, 2017 https://www.amazon.com/High-Performance-Habits-Extraordinary-People/dp/1401952852