How our beliefs shape our lives

The author Lovelyn Bettison starkly reveals how beliefs shape our lives when she says, “The current state of your life is a direct result of the stories that you tell yourself, and what you really believe is possible – not what you say is possible, but what you believe deep down in your core.[1]

Each of us has a story that seems to play relentlessly in our minds. An internal voice, sometimes audible and sometimes just ‘felt’, perpetually narrates to us the story of our lives. This voice guides us as to the shape and scope and limits of our lives. The story we hear is founded on deeply held beliefs that sit somewhere at the core of our being. Over time these beliefs become fixed in our minds by the creation of real and physical nerve pathways and connections.

Belief, reality and making sense of the world

In creating the story of our lives, we draw upon our beliefs to shape our perception of the world and live our lives by them. Unfortunately, though we grow and our lives change around us we may find it difficult to change the beliefs we hold about ourselves, about others and about how we expect things to be in the world. This disconnect between our beliefs and the reality of our lives prevents us from recognising our true worth and abilities. It can cause us pain, sabotaging our aspirations for the sort of life we would like to live.

As children we have to learn to make sense of the world. So we learn to shape what we see and experience into a story that is consistent and coherent. This internal narrative is both guided by and guides our beliefs. However, it is important to reiterate that beliefs are not facts, no matter how real they feel or how deeply or long we have held them.

Where do our beliefs come from?

Beliefs begin during our childhood, as conclusions, assumptions and judgements we arrive at both on the basis information received from people and sources we trust (parents, family, friends, teachers, other authority figures, the culture into which we are born[2], media etc.) and the experiences and observations we make about our lives and the world around us.

By remaining consistent with the story continually playing in our minds. these conclusions, assumptions and judgements slowly grow in legitimacy. They become ideas, which transform into opinions and then coalesce into beliefs. Eventually some of these beliefs become fixed in our nervous systems, forming physical nerve pathways and connections in our brains.[3]) In so doing they become convictions – that is, “… beliefs that have the highest unwavering certainty, commitment and dedication.”[4]

How our beliefs shape our lives

Life coach Paul Hempill offers a clarification of this process when he says that, “Beliefs begin as propositions and there are two key sources: External and Internal.”[5]

‘External Propositions’ are fully formed beliefs or ‘truths’ that are presented to us by people whom we trust think credible. To impressionable young minds, the authority of such sources is so powerful that they often accept their words as true. Whether evidence is provided or not, such ‘truths’ can produce beliefs that prove incredibly difficult to change later in life.

Children in the Western world are presented with a fanciful story that they tend to believe until they start school. A character named Santa Claus is presented as the source of Christmas presents – but is Santa Claus real? For many years in a child’s life this story can be very real.

While this particular ‘external proposition’ is pretty easy to disprove and change, other stories are far longer lasting and corrosive. For example, a child who is slightly pudgy is teased by friends and family for being a ‘fatty’. This results in the child slipping into eating as a means of comfort, which only exacerbates the teasing. A story of harm is created in which the child begins to believe he is fat. He begins to limit his own life, and slides deeper and deeper into becoming unfit and unhappy. He becomes the ‘fatty’, that the external voices of authority have always labelled him as being.

The power of external propositions

The point of all this is that ‘stuff happens’ in life. We take in and play with and accept messages and information from outside and from within ourselves that can have profound impact on us. As the impact is taking place we, are utterly unaware of what’s happening, and may even be unaware of the lasting consequences for us in terms of what we believe about ourselves and how this can circumscribe the life we craft for ourselves.

In his poem This Be The Verse, Philip Larkin’s asserts that, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.”[6] This may or may not be true, but the principal does hold true. External propositions, put to us by our parents, people whom we trust and other sources whom we believe to be credible, can become deeply embedded in our minds as beliefs. They shape our internal story about who we are and how the world relates to us and we to it.

How our beliefs shape our lives

‘Internal Propositions’ are ideas that we construct as a result of specific incidents, experiences or events in our lives. For example, an early childhood incident of clumsiness, say dropping a dish at home while helping clear up after dinner. This is followed by further examples, such as falling from one’s bike or tripping over in the school playground. So the idea begins to form in my mind that I probably am a little clumsy.

This idea that I am clumsy begins to play on my imagination and becomes more of an opinion when I start to get nervous in case I am clumsy, making further incidents almost inevitable. Teachers and parents start to see me as clumsy. The opinion forms in my mind that, “You know what, I may well be the clumsy one.” Then parents, teachers and siblings/friends start saying, “So and so is just clumsy,” and this adds to my own opinion of myself. This repeated observation by others supports my developing an internal story about myself as being clumsy and it coalesces into a belief. Now I AM the clumsy one, believing it of myself.

The power of internal propositions

So it is that I play up to my internal belief, subconsciously expecting and almost willing myself to be clumsy – and clumsy is what I become. My belief now directs my behaviour. Such a belief, and its outcomes, begins to limit my range of potential at school and in the home: I am the one picked last for games at school, I am the one not trusted with simple tasks around the home. My belief that I am clumsy begins to limit what others, and I myself, will allow me to do. The belief, the story that I have created about myself begins to limit my opportunities. This is an example of what life coaches call a limiting belief, and the self-limiting of my own potential, by means of a belief or beliefs that I have created and nurtured about myself is what coaches call self-limiting behaviour.

Internal propositions are facts and evidence and references based on one’s own imagination and evidence acquired through experience. Over time they transmute into ideas and opinions and coalesce into beliefs. These beliefs are reinforced by further gathering of evidence and grow ever more robust and stable. To our own minds some may eventually become incontestable convictions – the deepest sort of beliefs – and extremely difficult to uproot.

How our beliefs compel us to place limits on our lives

Beliefs are powerful. They are rooted in the ‘truths’ that we receive from people we trust and in the stories we tell ourselves. Beliefs once acquired are very difficult to change but are so powerful that they shape our lives, our perception of the world and the possibilities we allow for our lives. Limiting beliefs shape our lives by making us place limits on our own potential. Like two best friends, belief and perception collude about everything, so that whatever belief says perception confirms.

Subconsciously, with elegance and brute force combined, beliefs craft the life we live and make us who we are. The worst of it is that we can be largely unaware of the beliefs themselves, let alone the impact they have on our lives and identity, and walk blindly into our lives, wondering why they haven’t turned out as we dreamed.

How life coaching can help us challenge and change our limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs shape our lives, but be not afraid. The current state of your life may well be a direct result of the stories that you tell yourself, but if you‘re unhappy with your life you CAN change the narrative. With the help of life coaching, you can identify the stories that guide your life and change them. With hard work and sustained effort you can get rid of and replace limiting beliefs and self-limiting behaviour. Then you can start to craft a life that is not the thing you settled for but the amazing thing you always longed to have!

Next: Vanishing dots? Perception and Reality.


[1] https://tinybuddha.com/blog/change-life-changing-stories-tell-yourself/

[2] Page 19, Life Coaching Handbook, 2012, The Centre for Life Calling and Leadership

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/vanessaloder/2015/03/18/how-to-rewire-your-brain-for-happiness/#4aef898959ef

[4] Adam Sicinski, https://blog.iqmatrix.com/limiting-beliefs

[5] Page 4 http://www.horizonslifecoaching.co.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Article-6-Beliefs.pdf

[6] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse