"The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live."
Flora Whittemore

Our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world have a profound impact on the quality and control we have in our lives. Beliefs often develop without our knowledge or approval. Our perceptions and interpretations can become fixed entities to which we strongly attach and which we fiercely protect. Our beliefs evolve through many sources: what we've been taught; experiences that we have had and our interpretations of those experiences; what we learned to fear and what significant people in our lives have modeled for us. Beliefs generally aggregate in what I call "Thematic Belief Systems," such as one's need to be approved of or to be perfect with specific sub-beliefs that define the theme.

By identifying and changing these debilitating assumptions individuals can find their own voices and become healthier and happier. I refer to these beliefs as crazy beliefs since they foment nothing but trouble. Most of the people with these beliefs are not crazy in the clinical sense, but they're definitely not thinking straight and the consequences they experience can be very upsetting and debilitating. Sometimes they may even think they're going crazy!

Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian educator, philosopher and scholar, maintains that "most of our assumptions have outlived their usefulness." Unfortunately, people seldom take a hard look at their beliefs and weigh whether they are based in reality, serve them well or cause paralysis and distress. Thematic Belief Systems offer a framework for interpreting the events we experience. Since our beliefs play a large role in defining our reality, our decisions, and our behavior, it behooves each of us to take stock of our thinking patterns frequently and thoughtfully. Keep in mind that the more entrenched a belief becomes, the greater the difficulty in questioning or changing that belief. Interestingly, because infants do not yet possess the ability to formulate opinions and have the automatic awareness to comprehend, and manipulate what goes on in the cognitive domain, they don't have emotional biases. Animals, as well, are free of these biases. Their actions are governed by evidence and reason alone - not opinion, interpretations and assumptions.

Our beliefs are often challenged when information comes our way that is antithetical to how we see things. When there is a discrepancy between what we have come to believe and the new information that contradicts these beliefs, we often experience a state of confusion and discomfort. This phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance. The human tendency when this occurs is to relieve the discomfort by reaffirming the original belief. The approach is either to consider more credible the ideas that support the current belief or to focus on ideas that refute the new information. There is, however, a healthier choice- that is to be open to the new information and identify ways to accommodate it into the current belief system or to be willing to change your belief entirely if that's indicated. In this way you update your beliefs so that they become more realistic and empowering.

When we address our current beliefs, asking such questions as: is there enough evidence to support this belief, what limitations do I experience because of thinking this way and how do these beliefs affect my relationships and functioning, we have the opportunity to decide if modifications to our thinking are in order.

The 8 Thematic Belief Systems:

Adversity: Experiencing adversity is unfair, frightening and demoralizing

Approval: I need the approval of others to feel good about myself and to feel safe.

Dependency: I need or want to depend on others.

Expectations: People should be the way I want them to be; my life should be the way I want it to be.

Fear: My life is governed by fear, so I have to worry about and avoid those things that scare me.

Happiness: My happiness depends on the circumstances in my life and how other people treat me.

Perfection: It is vital for me and those I care about to be perfect

Victim Mentality: My problems are caused by others or by circumstances

Marcel Proust, the French novelist and critic wisely tells us, "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes." Adopting reality-based, healthy beliefs is a smart place to start for those who are disappointed in their lives or who simply want to make some needed recalibrations. I encourage you to make the decision to identify, challenge and change beliefs that no longer work. I can promise you that you won't be sorry. In Part 2 of this article, I'll examine each of these belief systems in more detail.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D., has spent three decades helping individuals thrive and improve their lives through her work as a licensed psychologist, author, college faculty associate and life coach. An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals.

Her most recent book, "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life; Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person." examines eight debilitating "thematic belief systems" that can have a profound impact on the quality of life. The print edition is available on CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com., and the e-book edition is available on Smashwords.com as well as in Kindle format from Amazon.com

Her previous book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon... 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams!)," is Dr. Esonis's contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and happiness. It is available on Amazon.com.

Dr. Esonis earned her doctoral degree at Boston College and currently maintains a life coaching practice in the San Diego area. She also teaches Positive Psychology in the Extended Learning Program at California State University San Marcos. To learn more about the power of Positive Psychology and receive a free chapter from her latest book, 8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life, visit her website at http://www.PositivePathLifeCoaching.com.