Our Thoughts Shape Our Behaviour

(Part 8 of 9)

Have you ever considered why people behave the way they do? It turns out that our thoughts and beliefs play a decisive role in influencing our actions.

“You become what you think about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Imagine mental models as the lenses through which we see the world. They are like the filters shaping our perception and making sense of reality. So, if you have a scarcity mindset, you might constantly worry about insufficient money or resources, making you overly cautious and hesitant about spending or taking risks.

Moreover, our beliefs are our deep-rooted convictions and assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world, formed through our experiences, cultural influences, and upbringing. For instance, if we grow up in an environment where we are reminded that we are not good enough, we may develop a belief of low self-worth. It can affect our behaviour by making us doubt our abilities and avoid opportunities.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Therefore, our mental models and beliefs act as powerful filters through which we interpret and make sense of the world around us. Moreover, they shape our perceptions, attitudes, and actions, significantly determining our behaviour. So, let’s try to understand how they influence our:

  • Perception and interpretation: Mental models significantly influence how we perceive and interpret the events and information we encounter, which creates the framework through which we filter and process incoming changes from our environment. For example, if you believe the world is dangerous, you may interpret uncertain situations as threatening, leading you to respond cautiously or fearfully. On the other hand, if you believe that people are generally trustworthy, you may interpret the same situation as harmless or friendly.
  • Decision-making: Mental models serve as reference points and influence our choices. For instance, if you believe taking risks leads to failure, you may shy away from new opportunities or challenges. However, if you believe risks are necessary for growth, you may be more inclined to explore challenges and pursue ambitious goals. Our beliefs shape our risk tolerance, decision criteria, and the options we consider in decision-making.
  • Emotional responses: Our beliefs can influence how we interpret and react to events, affecting our emotional states. For example, say you believe that public speaking is terrifying; you may experience heightened anxiety and stress when faced with a speaking engagement. Conversely, if you believe public speaking allows you to share your knowledge and connect with others, you may feel more confident and enthusiastic about it. Our mental models and beliefs contribute to the emotional meaning we assign to different experiences.
  • Behavioural Patterns: Our thoughts shape our behavioural patterns and habits over time. They influence the actions we take repeatedly, often on autopilot. For example, if you believe that success requires long hours of hard work, you may consistently dedicate extra time and effort to your endeavours. Alternatively, if you believe that luck plays a significant role in success, you may engage in more passive behaviours, waiting for opportunities to come your way. Our mental models and beliefs create a blueprint for our habitual behaviours.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: When we strongly believe in something, we tend to behave in ways that align with that belief, which can influence the outcome. For example, if you firmly believe you are not good at public speaking, you may become nervous and stumble over your words during a presentation, reinforcing your belief. On the other hand, if you strongly believe in your abilities, you may confidently approach the same presentation and deliver it successfully, confirming your belief in your public speaking skills. Our mental models and beliefs shape our behaviour in a way that confirms and reinforces our existing beliefs.

By becoming aware of our internal frameworks and actively examining and adjusting our mental models and beliefs, we can empower ourselves to shape our behaviour more intentionally and positively.

“We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin.

So, what can we do to become aware of them and to change? The following practices can help us:

  • Self-awareness: The first step is developing self-awareness. Take time to reflect on your mental models and beliefs. Next, consider the patterns of thinking that may be holding you back or influencing your behaviour in undesirable ways. For example, if you fear failure, examine the underlying beliefs that contribute to this fear. Once you identify them, you can work on challenging and reframing those beliefs.
  • Challenging limiting beliefs: Identify the beliefs hindering your progress or causing negative behaviour patterns. For instance, if you believe you are not creative, you may hesitate to explore new ideas or take risks. Challenge these beliefs by seeking evidence to the contrary. Recall times when you exhibited creativity or explored activities that encourage creative thinking. You can reshape your behaviour by consciously challenging and replacing limiting beliefs with empowering ones.
  • Developing a growth mindset: To empower change, adopt the belief abilities and skills can be developed through effort and practice. When faced with challenges, view them as growth opportunities rather than roadblocks. Say, if you make a mistake at work, instead of seeing it as a personal failure, view it as a chance to learn and improve. Developing a growth mindset will make you more resilient, open to learning, and willing to take on new challenges.
  • Setting empowering goals: Goals provide direction and motivation for change. When setting goals, ensure they align with your desired behaviour changes and are based on empowering beliefs. Perhaps, if you want to improve your public speaking skills, set a goal to deliver a presentation at a local event. Then, break the goal into smaller, achievable steps, and celebrate your progress. Setting empowering goals helps focus your efforts and reinforces the belief that change is possible.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive influences: The people and environment we surround ourselves with can either support or hinder our desire for change. Seek out individuals who share your values, beliefs, and aspirations. Engage in communities or groups that promote personal growth and provide a supportive network. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can inspire and motivate you to sustain your desired changes.
  • Practising mindfulness and reflection: Regularly engage in mindfulness practices and self-reflection, which allows you to observe your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours without judgment. It helps create space for conscious decision-making and empowers you to choose how to respond in different situations. Additionally, reflection allows you to analyse your experiences, identify patterns, and adjust your mental models and beliefs.

So, our thoughts and beliefs have a powerful impact on how we act and behave. More importantly, how we see the world and the ideas we hold can shape our behaviour in many ways because our beliefs influence how we understand and make sense of things. They guide our decisions and affect the risks we’re willing to take.

“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” – Shannon L. Alder.

Over time, our behaviour forms patterns and habits that align with our beliefs. It’s like following a movie script we’ve developed based on our thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, our beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies as our actions confirm our beliefs. Therefore, we must be aware of unconscious biases and stereotypes affecting our behaviour. These biases can lead to unfair treatment and discrimination. However, we have the power to make positive changes.

“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We can reshape our behaviour by being aware of our beliefs and challenging the ones that hold us back. We can set goals that empower us and surround ourselves with positive influences. Taking time for mindfulness and reflection also helps us grow. In the end, understanding the influence of our beliefs empowers us to shape our behaviour and create a more inclusive and caring world. So let’s embrace empowering beliefs, challenge biases, and appreciate different perspectives as we strive for a better future. Change is a journey, so be patient and kind to yourself as you go on this empowering path.

“Change your thoughts, and you change your world” – Norman Vincent Peale.

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