How Our Beliefs Affect Our Behavior and Habits

Photo by paul skorupskas
Photo by Paul Skorupskas

Did you know that people overall do not react negatively to overconfident individuals and tend to in fact view them as more socially skilled and higher in social status? Even when objective data on true task ability of those individuals is shown to others, overconfident people still do not suffer lower status. Likewise, one research found that middle-aged adults with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with more negative self-perceptions of aging.

And there is a well-known phenomenon – the placebo effect. The brain can convince our body a fake treatment is a real thing. We believe a treatment or procedure will work even if the treatment is a sugar pill. A 2014 study published in Science Translational Medicine discovered that the placebo was 50% as effective as the real drug in a reduction of migraine pain. If you think about it for a second, 50% is a lot!

So the fact that our beliefs affect our lives does have a scientific validity. Some would even say our beliefs shape our reality.

What is a belief? Belief is an idea or principle which we accept to be true or a cognitive act in which a supposition is taken to be true. The core beliefs are formed in early childhood- researchers claim that by age six, a person’s belief system is fairly well formed. Parents and environment play a big part in molding our belief system. Later on in life, we continue to form beliefs, but they are less rigid.

What we believe is true builds the key components of our personalities and identity, and our expressions of those beliefs often define us to other people. If a person draws an inaccurate conclusion that he or she is for example “not good enough” he/she will feel like they are not good enough (not smart enough, not pretty enough, not good enough in your job, not good enough for a relationship, etc). Then, he/she starts to act like they are not good enough, which will amplify the belief “I am not good enough”. The same applies for the other side of the medal, successful people have a belief they are successful.

Besides our behaviours and the perception of the world we live in, our beliefs also influence our bodies and biology.

Our mindset and attitude have powerful effects on health and lifespan. Back in 2007, Dr Ellen Langer wanted to investigate the mind-body effect. She and Dr Alia Crum conducted the research on exercise habits of the hotel housekeepers. The study included 84 women, ages 18 to 55 years old. We all know the housekeepers are very physically active during a day. They clean, lift the objects, scrub, dust, walk, etc. for 7-8 hours a day. The first group of women were told that their everyday work was good exercise and met the guidelines for a healthy, active lifestyle. The second group was only given the document describing the benefits of exercising. The study lasted for 4 weeks, and in one month, questionnaires presented that the actual amount of housekeepers’ work, at work and off duty, did not change. Both groups also didn’t change tmop-30035_640heir diet in any way. Yet, the women in the first group lost about 0.5% of their body fat, lost an average about 0.8 kg, drop their systolic blood pressure by 10%, and reduced their body mass index. The second group of women showed no such changes.  The researchers concluded the weight loss of the first group is placebo effect – the housekeepers believed that their cleaning work was a good exercise routine which triggered the weight loss.

Even what we think about dieting and exercise influence our weight and behaviour.

According to the research published in Psychological Science in 2013, what a person believes is a cause of obesity predicts his or her weight. In a series of studies across five countries on three continents, researchers discovered two major beliefs about the cause of obesity. Some people believed the primary cause of obesity is overeating or poor diet and a roughly equal number of participants said the major cause is a lack of exercise. Results showed people who believed diet is the primary cause of obesity actually had lower body mass index than those who believed lack of exercise is the cause. On the other side, people who indicated a lack of exercise were more likely to actually be overweight than were those who implicated a poor diet (reportedly they ate significantly more chocolates 🙂 ).

I think we’ve all heard a phrase “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet” (or is it just our belief???).

Our own perception of the food also plays role in the assimilation of food.

drinks-34377_640This was proved in Mind over milkshakes study in 2011. The research team measured the levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, which stimulates the appetite and feelings of hunger in 46 people. Ghrelin levels usually increase before meals and decrease after meals. Each participant was given a 380 calorie milkshake. But one group was told it was a 620-calorie “indulgent”, high-calorie shake and the other group was told it was a 140-calorie “low-fat”, diet shake. Participants were asked to first to view and rate the (misleading) label of the shake and after that to drink and rate the shake. The ghrelin levels were measured via intravenous blood samples 3 times: in the beginning of the study, after participants read the label and after they consumed the milkshake. The results were amazing. Those who drank what they thought was the high-fat, high-calorie milkshake had a dramatically steeper decline in ghrelin and felt more satiated after drinking it. Those who thought they were drinking the low-fat, low-calorie shake had a flat ghrelin response and felt less satiated.  From the same milkshake! So participants’ mindset actually influenced the body’s response to food. Think of that next time you have a chocolate cake.  Maybe the results of this experiment can give us some insight why some people can eat a large amount of food and stay lean, while others seem to gain weight no matter how little they eat.

So slowly but steady modern science provides us with evidence of the “mind-body connection”. If we want to take care of our health, bodies and well-being in general, it is not only necessary to watch our diet and engage in some kind of exercise, but also to connect ourselves again with the unconscious part of us and our beliefs. Cognitive neuroscientists have recognized that our subconscious mind controls 95 percent of our lives. But most people don’t even consider that the subconscious mind is at play.  First is to recognize that the subconscious mind exists and the manifestation of limitations we experience daily is because of what’s happening in the subconscious programs. Today there are many techniques that can help us with rewriting of those destructive programs present in our subconscious mind. I think the most popular practices are hypnosis and meditation. But there are many (like NLP, EFT, etc). I would recommend the work of Dr Joe Dispenza and Dr Bruce Lipton. The first step is to recognize the limiting beliefs we have and make them conscious. Usually, it’s a process and requires dedication and time. But unless we don’t understand the underlying mechanism of your behaviour, we cannot change it and improve the quality of our lives.


Photo by Milos Simic on Unsplash
Photo by Milos Simic




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