The more I explore my own beliefs, the more I feel that there aren’t some deep undiscovered reasons for them. As a trainee psychiatrist, I used to believe that there was a reason for people believing the things they believe. I thought certain life experiences lead people to form certain beliefs, and that this was one of the biggest determinants for the beliefs someone developed. And this is true in some sense. Certain experiences can make someone think a certain thought, but this is not what leads to a new belief; it is when this thought is repeated over and over, that it becomes a belief.
I think that thoughts are like skills, in that the more you repeat them, the stronger the neural pathways become for that thought. This leads to increased ease with which you bring up this thought, but also increased difficulty with which to keep them away. If you were harshly criticized as a child and started thinking that you were useless, this would only turn into a belief if you continued to practice the thought. And at any time during your life you started thinking that you were valuable, the process would reverse.
However, as we all know, it’s not as easy as that. I feel this is because there is a kind of positive feedback mechanism, a vicious (or a virtuous) cycle at work. When you start down the path of negative thinking, your focus and awareness is on that negative thing which you are thinking about. Therefore you filter out things that are not in line with what you are focused on, and end up seeing only the things that confirm your initial line of thought. On the other hand, if you switch your focus to positive things, you notice more of them, which can slow down and eventually reverse the negative momentum creating by the negative thinking.
So now I believe that when someone is having trouble with beliefs about themselves and others which are negative, the answer isn’t to dig down into their past experiences in the hopes of finding some cause; it is to change their focus on to positive things and help them commit to continuing development of this new neural pathway. Positive thinking is a skill and something that we must continually practice, as the alternative is not so positive.