I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
– Bertrand Russell
A belief system is like an API for personal growth.
“API” is computer geek speak for Application Programming Interface. It refers to the set of abstractions on which a piece of software is built. Ruby on Rails, for example, provides an API atop which you can build dynamic websites. It provides abstractions for building dynamic web pages, talking to databases, caching content to make your site run much faster, and a whole bunch of other things.
Your beliefs are the set of abstractions through which you experience and create your life. Your belief system influences your decisions, and your decisions influence your actions.
For example, you might have a belief that “I can do whatever kind of work interests me, if I send out enough CVs.” When it comes time to look for work, this belief will influence you to take massive action to find a gig that interests you. And you’ll probably keep contacting new leads until you close the deal.
Someone else might have a belief that “Ugh, there are no jobs in my field!”, in which case they may send out few CVs or even none at all, and instead resign themselves to cocktail waitressing or return to university to learn a more “employable” skill.
Each belief represents an abstraction that models some aspect of your reality. Like a software API, each abstraction in your belief system may itself be composed of other abstractions. For example, your belief about getting any kind of work you desire might be an abstraction of beliefs such as “I am extremely good at what I do”, “I have a solid track record of experience in this field”, “I am dedicated to my work”, and so on.
Creating Your Own Belief System
The best frameworks are in my opinion extracted, not envisioned.
– David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails
There’s a somewhat unfortunate tendency in some software circles to create APIs out of thin air, rather than extracting them directly from living, breathing solutions to problems. Ruby on Rails was extracted from a project management product called Basecamp. This real world anchoring is one of the primary reasons for RoR’s success.
Likewise, the best belief systems are extracted from your own experience, rather than relying on the borrowed wisdom of others. A religion could be an example of a belief system based on borrowed wisdom. Rather than someone relying on verifying their beliefs through their own experience, they might adopt a belief system through “blind faith”.
Like a software API, the implementation of your personal growth API doesn’t really matter. There is no “correct” or “incorrect” belief system. In most cases, it is extremely hard to know what is true. The important question to ask about your beliefs is: Is this giving you the output you desire?
Refactoring, in software terms, is the process of rearranging or rewriting parts of the code, without changing the way it behaves. Software is an organic entity, which goes through a maturity process. As new insights are gained, the API may be refactored to make it easier to understand, easier to use, and more efficient.
And just like a software API, belief systems require merciless refactoring. The thing to remember about beliefs is that they are abstract models of reality, but not reality itself. As new information is gained, we need to be open to changes in our belief systems: adding new beliefs, removing stale ones, or modifying our current understanding.
Mercilessly refactoring our belief systems requires continuously asking ourselves questions like “Is this belief still empowering me?” If not, a change is probably in order. For example, if you wanted to start a blog, a belief like “I am hopeless with computers!” will probably have to be dropped and replaced with a new belief like “I can learn anything that I put my mind to.”
The purpose of our belief systems is to help guide us through the world to create the kind of life we want. Any time our beliefs are not serving that objective, it may be time for a refactoring.
Software APIs go through minor and major revisions. Minor revisions are things like: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. Major revisions are generally numbered like: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and so forth.
Your belief system will likely require constant “bug fixing” as you test your beliefs against the real world, have new experiences, and gain new insights. The major revisions in particular often require passing through a lot of fear and taking a lot of action to get to the next level.
For example, about 10 months ago, I experienced a major API upgrade through social skydiving. I challenged a lot of my limiting beliefs about meeting new people, took massive action to battle my way through them, and emerged with a very different and much more empowering set of beliefs. Before this revision, I had beliefs like:
- Meeting women is hard.
- Talking to strangers is embarrassing.
- It is really humiliating to get blown out.
- It’s easier to meet women online than in real life.
After the upgrade to “Me 2.0″, my beliefs were refactored to look like:
- Meeting women is purely a function of taking action.
- Talking to strangers is no big deal.
- I’m willing to get blown out, because embracing rejection propels me towards my goals.
- It’s way more fun to meet women in real life than online.
As a life hacker and computer geek, I’ve gained a lot of insight from thinking of my system of beliefs as an API for personal growth. Belief systems abstract and model the world as we’ve experienced it and function as the mental software with which we create our lives.
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