Can You Believe It? How Better Belief Systems Lead to Better Actions
I don’t believe that you believe what you think you believe.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
If you’ve made it this far, that means you were intrigued enough to hear me out. Even if you think I’m wrong, a little part of you still believes I’m right (or at least you are curious enough to see how I might be right).
That’s why you kept reading.
Your actions revealed your truest belief system.
This all may seem trite when talking about a simple blog post. But understanding our belief systems, evaluating what we do believe, and finding the root causes of why we believe it may be the most powerful thing we can do as individuals and as organizations.
It’s the first step of unlocking our full potential.
You Better Believe It
A belief is a firmly held conviction about the way things are, but people typically have a very limited view about what a "belief" is and the impact they have on our lives.
Instead of focusing on beliefs, we emphasize “actions.” We strive to emulate the actions we see that lead to success. We make action centric lists and think in terms of “actions taken or not taken” without stepping back and understanding the beliefs that actually cause any of those actions to happen.
We divide action and belief, but the two are paradoxically inseparable.
You always and only act on what you believe.
The reason we don't always act on what we "believe" is because we don't really believe what we think we do. So if we want to better understand our actions, we first need a better understanding of the beliefs that caused them.
Knowing how to recognize a good and bad belief system can have profound effects on the way we approach our work, especially in the realm of innovation or problem solving
Bad Belief Systems About… Belief Systems?
To really unlock the power of belief systems, it’s important to first recognize bad belief systems. Some of these manifest in thinking about belief systems in general, a sort of “bad belief about beliefs.” These are some of the most common misconceptions (and corrections) I’ve encountered in my years of leading organizations:
Bad belief: Beliefs are static or rarely change.
Correction: Beliefs are dynamic, and some even change on a daily basis.
Bad belief: We only have a few beliefs, and they are only based in the philosophical/spiritual.
Correction: We have many beliefs that cross over different areas of our lives. Every action you take is driven by what you believe about something.
Bad belief: People will reject me if I am honest with where I’m at.
Correction: We are generally poor at being honest with ourselves or teammates out of fear of rejection, but we’ve seen at Blockit how transparency and honesty helps lead to growth. (More on this later).
Bad belief: Your belief in something adds weight to whether it’s true.
Correction: Something is either true or not true, whether you believe it or not.
In every scenario, there is an ideal belief or set of beliefs defined by an organization, industry, religious organization, etc. as being true/right/best. Members of that specific community know that these ideal beliefs are what they ought to believe, and we often think that we do believe them.
But our actions prove otherwise.
Instead of acting on the ideal beliefs, we often act on other beliefs that limit us (we’ll call these self-limiting beliefs). Self-limiting beliefs hold us back from achieving our potential, and unfortunately, we all have a lot of them!
Organizations can tell their employees all day what their beliefs ought to be, but an employee’s self-limiting beliefs can keep him or her from actually believing it.
So how do these belief systems affect an organization in real life?
A Brief Case Study - Sam the Sales Rep
The Objective Management Group says that an optimal salesperson has 42 beliefs that make up the ideal belief system for a sales rep. Here are a few examples:
1. I don't need my prospects to like me.
2. I don't need to have the best price.
3. A thousand dollars is not a lot of money.
A sales person, let’s call him “Sam”, may very well confess these beliefs as if he believes them, but his actions and behaviors can show what he truly believes.
Say that Sam avoids asking hard questions that help the customer make a buying decision. When his boss asks him about it, Sam tells her that he doesn’t want the prospect to think poorly of him.
Do you see the problem here? He values being liked more than helping the customer solve their problem, and his actions flow from that self-limiting belief even if he thinks he believes something different.
Let’s try another one.
On a call with a prospective customer, Sam skips all of the value-centric components of the product he’s selling and misses the opportunity to explain the features that would really help that person’s organization. Instead, all of his activity focuses on explaining the best price. In his mind, that is the most vital information.
Even if Sam thinks he believes all the right things, even if he’s memorized all 42 ideal beliefs, his actions contradict ideal belief #2!
Self-limiting beliefs that contradict an ideal belief will always lead to inferior results.
Of course, the greatest potential sales person would have all 42 beliefs, but out of 2 million people tested using the Optimal Sales Person methodology, nobody has ever scored 42 out of 42.
But this shouldn’t discourage us. Remember that the right belief always leads to the right action. Simply knowing the belief systems within an organization can lead to better actions.
Let’s say you compared someone in your organization who had 38 of the ideal beliefs to someone who had 20. Who would you bet on to grow your organization? Or perhaps you have another person on your team with 25. What actions could you take that would help that person get better? What processes could you use to drive better outcomes?
Growth doesn’t require perfection. It just asks for progress.
Effects on Organizations
Beliefs are highly individual, but they can also have a tremendous effect on the success of an entire organization as well.
What do you think the resulting actions from these would be?
1) Leader A is unable to create momentum.
Probable self limiting beliefs: I have "arrived”; therefore I don't need to keep learning, and I always need to have the answer. I worked hard to get here, if I take risks I will fail and lose my position, what's more important is not losing ground versus taking ground.
2) Organization B has never had a good technology implementation.
Probable self limiting beliefs: This isn't going to work. My old way worked so much better. I’m not smart enough to use technology, I will never figure this out. I don't have the time. It’s not really important I learn how to do this.
3) Company C wants to be innovative, but has consistently failed.
Probable self limiting beliefs: To be innovative, we need a $1B idea. We can come up with ideas in our "lab" without customer input. It takes 18 months and a several million dollar budget to develop an idea. Our users would never adopt something new. Innovation is neat, but we have real work to do. Our customers just want us to deliver our current product/service well, they aren't asking for shiny objects.
We don’t have to play out each of these scenarios to their end to understand that they would negatively affect a company. Money and time would be wasted to feed the vision of a bad belief system.
How to Align Self-Limiting Beliefs with Ideal Beliefs
Hopefully by now you’ve seen the value of assessing you and your team’s belief systems. And since good beliefs lead to good actions, let’s talk about some ways to apply this way of thinking.
At Blockit, our clients often compliment us on our approach to client engagement and technology in healthcare. They talk about how we do something different than others, They ask why we are different and how did we get here. Well thankfully the blockit culture embraces the following.
Identify what you want to happen or be true.
Correlate what the ideal beliefs are for that coming to fruition.
Asses what you and your team’s self limiting beliefs are that contradict that.
Put a plan in place that
Accommodates for the self limiting beliefs.
Creates moments or milestones that provide the content/context/environment/reinforcement to change from self limiting to ideal.
Has training, mentorship, and accountability towards improving the beliefs that are driving actions and behaviors counter to your mission.
One of the ways we do this at Blockit is by maintaining a public list of good and bad belief systems for each team member. We use in our goal setting and 1x1s, and they’ve become some of the key elements that inform our weekly activity plans. Everyone is responsible for maintaining their list and anyone on the team can make suggestions to each other. Making it a public exercise has helped eliminate the bad belief that having weaknesses is bad, the classic “my team won't value me if they see Im not good at xyz, and my shortcomings are worse than everyone else.” Our experience has shown us that the opposite is true, so we’ve been able to reshape that bad belief into a positive area for growth.
This kind of transparency and shared accountability has generated amazing improvements in all of us as individuals. I truly believe it is the driving factor that enables our team to solve problems nobody else has and deliver advanced technology with a high degree of service. My current self limiting belief count (that I know of) is at 34. Since you can only really work on 1-2 at a time, I certainly have a long way to go, but I believe that I will get there in time. For now, I’ll keep progressing and encouraging my team to do the same.
Jake McCarley is the Founder and CEO of Blockit. Well-versed in both automation and human process related healthcare issues, he is making bold moves to improve the health for both underserved communities and well served patients nationally.