The Power of Belief

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Belief.

It’s a simple and very powerful concept. Yet it’s also one many people don’t seem to buy into (or “believe”, if you prefer).

Does belief really matter? Can we truly accomplish things simply by believing enough? Or is belief just something people use to delude themselves; a form of false hope?

What is the “truth” behind belief?

For me, I believe belief is one of the most important things we can possibly have. If fact, I feel the core of happiness is being able to believe in all the things around me – my partner, my children, my family, my friends, my dreams, even my job.

Some people talk about love being one of the most powerful forces in the world, others feel faith is. Both of those are founded on belief.

However, belief isn’t some magical thing. As my 9 year old recently put it:

Daddy, believing something won’t make it happen.

If I believe I can fly and jump off a building, I’ll still be dead.

Umm, yeah. I guess it depends on the height of the building, but for the most part he’s right.

Just to be clear, we can’t defy the laws of physics and there are varying degrees of probability in the world. There’s a difference between belief and stupidity.

Belief is really important though. It allows us to imagine things that we haven’t imagined before, and is a requirement for any sort of changes in our lives.

So while simply believing in something doesn’t mean it “will” happen, it does give it a chance.

When You Don’t Believe

The reason belief is so important is because of what it means when we don’t have it. A lack of belief can be seen as doubt. When you doubt, you question things. You question if something is likely, or even possible. Doubt causes people to hesitate, or to remain passive when they should be taking action.

Even worse than doubt is negative belief – a sense that you *can’t* do something. That something is impossible. Or perhaps a sense that although it may be possible, you could never do it.

Doubting something, believing it’s impossible, or believing that it’s impossible for you ensures failure. It causes people to discount the possibility of something without giving it a chance. Or maybe they do give it a chance, but the doubt causes them to sabotage their own efforts, ensuring their own failure.

doubt

Why do people do this? Why don’t people give themselves or their dreams a fair chance?

At its root I think doubt comes down to fear – a fear of failure. We fear failure and we want to avoid the negative feelings that come with it – embarrassment, shame and guilt. So instead, we tell ourselves that something can’t be done, or that “we” can’t do it. After all, if we don’t try then we can’t fail. And if we do decide to try, then telling ourselves this cushions us from disappointment. At some level we *knew* we weren’t going to succeed, so we get the expected result.

We see this all the time with sayings like the following:

expectnothing

I think this line of thinking is so wrong, and runs completely counter to the idea of belief. This thinking involves lowering (or eliminating) expectations on yourself and on those around you. Sorry, I expect more than that out of life – from myself, and from those around me. If you lower expectations, how can you ever achieve anything? Expectations are important, and belief and expectation go hand in hand.

I will acknowledge that expectation opens you up to failure and disappointment, but that’s alright. In fact, it’s necessary. If we don’t allow ourselves to fail, how can we ever learn?

If we don’t suffer disappointment how can we ever grow?

Believe in Yourself

Most of my writing is about relationships, and I truly believe that your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. To be happy you need to have a sense of purpose. You need goals, and dreams. Simply having goes and dreams isn’t enough though, you need to be willing to act on them. And to do that, you have to believe in yourself.

I read a lot of blogs, and it is clear to me that many people out there don’t believe in themselves. Many people look at the world and see what they can’t do, instead of what they can. Many people seem to believe that they aren’t good enough.

I’m not sure where this comes from, but I suspect a lot of it comes down to what we learn when we are young. I’m a father of two young boys, and I believe as a parent one of the worst things you can do it tells your kids they can’t do something, or try to do too much for our children – doing things for them instead of letting them try. Over time, I believe these sorts of things cause people to believe that they can’t do something. That they aren’t good enough and that they’ll just mess it up.

As parents, we need to let our children try things. We need to be able to let them fail. Our job isn’t to do things for them – that’s not how they learn. Our job is to support them, help them feel good about themselves, and give them the courage to try again.

We need to let them know that we believe in them, and teach them to believe in themselves.

Buying In

Sometimes things can seem hopeless, and it can seem hard to believe. Sometimes all we can ever see is failure, and there can be a sense that there’s no point. After all, why put in any effort if you’re just going to fail anyway.

But I never said belief was easy. Belief takes courage, and a willingness to see the best in things and see what is possible in life.

My son is right, belief is not a magic wand. Simply believing I can fly won’t help me if I decide to jump off a building. However that doesn’t mean I can’t fly. A belief that I CAN fly may give me the motivation that allows me to put in the work and effort to find ways to fly.

Many of the things we take for granted today are things that seemed impossible to prior generations. Flight, computers, cars, electricity. There are countless things that would never have happened if someone simply accepted what was possible. For many of the people who impacted the world, belief is what allowed them to keep going through failure after failure.

Most of us won’t change the world. But we CAN change our worlds. We can impact many people around us – our friends, families, and most importantly ourselves.

So have dreams, set goals, and don’t be afraid to expect more from yourself and those around you. Sure you’ll be disappointed sometimes, but that’s alright.

There are no magic wands in the world. Life is what you make it. And to make it what you want you need to put in effort, and you need to be willing to believe in your dreams.

ActAndBelieve

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Is This All There Is?

Driving off

Is this all there is? This is a question everyone asks themselves eventually.

Is the life I have right now the one I want?

Is there more to life?

Growing up, we have a bit of a romanticized notion of what “being an adult” will be, and what life will look like.

We will be free. We won’t have to live under the rules of our parents. We won’t have to go to school every day. We will be adults – we will be our own person and be able to live our lives how we want!!!

And then we get there.

Once out “on our own” we need a place to live, and we need to eat. So we get a job. Maybe we find one we like, and maybe we just find one that will pay us. But that’s alright, because it pays enough of the bills to let us get by. If we want more “stuff”, we need a better job.

But the job is just a job. Sure we may make some friends at work, but our job is just there to help us finance our life; and our life is the important part.

In our personal life we have friends and family. Often we have a spouse or a partner, and maybe we have kids. THOSE are a greater source of happiness than our job.

But our friends and family have their own lives too. And as much as we may love our spouse and kids, they can be sources of stress and conflict almost as much as they are sources of joy.

We live our lives, and although there may be a lot of joy, life becomes routine. We need to work to pay the bills, and hopefully put away a bit of money to be able to go on a vacation once in a while. Or get a nicer car, or a nicer house.

So we find ourselves in this cycle, going through the motions of life day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Eventually though, *something* triggers you to take a look at your life.

And you come to the realization that being an adult is not what you expected. Careers aren’t what we expected. Marriage is not what you expected. And being a parent is not what you expected.

And you find yourself asking, is this it?

Is this all there is?

Midlife “Crisis”

I think this stage of taking a hard look at your life is what is often referred to as a midlife crisis.

As a kid, I thought a midlife crisis was a bit of a joke. When I heard the term I had visions of an older guy who would divorce his wife, get a sports car and a girlfriend at least 10 years younger (probably a yoga instructor).

It was the sort of thing you saw in movies and on TV, but I didn’t think it really happened.

Of course as a kid I also thought that marriages lasted forever, people would always love their partners and affairs only happened in soap operas. Ha!!!

Now that I’m at midlife myself I read peoples stories on blogs, and I look around at friends and acquaintances and I see that midlife crisis is actually quite real.

It’s just not quite what I thought, and the idea of the sports car and the yoga instructor isn’t often that accurate.

More commonly, instead of a “crisis” people have a period of midlife reflection and transformation.

Sure, some people respond badly, act selfishly and do some really stupid things (and those are the ones we most frequently hear about). But that doesn’t have to be what it’s about.

And in fact, this period in life can also be very healthy.

What Causes Midlife Crisis?

If midlife crisis is a period of reflection and transformation, what causes it?

I think mid-life crisis is really about recognition of our own mortality. It happens anywhere from some ones late 30’s to early 50’s (around “mid”-life). And if you hear enough stories you start to see that there is usually some sort of trigger.

The person going through it often has lost someone close to them, or perhaps they or someone close to them has been impacted by a serious illness.

Sometimes the trigger is just age, and with it the realization that statistically their time on this earth is moving into its second half; and we are closer to our death than our birth.

Why do People Handle it Differently?

To me, the biggest question is why do people handle it so differently? At this time of reflection, some people don’t seem affected at all. Others take stock of their lives and decide to take up a new hobby. And then we have those who dump their partner, buy a sports car and start dating the yoga instructor.

It’s clear that not all approaches are equal, and some have much more significant long term repercussions than others.

Each person is doing what seems right to them at the time, but in the cases that are “newsworthy” to friends and loved ones it often seems like they are watching a car crash. They are watching a loved one engage in what appear to be self-destructive actions and decisions.

So what causes this difference in behavior?

I think it’s primarily due to two things:

  • The size of the gap between where you hoped/wanted to be and where you feel you are
  • The degree of control you feel you have had over how you got to your current situation

The first one seems obvious. You sit back and look at your life, and it’s not what you expected. Maybe a big part of that is due to a romanticized notion of what life “should” look like, but if your life doesn’t look like the one you wanted and you believe that your time is running out, it makes sense to want to make changes.

I think the second reason is actually MUCH more important though.

I write about relationships, but the main underlying theme in my writing is choice and accountability. I feel that choice, and the belief that you have the ability to make choices is one of the biggest keys to happiness.

When I hear stories about midlife crisis, the people who make the biggest changes are usually people who have been living the life they thought they “had” to, or the life they felt was expected of them. Commonly they didn’t assert themselves, and instead just went with the flow.

And now they don’t want to do that anymore. Instead, they decide to live the life they “want” to live – usually acting very impulsively and with little thought about consequences. It’s at once a rebellion and an assertion of individuality; a way of taking control of their own life – with either very little thought given to the damage being done in the process or a belief that they have “sacrificed” for long enough and they don’t want to anymore.

I truly believe this element of choice and control is much more important than the actual gap between where someone is and where they want to be.

If the gap is large but it’s a result of your own choices? Well, there’s no one to blame but yourself. You may not have what you want but you’ve done the best with what you had.

If you feel that you have been living the live that was expected of you though?

People can have what from all outward appearances are great lives. Great families, jobs, partners that truly care about them and support them. It doesn’t matter how “great” a persons life is though if they don’t feel they “choose it”.

No matter how much good there is, if they feel they have been living the life that others expected of them then it lays the groundwork for considerable resentment.

What is the Crisis?

When this midlife time of reflection becomes a crisis, there are a few common areas. These include the following:

Loss of Identity

This is probably the biggest one. In life we play a number of different roles. And in the process of growing and changing it’s easy to find that in all the roles we have “lost ourselves”.

We have become the parent, the partner, the co-worker, the child. We are all these different things to different people. But who are we?

I think we are the sum of all these things. Each of them makes up a part of us that is part of who we truly are.

When there is a sense of lost identity, maybe people never actually knew who they really were. This realization can be painful, but also powerful.

And midlife becomes a time of finding yourself again, and perhaps finally accepting yourself for who you are, instead of looking at who you are not.

Loss of Freedom

At midlife people often talk about “wanting to be free”. There is often sadness at lost youth, and a yearning for the freedom that came with it.

But the sad truth is, as much as we may try there is no going back. We were “free” because we were kids. We had adults to take care of us and look after us.

Once you are an adult? Freedom doesn’t really exist – at least not in the way it did when we were kids. You pretty much have to go to work. You have to have shelter, you have to eat. If you have kids, you have to take care of them. And if you want a relationship, you have to put effort in.

All of these things definitely DO put restrictions on you.

You absolutely CAN choose to walk away from those restrictions, and some do. Some hit a point that they find the stress too high and they just walk away one or all of these parts of their lives – their partner, their job, and even their children.

However when people do that they are looking for a freedom that they will never truly find. And that type of freedom not only comes at great cost, but is also usually not quite what someone expects.

Feeling Stuck

Another issue that can cause midlife to be a time of crisis is the sense of being “stuck”. Life has become mundane and routine. You feel like you are just going through the motions. Alive, but not truly living.

The advertising world tells us that “normal” is bad. It tells us that we are special, we aren’t like all the “other people”. We deserve more.

Then we look over and see the kids. And the mortgage. And the bills. And the pile of laundry.

And over time a sense of sadness and hopelessness builds, which in time can turn to depression.

I think this is probably the leading cause of affairs and divorce. People are looking for some sort of change to shake them out of the rut they are in, and finding comfort in the arms of another is an easy (and temporary) way out. People who have affairs often say that they wanted “to feel alive again”, and that they had lost that feeling.

Affairs are a quick fix though, and they don’t address the underlying issues. I talk about this as it applies to relationships in Losing the Spark. But even individually we all need goals. We need things to strive towards (both individually and as a couple) in order to allow us to get through day to day life.

Truthfully, we all could probably do with a bit more excitement our lives. But it doesn’t just happen, we need to build it in.

A Time for Change

Midlife is a time for reflection. Even if you have been living the life you felt you had to, or the one you felt was expected of you – sometimes when you take a good look at it you realize hey, it’s not so bad.

Maybe there are a few changes you can make, a few goals to pursue, a bit of improvement in communication with people you care about.

And sometimes improving a few little things can make a world of difference. We don’t necessarily have to wipe the board clean and start our life over again.

Last year I hit 40. Mid-life.

There was a bit of turmoil in my life at the time, but I can truly say I never entertained thoughts of the sports car and the yoga instructor.

I did reflect on my life, and I do on a fairly regular basis. But every time I do, I come to the same conclusions.

Yes, life could have been different. There are any number of choices I made which, had I chosen differently would have resulted in a different “me” today.

But I have no regrets. All of my choices were mine, and all of them helped shape me into the person I am today.

And honestly? I like me. Hell, I love me.

And I love my life.

My life is not perfect and it never will be. And things won’t always work out the way I want. But I have a lot of things to be thankful for.

And I ALWAYS have choice.

Others matter to me, and I care about their opinions. They may even influence some of my choices in the way I live my life. But they were still my choices.

I can always choose to improve the things I don’t like, accept them as they are, or change them.

And so can you.

It Will Never Be The Same

NotTheSame

A lot of people who write blogs on relationships write because *something* has happened or gone wrong in their relationship. So they turn to writing to help make sense out of their world, and as an outlet for the pain they are feeling. A lot of people write about the loss of a relationship they didn’t want to lose. Others write as a way of working through their emotions while holding on (or at least trying to hold on) to a relationship that has been altered by whatever has gone wrong.

For the people who are trying to hold on and rebuild love, a common theme that I come across is both a fear and a sense of sadness that due to whatever has happened, things will never be the same. The relationship that they once had seems irrevocably altered, and accompanying this belief is a sense of loss.

My Story

I write about life and love, but although I cite examples and experiences from my life, I don’t talk much about “me”. This was never intended to be an online diary, but rather is a way of developing and expressing my philosophies about life and love. I believe in love, and long term relationships. And my goal with this blog has been to try and give hope to people who may be feeling lost, and remind them that we all go through the same struggles.

In this case however I feel my experiences are very relevant.

Like many others I came to blogging when my relationships was in crisis. Although I try to stay away from talking about my relationship any many of the topics I cover don’t really apply to me, my own personal crisis was the catalyst for my writing.

My wife and I had been together for many years, and I thought life was pretty good. Then I found out she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore. She wasn’t sure if she loved me. In my mind, she gave up on our marriage. I won’t pretend to understand what was going through her head at that time. That’s her story. But I do know how it impacted me.

It destroyed me.

See, I believed.

I believed marriage was for life. I knew she and I would always be together, and we would always support each other. I knew that no matter what challenges life presented us with, we would get through them. Together.

For years she was my one true certainty in life. My safe haven, and my shelter in the storm of life.

And suddenly she wasn’t.

She didn’t believe what I did.

I knew life came with challenges, but I never expected the challenge to come from her. I never expected her to question something that (to me at least) was the best part of my life.

I waited to wake up one day and find out it was all a bad dream. To find out that it was just some cruel joke. But weeks turned into months, and the reality of my situation hit home.

When I say it destroyed me, that isn’t drama or exaggeration. It messed me up worse than anything I had ever experienced before. The world I felt I “knew” crumbled around me, and that led me to question absolutely everything. For her to feel the way she was feeling, she obviously didn’t feel the same things I did – the things I thought she felt.

And if I was wrong about that?

Well, what else was I wrong about?

Had she ever truly loved me? If so, when had it changed? Why had it changed?

Looking at our life, what was real? Was anything real?

I had always believed in myself, and even that belief was now shaken.

I guess a lot of people have been there, but even after all this time it’s hard to articulate just how fundamentally my world was shaken by the experience.

We were on a dark path for a long time, and the only thing that allowed me to keep my head above water was belief. My belief in “us” was now shattered, and my self-confidence and belief in my self was badly damaged. But I still believed I had done my best. I still believed I had always tried (and would continue) to do the right thing – whatever that was. I just hoped my belief in the good we had and the good that could still be would be enough.

Lost Innocence

We all start innocent, and growing up you believe in different things. You believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, maybe even the tooth fairy. You believe mommy and daddy love each other, and will always be able to keep you safe. Actually you probably don’t even understand “safe”, because you don’t know threats, you don’t know fear, and you don’t know pain. You only see the light and good in the world, and not the darkness.

Over time, this innocence fades. You find out Santa is just a man in a suit, and there is no Easter Bunny (the tooth fairy IS real though, I’m pretty sure about that one). You start to find out that the world isn’t quite as safe as you thought. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. People get hurt. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail.

In early relationships we experience heartache firsthand, and we hear the rather sobering stats on divorce.

But that early heartache we experienced was simply to prepare us for the person we would be with forever. And divorce only happens to people who give up, and stop loving each other. We know that won’t ever apply to us, because we are different. We believe.

Sure, Santa wasn’t real. And yes, bad things happen in the world. Maybe the world around us had lost it’s magic and wonder.

But for me? My marriage one of the last pieces of magic left in the world.

It was my fairy tale. It was my love story.

And now that magic was broken too.

I believe for me, and many others, this is where things will never be the same again.

That magic.

That belief that no matter what, you will always be there for each other. That your love is somehow special, and different.

When you experience heartache with the person you truly committed your heart and soul to, to the person you believed you would always be with; that changes you forever.

Shifting Landscapes

I watched a video on relationships recently where the speaker made a comment I found particularly poignant. She said (paraphrasing here):

In todays world many people will have more than one marriage in their lifetime.

And in some cases, that marriage is to the same person.

I suppose she could have been talking about splitting up and eventually remarrying. But I saw the comment as a recognition that the nature of relationships change.

If you think about it, you aren’t the same person you were at 20, or 30. You change, you mature. Your life situation changes, and your needs change. Sometimes you have a better job and more money, other times less. You go from single and on your own, where you can do things how you want when you want, to having someone in your life. And now you need to fit that other person in and they are impacted by all the little decisions you make.

And in a relationships you not only see your partner at their best, but also at their worst. And likewise them with you.

Situations change. Maybe you add kids to the mix. Or a promotion, or a loss of a job, serious illness, the loss of a close loved one. There are any number of things that can happen that affect us. Some in small ways, and some in large. Life is all about change.

One of the most common mistakes people make (and I include myself in this) is not realizing or understanding that. We meet someone, we are happy with them, so we get married. We think “great, we are married” and now we will be together forever. Time goes by, life happens, and we continue to mature and change. But we lose sight of the fact that our loved one is changing too. Their needs aren’t the same as they were, yet we continue to treat them the same way, and they do the same with us.

The changes are subtle, so we don’t even see them at first. We “think” things are fine, but over time a number of little changes add up. This causes a distance to start to develop between a couple, as they have become so caught up in day to day life that they fail to see the changes that have happened right in front of their eyes.

everyonechanges

Sometimes we catch it in time, and we are able to accept that the person we are with is not the same one we married, but that’s alright because neither are we. Other times people fight the change, and spend their time resenting that the person isn’t the same.

I haven’t really figured this stuff out yet, but it seems imperative to me that a couple keeps the lines of communication open, continues to communicate their needs, and accepts that change is part of life and will be one of the few constants. If we want to stay together we need to keep growing and learning each other as we change both as individuals and as couple.

Accepting Change

It’s true, things WILL never be “the same”.

But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If your relationship has been challenged, then there is something about the way “it was” got people into trouble. Even if one person was happy, obviously the other wasn’t. Relationships involve two people, so you need to find a new path, one that works better for both people. You have to find a way that you can both be happy with the path you are on.

My wife and I are still together.

I wish with all my heart our marriage never been challenged. I wish “happily ever after” meant our love was never tested or challenged.

The experience sucked. I hated it, and wish it had never happened. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and change things. Somehow fix things before they went wrong.

But I can’t. All I can do is determine how to move forward. Ask myself what can I learn, and how I can use the issues we faced to make our relationships stronger.

And I HAVE learned, a lot. I’ve learned about myself and what I want and need out of life. I’ve learned a better understanding and appreciation about love. And hopefully I’ve learned more about my wife.

I still believe in “us”, but it’s different now. Now I believe we CAN make it, not that we necessarily will.

I wish I was still that person who knew we WOULD make it, instead of just knowing we CAN make it. And that distinction saddens me. I mourn that loss of innocence.

But I was faced with a choice. I could either hold onto the image of what I believed we had, and likely end up bitter and alone. Or I could embrace the fact that life goes through phases, and people and relationships change.

I choose the latter.

Maybe the loss of innocence was actually good. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in perfection, and I don’t believe in “meant to be”. I believe life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them.

We almost squandered our opportunity, and hopefully we will never do that again.

I recognize now that love is fragile. I believe that as long as we prioritize time for each other and ensure we focus on our relationship, we will make it through. I believe we need to continue to learn each other, and hope that we both grow and change in ways that allows our love to survive.

If we don’t do that? If we take each other for granted and lose sight of being a couple?

Then our relationship will fail.

It’s that simple.

Before I “knew” we would be together forever. Now doubt is there, and I hate it. But I know we have a chance. We have an opportunity, and it’s up to us to determine what to do with it.

So yeah, maybe things will never be the same. But then again, things will always change.

And I still believe.

 

Now paranoia’s setting in and I’m falling from these stars again
While every part of me screams, “hold on”
Cause if you can’t learn to bend then you break
Oh my God, how long does it take?
Every lesson we learned took so long
But it made us strong

I-I-I-I’m still standing, I-I-I-I’m still climbing
Even when the rest are falling, the rest are falling
The rest are falling

From Watch Me Rise by Mikky Ekko

Are you a Dreamer or a Realist?

Night Dreamer Girl
In my last post I talked about “the triple constraint” (the idea that everything we do is bound my limitations on the amount of time, money and energy we have). When you truly understand this, I believe you can have and do virtually anything. You just can’t have everything.

That got me thinking of dreams.

We all have dreams. We all have goals, and things we want out of life. So what’s the difference between someone who has dreams, and a dreamer?

I frequently hear about dreamers and realists, as if these are two contradictory concepts or opposite sides of the coin. But I don’t believe that’s right. I think you can be both. Actually I think being both is a very positive thing.

Sometimes when I hear people talk about being a dreamer, it seems people are actually using the label of “dreamer” to rationalize a lack of responsibility for their behavior. Likewise the term realist often seems used to rationalize being negative.

That’s not what they are about.

To me a dreamer is someone who is sets goals and then is willing to strive for them, no matter how realistic or unrealistic they may seem to others. Often people are ruled by fear. They are scared to try things, and scared to fail. As a result they sell themselves short, telling themselves they can’t do something. A dreamer is someone who isn’t afraid to take a chance on that dream.

But being a dreamer doesn’t mean you will do something blindly. It doesn’t mean moving forward without a plan, and it doesn’t mean you don’t understand or care about the consequences of your actions.

Being a realist doesn’t mean you see the flaws in everything. It doesn’t mean you look for reasons not to do something, or reasons why you can’t do something. That’s just negativity. Negative people talk about why things can’t be done. Realists may see those things, but they don’t use them as excuses for not doing something. They are simply things to be aware of when doing something. Instead of saying they can’t do something, a realist says “these are potential problems, and this is what we can do about them”.

So being a dreamer is not contradictory with being a realist. They are complementary.

You can do anything you want with your life. Think big, set goals for yourself, and believe in yourself. Don’t let others doubts bring you down. But ground your dreams in reality. Understand that you have limits on time, money, and energy. Understand the implications of your actions and how they affect others. Acting blindly without considering others is irresponsible. But having a plan doesn’t mean you aren’t following your dreams.

Be a dreamer, but temper it with reality.