The Power of 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.


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:


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.



Living with Anxiety Part 1 – Chased By Bears


Do you ever question your relationship? Do you wonder if you really love him/her? Wonder if maybe there’s something more – someone out there that you would be happier with? Do you ever ask yourself ever questions like “is this how I am supposed to be feeling? Do other people feel differently about their partners? I should be feeling more, shouldn’t I?”

Romantic love tells us things like love conquers all, and true love will find a way.

It tells us things like:


So if you are having doubts that probably means there’s *something* wrong with the relationship, right? There must be, or these doubts wouldn’t be there.

Add to this the fact that we are often told to follow our instincts, or trust our gut. If you are having doubts, then at least at some level your brain is giving you a warning.

But what if you can’t trust your brain?

What if you can’t trust your own thoughts?

To most, the prospect of not being able to trust our own brains seems ridiculous. But it’s something that millions of anxiety sufferers around the world live with every single day.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is something that we all experience it at some level. And in small doses, it is probably even healthy. But it can become debilitating, and it can destroy lives and relationships.

So what is it?

One good description I found is:

Anxiety is a normal emotional response to perceived danger, and most of us experience moments of it on a regular basis. However, when anxiety becomes chronic and leads to a decline in a person’s function or quality of life, it is classified as an anxiety syndrome or disorder. Individuals with anxiety syndromes experience a wide range of excessive and uncontrollable feelings of nervousness, panic, and fear. These feelings often develop into a number of diverse behaviors and problems, including obsessive-compulsive rituals, irrational fears and phobias, social isolation and avoidance

Anxiety becomes a disorder when it is chronic, and negatively impacts a persons life. There are different variations of anxiety disorders, but they share many traits.

Some of these traits are physiological, and in fact anxiety is sometimes referred to as a state of fight or flight arousal.

With this state of arousal (no, not THAT type of arousal) the body is in a heightened state of awareness. It’s constantly alert for signs of “danger”, and when it finds them the body prepares itself accordingly.

The heart starts beating faster, the body tenses up, and breathing becomes faster and more shallow.

You are ready to either run, or fight and defend yourself.

This sort of physiological response would likely have been helpful in an older era, when life literally was a fight for survival. In a world that involved foraging for food and being chased by bears, hypersensitivity to the world around you could mean the difference between life and death.

Today though? It’s a bit less useful. It still has moments that it’s helpful, but those are outweighed by the drawbacks.

(if you’re interested in a pretty good overview of the fight or flight response check out this article)

For chronic anxiety sufferers, these physiological impacts can take a considerable toll. Sore muscles, tension headaches, irritability, problems with concentration, and difficulty sleeping (leading to chronic fatigue) are among the problems.

Catastrophizing and Rumination

Although the physiological impacts of anxiety can be difficult, perhaps the most insidious effect is what it does to your thinking.

The anxiety response is designed to protect you from danger, and keeps you in a state of alert. Well, when you are looking for danger (consciously or subconsciously) you can always find it – even when it wasn’t initially there (with anxiety it’s common to read too much into things, and misinterpret things). And over a period of time this perception of danger comes to represent threat itself.

The anxious mind will Catastrophize. Catastrophizing is an irrational thinking pattern where the mind will both imagine and come to expect the worst case scenario in a situation, leading to a constant state of stress and fear. It also commonly results in an anxious person not even trying something, because they “know” they will fail.

Catastrophizing goes hand in hand with another cognitive disorder known as Rumination.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone makes bad decisions or screws up sometimes. That’s just life. Most people pick themselves up, hopefully try to understand what went wrong, and try to do better next time.

For an anxiety sufferer, rumination can short circuit this. Rumination is a broken thinking pattern where people get caught up in the past. They have a hard time letting go of things, and get caught up in guilt over things they may have done, or could have done differently.

If I had only…”, or “things would be better if…” are common thoughts for someone trapped in rumination.

Rumination prevents you from moving forward in a healthy way. You are so caught up in what “could” or “should” have been that you fail to act on what ACTUALLY IS.

Rumination combined with Catastrophizing also causes people to misinterpret things. Someone may make a simple innocuous comment, and an anxiety sufferer will look for meanings, and sometimes imagine negative meanings that were never there in the first place.


The World Turns Inward

With a heightened sensitivity to the outside world, anxiety puts the body and mind in a constant state of stress. And stress has a way of turning the world inward.

Think about the fight or flight arousal. What is “fight or flight”? It’s a mode of self-preservation. What do “I” need to do in order to escape this situation?

The focus is on “self”.

The anxious mind sees the world in how it affects them, and their needs (though in true evolutionary fashion, and anxious person can also be fiercely protective of their kids).

Daniel Smith has written on anxiety, and he talked about this inward focus in an article he wrote for CNN:

An anxiety sufferer can feel as if he too is imprisoned in his own mind, but with the demonic twist that his mind can think of nothing but itself. Anxious thoughts are radically personal thoughts. Their central concern is what affects you, what threatens you, what you need, you regret, you dread, you fear.

Anxiety is a condition of near-total self-absorption, made only worse by the fact that the sufferer typically realizes that he is being self-absorbed and grieves over his sad inability to see past himself.

I wanted to become: a good husband, a good father, a good brother, a good friend. How could I become these things when, in my towering distress, I could pay heed to no one’s existence or needs but my own?

My buddy Gandalf also experienced this sense of self-absorption in his struggles with anxiety:

I just cannot say enough times how anxiety, stress, and depression short circuit the empathy part of the brain and causes the person to only think about themselves. I know what it’s like to only think about yourself and how destructive this is in a relationship. Yet, it’s completely and totally logical for the person to be selfish at that time and in fact, I couldn’t make myself think of others.

I had to get my anxiety down significantly before I was able to empathize with other people. Now after over half a year of being more or less relaxed, my brain has gone under significant rewiring to be more empathetic towards others. It’s now becoming the natural and default state of my mind.

With a chronic state of stress, a focus on “self” and a breakdown of empathy, anxiety makes relationships (and especially romantic relationships) difficult. But it also damages relationships in additional ways, that aren’t always apparent.

In my next post I will be focusing on these issues.

What Really Matters?


For years I ran a mens league basketball team. Running a team for what is essentially a beer league can be surprisingly difficult (it’s also a thankless job).

At first glance it seems simple:

Find some guys who like basketball, get them together and make a team.

Right? Well, unfortunately there’s a bit more to it than that.

See, there are a lot of different facets to basketball.

At the simplest level, basketball has offence and defense. With those areas, there are a number of different skills that make them up.

For example, on offence you have shooting (from different areas), post play, ball handling, setting screens, court vision, etc.

On the defensive end of the court you need to a type of awareness that allows you to anticipate and react to an opponent. Some of the “skills” on the defense include boxing out, rebounding, blocking shots and stealing the ball.

If you make a checklist of all the different skills that make up a basketball player, very few people check all boxes. Generally some people are skilled in some areas, but not in others. So when building a team you need to find a balance of skills and abilities with the different members of the team.

When building a team I look for a mix of players that bring different skills to the table. Players who complement each other, in order to maximize strengths and hide weaknesses.

And that’s just the basketball side of things.

That checklist lists the skills and abilities that make up a “good” basketball player. But basketball is a team sport.

To be a good teammate, someone had to be unselfish. They also had to be reliable, have a positive attitude, and be able to deal with adversity. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but it’s really important that guys stick together and not point fingers when times are tough.

Oh yeah, being able to pay was pretty important too. As the guy who had to collect from others and pay the bills, it really sucked when fees were due and someone only had $20, and would get me “next time”.

Over many years of playing and trying to build a team, I found that the “team” skills were MUCH more important than the actual basketball ones.

Someone could be an amazing basketball player, but if they weren’t also a good teammate then it was not worth having them on the team.

When building a basketball team, “basketball” was only a small part of the equation. A team is much more than just a collection of individuals.

Building the “Perfect” Partner

When meeting a potential partner, what are some things you look for? Just as there are many characteristics and traits that make up an ideal basketball player, there are also many traits people look for in a partner.

Because a relationship only involves two people (unless you are into bigamy, which is frowned upon in most parts of the world), it’s a lot harder to find a balance.

An additional complication is that the traits that are important to you may change over time.

Think about early relationships, when you are around 17-22 years of age. At that stage, most people are probably looking for someone they find attractive that they can hang out and do things with. At this point a similar sex drive is probably the most important trait.

But while hanging out and having a regular partner for sex may seem great at the time, it doesn’t really make for much of a relationship. In fact, some people actually differentiate between what they feel is acceptable in someone they will just “date” vs someone who is “marriage material”.

If you are looking for a long term relationships (with the possibility of marriage) then there are other characteristics that become very important. Commitment, loyalty and a shared vision of the future are a lot more important than just hanging out with someone who you find attractive.

And if you are at a stage that you hope to have kids, stability and responsibility are also very important.

The “Non-Relationship” Stuff

When you first meet someone there may be characteristics that you notice, and those may or may not stay important over the life of the relationship.

But those traits are only a small part of the traits that matter over time.

Self-confidence, motivation, the ability to hold a job, handle criticism and handle stress are a few things that come to mind. These aren’t things you necessarily think of when looking for a partner, but at the same time they all have a significant impact on the success of relationships.

Times won’t always be good, and they won’t always be easy.
Sometimes relationships seem to go well for years, and then *something* changes and things fall apart.
What happens then times get hard?

Does someone start to retreat into doing what is best for them? Do they start blaming the other person for any problems the relationship is facing? Do they ignore the problems and pretend they aren’t there?

Or do they try to work together, and find ways to move forward that may not be perfect for either person, but attempt to find a balance that works for both?

I believe empathy is the key.

With empathy there is both give and take. There is a recognition that although each individual is important, sometimes the couple needs to come first.

Kind of like my experiences with basketball, you find that all the wonderful characteristics and traits in the world don’t matter if someone can’t embrace the concept of team.

The Perfect Partner

So what does the “perfect” partner look like? There’s really no right answer here, and even for a single person it depends on where you are in life and what your priorities are at that time.

But there is no such thing as a perfect person. Each are different, and no one “has it all”. Well, maybe some people do. But if so, those people are like unicorns and Sasquatch.

Accepting that people aren’t perfect is not about lowering standards. It’s re-evaluating priorities.

Each of us has a different “skill set”, and the mark of a successful couple probably depends on how well they are able to accept each other for who they are, and find ways to make those skills work together.

What matters isn’t what’s perfect, it’s what’s perfect for you.

If Only Things Were Perfect


In a previous post I talked about a broken thinking pattern that is common in depression and anxiety known as “all or nothing” thinking (to learn more on broken thinking patterns found in depression and anxiety check this summary from Wikipedia).

All or nothing thinking is a mindset where someone tends to see things as black and white. Someone can be a wonderful person and do a bunch of great things, but as soon as they do something wrong or make a mistake, that mistake becomes magnified and somehow undoes all the good.

This thinking causes all sorts of problems in relationships, as all people have strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad sides. In all relationships mistakes will invariably be made. But for someone with all or nothing thinking, any mistakes or flaws by their partner become magnified, and become “proof” that there is something wrong with the relationship or that their partner is not “the one”. A persons own mistakes and flaws also become magnified, leading to issues with self-love (but that’s a story for another day).


An extension of this line of thinking is perfectionism. At first glance perfectionism doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Doesn’t perfectionism just mean that someone has high standards and that they only want the best for themselves? If they do have high standards, isn’t that a positive?

All the literature you will find on perfectionism will lead to a resounding no. Rather than being a positive, perfectionism is actually very, very destructive to the person who holds these beliefs.

Perfection is an ideal, it doesn’t exist. Even perfectionists will acknowledge that. The difference is, in a perfectionist mindset the value of something is understood to be dependent on its inherent traits. It is a negative viewpoint that focuses and magnifies the bad points while ignoring the good points. Something is either good or it’s not. And any flaws that do exist in something are often magnified.

Interestingly, in a perfectionist mindset there is a concern not only with how much something appears to you, but there is also tendency to be very concerned with how things are perceived by others. Presentation is very important. Even when times are tough, maintaining the illusion of perfection is important.

Not surprisingly, this mindset is commonly found with people who suffer from chronic unhappiness.

Personal Responsibility

One of the issues with perfectionism and all or nothing thinking is that it absolves someone of personal responsibility. After all, your main contribution to your happiness in life becomes finding the right situation, the right job, or the right partner. When things aren’t working out or you find you aren’t as happy as you could be then there is a convenient reason. Sure, maybe you could have put in a bit more effort. But for the most part the problem was the situation. It’s simply not the right job. Or you are not with the right person.

“You” aren’t responsible. And there is no push to improve from within, because in order to find happiness you simply need to find the right situation.

A major problem with this approach is that someone will never be satisfied with what they have. Everything has flaws that will eventually reveal themselves. So the “perfect” match is always just out of reach. In relationships this results in someone either constantly jumping from relationship to relationship, or deciding to settle for their current situation.

A problem with “settling” is that it means they believe something better is always out there, they simply haven’t found it yet. And if you are settling, then your heart is never fully in your relationship. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because if your heart isn’t in your relationship you won’t put in the level of effort needed to sustain it. As a result, you won’t be as happy as you can be. This unhappiness in turn becomes proof that the relationship is not the right one.

Perfection vs. Continuous Improvement

A different, healthier and more realistic approach to the world is one of continuous improvement. I’ve written about continuous improvement before, and I think it’s a very important approach to not only relationships but life in general (it also happens to be one of my least viewed posts, though I think it’s a good one. So follow the link, come on, you know you want to 🙂 ).

One thing differentiating perfectionism from a continuous improvement mindset is the approach to mistakes or flaws. In perfectionism, mistakes and flaws are signs of a problem. They are signs that something isn’t right, or it’s not good enough. Perfectionists may accept that things could potentially be improved, but they often believe it’s “not worth the effort”. After all, you end up with a relationships that is flawed, and not perfect.

In a continuous improvement mindset, mistakes and flaws are almost seen as a positive thing. Identifying problems shows you areas that can be improved, and ways to make something better. Flaws are a natural part of anything, and they provide motivation to do better or work harder.

In the continuous improvement approach to the world, we are not finished products. Everything has good sides and bad sides. All relationships have their strengths and weaknesses. What is important is to focus on what is good. Appreciate the good in what you have, and enjoy those things.

Where perfectionism focuses on and magnifies the bad points while ignoring the good points, continuous improvement does the opposite. In this mindset what you have is “enough”, because you allows the focus to be on the good. It doesn’t mean the bad doesn’t exist, or that you won’t strive to improve. But the bad is simply part of something.

Continuous improvement still sees perfection as an ideal, but it is simply a goal to strive towards. The important part is the process. The journey of taking what you have and making it better. You may never get there and that’s alright, because at every stage of your journey what you have is enough.


The Worst Word in the English Language

One problem with the difference in these mindsets is that people often don’t even realize which mindset they possess. If you find you often think about “perfect” or use the word commonly, there’s a good chance you are operating from a perfectionist mindset.

Likewise, if you find yourself focusing on what is missing from your life instead of what you do have, there is a very good chance that you have a perfectionist mindset.

Personally, I can’t stand the word “perfect”. Perfect is an ideal. It doesn’t exist.

perfect isnt real

Life provides us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them. In a perfectionist mindset, many opportunities are passed up because they aren’t good enough.

The reality is life takes effort. There is no such thing as a perfect job. There is no perfect partner. What you get out of anything in life is up to what you put into it.

If you feel that your relationship is missing something, take a long look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about what you are putting into it. Are you putting your best into it, or are you imagining that maybe there’s something better out there somewhere?

If you want a great relationship, it takes work. It takes a willingness to communicate and to prioritize each other. It will never be “perfect”, but it can be as good as you let it. Settling does not mean staying in a situation that’s not perfect. Nothing is perfect, but everything can be better. If you have something that’s pretty good but you can make it better, then why wouldn’t you? In a continuous improvement mindset “settling” is when you have something that’s good and you refuse to put in the effort to make it better.

So put in the effort. And make your relationship the best it can possibly be.