Understanding Our Individual Belief Systems

Blame the parents…

Each of us is raised to adulthood with a certain view of the world ‘programmed’ into us. I appreciate that for some people, their upbringing is different, less conventional, but please allow me to generalize, and assume that for the vast majority of us, our primary influences in young life are our parents. Our parents and other members of our immediate family, closest friends and neighbours, teachers and classmates, are the people who help us to form our view of the world, and for most people, our parents are by far the most influential players in this game.

This is rarely a conscious process. My parents did not sit down with me, flip open ‘The Whitfield Family How-To Manual’ and start teaching me our rules and belief systems. Not at all, it’s not like that. I feel sure that if I asked one of them “So what is your view of the world, what are your underlying beliefs about life, people, love, work, money?” they would look at me weird and ask me what the heck I was on about. I am talking about the subconscious stuff, the views of the world, of life, that our parents have that they subliminally teach us without knowing they are doing it. It can be in the way they speak, their accent, the way they act, the hobbies and interests they engage in, the things they do with money, the way they use their time, the things they say about other people, the way they eat, and so on. These words and action that we are exposed to during our formative years, set up our filters, the filters through which we see the world as we advance into adulthood, and often for the rest of our lives.

In the vast majority of cases, these beliefs and attitudes were formed in our parents minds by their parents 30 or 40 years earlier, in an equally unconscious, subliminal way. Often in families when you ask ‘why do we say that?’ or ‘why do we do it that way?’ you hear the response ‘I don’t know, we’ve just always done it like that.’ – and yet often you have a friend or colleague or lover who you meet and you find they do that same thing completely differently, and in that persons family ‘it’s always been that way’ too.

Belief systems

I have been exploring some of the ways my parents raised me, and I have been thinking about some of the beliefs, attitudes, practices and ‘accepted norms’ that were embedded in my sub-conscious during my youth. These are not things that were purposefully taught to me, these are beliefs I have/had of the world upon reaching adulthood, that have formed in my head as a result of the way I was raised. These are (were) my views of life and my place in the world, as I reached adulthood, and these can only have been formed through my life experience, and my environment, and the sayings, phrases, actions and activities I was repeatedly exposed to. So in short, whether knowingly or not, this is how my parents taught me to think:

  • We are just ‘ordinary’ folk, regular working people.
  • We are not special, no one in this family has ever been a millionaire, no great visionaries, no great adventurers or explorers, no great achievers, no one in this family ever changed the world, for good or bad.
  • We live by the law, we are not bad people, we do not hurt others or commit crimes, no one in this family ever went to prison.
  • We work hard for a living, we do our work and take home our pay. We are not rich and never will be, but we are not poor and never will be.
  • We do a fair and honest days’ work for a fair and honest days’ pay.
  • The goal of life was never really a talking point in my family, not consciously, but if it had been purposefully discussed, it would have been to say that the goal of life is just to be happy, to be normal, to stay healthy, get some good grades at school, then get a decent job, get married, buy a home, raise a family, stay out of trouble. Nothing more was ever expected of me, nor was I ever encouraged to aspire to any higher level of achievement, nor to dream of any greatness. That is not the kind of family we are.

This was my world view, this was the level-headed, calm, sensible world my parents lived in and shaped me to live in.

Now, someone else, may have been raised quite differently. This next set of beliefs would more accurately describe someone else I know:

  • You must do as well as you can.
  • We are ‘above average’ people, in terms of wealth and achievement, and you must remain above average.
  • You should aspire to do more, you should seek ‘more’ out of life.
  • Do well at school, go on to University, get a ‘better than average’ profession, get a good job, marry and have a nice home and a good family.
  • Expect more from life than ‘Mr Average’ in the street. Work hard and do well.
  • You should be well educated.
  • You should seek a career in an honourable and well-respected profession.

This is a quite different set of ‘filters’ for looking at the world.

Another person I know, came from a family where his mother was an educated lady, with a university degree, his father was a successful businessman who had built a lifetime career and been honoured with an MBE (a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), and by his early 30s, this man had ten years in the RAF behind him and he was already a property investor owning 3 homes. This man again has a very different set of beliefs and values to the ones I was raised with. His parents were both ‘achievers’ to a certain degree and his world view has clearly been shaped by his upbringing, as he is already building himself a very good career and a certain level of wealth.

Drama and trauma in a young life

Now, imagine the beliefs and views that are set-up by dramatic experiences in life. Say that you might be a ten year old kid, and your family goes through a dramatic experience, such as the death of one of your parents in an accident, or financial ruin through the bankruptcy of a business, or maybe you are exposed to violence or physical or sexual abuse, suffered upon you or a sibling or other close family member. Or maybe your parents’ divorce, or win the lottery, or maybe your father abuses alcohol. Major life experiences will form a massive set of beliefs in the mind of a child, not conscious opinions that are ever discussed, but ingrained sub-conscious beliefs about the world that create filters through which all life is viewed.

These base-level underlying beliefs might include such things as:

  • Life is tough.
  • Men are evil.
  • Women are weak.
  • Men are selfish.
  • Money is evil.
  • Financial security is more important than anything else in life.
  • Love leads to pain.
  • Trust is often let down.
  • Hard work is a waste of time, it can all be lost in a moment, so don’t bother.
  • Marriages never last.
  • All men are cheats.
  • Money is the root of all evil.
  • People are selfish.


  • Love is more important than money. Wealth comes and goes, love and support [of family and friends] last forever.
  • Work hard, build financial security, it’s the bedrock of modern life.
  • True love conquers all.
  • Men are dependable.
  • Women are strong.
  • Women are loving.
  • You must always work hard for a living.

And so on, I am sure you are getting the idea now.

The point is, our experiences during our formative years, combined with our subconscious lessons from our parents, form the world we see around us. All people see the world slightly differently, and all things look different depending on where you are looking from.

Picture this. I have a piece of thick card, it’s all black on one side, and all white on the other. I grasp it with both hands, holding it straight up in front of my face, so that I am looking fully, straight-on to the black side. You are stood ten feet in front of me, looking at me, and hence looking straight-on directly at the white side. I say “what do you see” and you are shouting “I see you holding up a piece of white card” and I am shouting back “no you fool, I am holding up a piece of black card” and so we could shout at each other all day. Similarly, if you put your right hand out in front of you, hand down by your tummy, poke your index finger up so it is pointing straight up in the air, and start moving your hand so that your index finger is drawing circles in the air in a clockwise direction as you look down on it. Now keep the movement flowing, but slowly raise your arm until your circling hand is up above your head. Now you are below, look up and see which way the finger is drawing circles…it’s now anti-clockwise, yet you are still doing the same movement you were doing before.

How we see the world through our filters

You see, both these examples show that the things we see in the world are different depending on where we see them from. This is us ‘applying our filters’ to the world. Two people can observe or witness the exact same thing but they see it from different angles, from different viewpoints, and they experience it completely differently.

So the filters we have on life, determine our entire experience of life. Thinking back to the examples that I gave above, for myself and my friend, now try to think of the beliefs and values some other people might have been raised with.

  • How about The Queen?
  • Richard Branson’s children?
  • The child of a heroin addict?
  • A billionaire’s child?
  • The son or daughter of a member of royalty, or a multi-millionaire movie star?
  • A refugee in Ethiopia?

These people are all born the same, of flesh and bone, but are all raised very differently, with a very different world view and very different set of idea, values and beliefs. These beliefs are the filters through which these people all view the world. No doubt the Queen of England was raised with a very different belief system to “We are just ‘ordinary’ folk, regular working people.” Can you see how that belief will affect your view of the world?

Not only do these filters change how we see the world, but they change our attitude to playing the game of life. Our beliefs determine our attitude to risk, our attitudes to what we do and how we use our time, our choices of friends, lovers and career, and most importantly our expectations of ourselves. If the beliefs you have are ‘I am never going to rise above working-class unskilled labour’ then that will determine your attitude to your schooling and the type of work you seek once you leave school. If your belief is ‘someday I will be CEO of a multi-national corporation’ then that will dramatically affect your attitude to schooling and the type of work you seek when you come out of education.

I think that for the great majority of people, these filters are set for life and most of them remain unchanged. In adulthood, I changed mine, I developed a new set of filters.

Striving for ‘more’

Some people hear me talking about chasing goals and striving for self-improvement, as I have done so a great deal over the last few years since I found the world of personal development, and sometimes these friends say to me ‘life isn’t about chasing betterment, life isn’t about trying to be as rich/successful/slim/fit/adventurous/daring/achieving as much as you can, pursuing some form of higher greatness in any or all areas of your life is wrong, you are wrong. Life is just about being happy and having a nice time.’

My friends who say this are not wrong. But they are not right. They simply view life through a different set of filters to me.

Broadly speaking, when friends say these things, they are just showing me that they care about me, and they don’t like to see me mentally ‘beating myself up’ or giving myself a hard time trying to achieve more, trying to be more, trying to do more. These good-natured well-meaning friends just don’t want to see me stressed out chasing seemingly impossible dreams, so out of their care for me, for my mental and physical well-being, they are saying “it’s OK to be average, to be normal, to be run-of-the-mill, to fail at things from time to time, to just be a regular guy, it’s just fine.”

And of course, for many people, it is. This is true. There is nothing wrong with being ‘normal’, there is no shame in leading a steady, happy, balanced life. Material wealth, financial success, physical appearance, the home you live in, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, and the shape of your body, are not factors that determine whether or not you are a ‘good person’. To do well in life, to be successful, to be in great shape, to run a company, to be rich, sure these are worthy goals, but they do not make you a ‘better’ person than anyone else. Indeed, these factors are measureable to some degree, but they are themselves open to interpretation. For example, if a homeless person elevates himself from living on the streets, homeless, jobless, and living with regular alcohol abuse, to living in a decent terraced house in a nice town, and working at a regular paying job in a factory, and he achieves enough wealth to buy more food than he needs, and he eats himself into obesity, he may well consider his transformation to be ‘a great success’.

However, if another man born into great family wealth, born with endless advantage, schooled through a top-spec education and in great health as a young man, if he squandered his inherited wealth on gambling, lost his fortune in failed business dealings, turned to alcohol and food for solace and ended up obese and living in that same terraced house in a nice town and working at that same factory, he may consider his life a complete failure. Same end result, but from different starting points, and seen through the filters of what was expected from each man’s life, and that same result is viewed as polar opposites. Our filters, our beliefs, and our expectations, change everything about our outcomes.

Even the definition of what is a ‘good person’ is open to interpretation. Some people would value success in business, good health, financial security and sports excellence as the measure of a good person. Others would argue that what really matters is none of those things, and a ‘good person’ is a loving family member, a charitable member of their community, a supporter of those less fortunate and an ethically responsible citizen of mother earth. You see, again, depending on our beliefs, our own values, the filters through which our eyes see the world, we all see the same things, but value them differently.

But bringing this back to my personal example, consciously or not, and I know it was not, I was raised with a mind-set that I was never expected to achieve any kind of greatness in my lifetime, and I should not aspire to any kind of greatness, so as not to set myself up for disappointment and failure. Indeed, I was raised thinking ‘that is how the “other half” live, not people like us.’

Setting higher goals

However, in my mid 30s I found the world of personal development, and thanks to the enlightened teachings of people like Anthony Robbins, I began to understand that my world view was shaped by my past, not created purposefully by my own desires for the future. Now I find myself at a place in my life where I have changed my filters consciously, and now I want more from life and from myself, than I had previously expected. I now see that I have latent potential, I believe in myself that I am capable of more than I have so far been demonstrating. I have changed, I have improved, I have raised my standards and raised my expectations of myself. I like it, I prefer the new me, I look back at the old me, and wish new me had come along ten years sooner!

Now I look at life, and I think it is wholly reasonable that I want to be a multi-millionaire. I want to get my body into awesome good shape. I want to be supremely fit and healthy. I want to build multiple successful businesses. I want to build my dream home. I want to send my kids to the best universities. I want to go on amazing expensive holidays. I want to drive a £140,000 Mercedes. I want to own wealth-creating investments in property, business and stocks. I want to be able to build a legacy to pass on to my kids. I want to build a charitable trust to do some good beyond my family and my home land. I want to travel and see the world, experiencing other peoples and cultures. I want to build companies that do more than just make a profit, I want to build companies that change lives and help people. I now have higher standards for my body, higher expectations for my career, higher hopes for my children, higher desires for my finances. I have raised my standards in every way, in all areas of my life, and now I want, expect and demand more from myself. Not from anyone else, from myself.

It is not wrong for me to want more, I am now of a different mind-set, I now see no reason why I should settle for anything less than awesome good health, a great looking body, owning multiple successful businesses and becoming a self-made multi-millionaire. I am among that rare small group of people who changed his filters, where the majority of people stick with the same set of filters throughout their whole lives. Because my filters have now changed, I now see myself in a new light. Suddenly, I look in the mirror and see an under-performer, a man not living up to his potential, a man short of his capabilities, and it agitates and aggravates me, and drives me to work harder, push myself harder, do more, be more, have more, achieve more. The things I was once comfortable with, are now my inadequacies. This is not born out of greed or lust, but out of a change in perspective.

But these well-meaning friends of mine, they see my drive for ‘more’ as greed, maybe as ill-directed desire, they are still in the world of my old set of filters, where such drive for success is considered as excessive, as shallow lusting, as the thinking of a man who believes more money will make him happy, or more possessions and success will make him feel fulfilled. It’s not that, I am not chasing money just so that I can have that nice Mercedes, I am chasing success because now I know I am capable of so much more, now I know that I have previously sold myself short, when the truth is that I can do, be and have so much more.

Now my filters have changed, I owe it to myself to be the best me that I can be. I owe it to my children, to be the best man that I can be for them, and I owe my talents and abilities to the world, for those that I might be able to help in some small way, I owe the best of me to this life, and I will no longer settle for anything less.

As Marianne Williamson said ‘Your playing small does not serve the world’ and that is so true that I have actually had those words tattooed on my body as a permanent reminder that I see a dozen times every day.

So I hope that my well-meaning friends will understand me now. I am not being too hard on myself, I have just raised my standards to look through filters that give me a new view of the world, and from here, I now see that I can do so much more with my life. Now, from this place, it would be remiss of me not to push myself and demand more from myself.

Can you think about your own upbringing, and what beliefs and values you have in your subconscious that have created your filters on the experience of life? No one is right, no one is wrong, we just all have different views, different opinions, different beliefs about what something means. We all see the same things, but interpret them differently. One of the secrets to making the world a better and more tolerant place, is to understand and appreciate this in ourselves and each other.

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