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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 3 million readers. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Updated Beliefs

Colin Wright, photo by SPYR Media

When was the last time you updated your beliefs?

It sounds like a strange question: after all, you believe what you believe because what you believe is true!

But is it?

It’s a question many people never ask themselves because, frankly, it’s far easier and more comfortable not to. The idea that we could be acting on faulty information, and maybe have done so for years, is a difficult pill to swallow. Even more difficult is the mind-bending process required to test what we think we know in order to gradually establish new, improved beliefs.

The first step is to acknowledge that you may believe things that are untrue. It’s not an exaggeration to say that most people never make it past this step. Take a look around and note how many of your friends and family and coworkers still cleave to ideas about the world, about life, about themselves, which they learned or developed as children. From there, recognize that you may have ideas that are similarly incorrect or incomplete, and that there’s no easy way to tell whether your ‘big picture’ is missing something significant. The same applies to everyone.

The next step is to separate yourself from your ideas. Part of why we cling to outdated notions is that they’re ours, and that they belong to us; are one with us. We can’t picture a world in which these potentially incorrect things are incorrect. It would be like growing up believing your cool uncle is a wonderful guy only to find out later in life that he’s a serial killer. Even with an abundance of evidence, this would be a troublesome mental leap to make because he’s your cool uncle; that’s your jumping-off point for all other data you assess on the subject.

To extract yourself from a given belief, recognize that it’s just one among many possibilities. Then take a deep breath and prepare yourself to rebound if your belief turns out to be incorrect or is brought into serious question. Because on that day, at the moment when you find out that some treasured way of seeing the world is not supported by fact — or is no longer supported by fact, as is often the case — it’ll suck. And you’ll feel like an ass. And you’ll hate all the people who stumbled across this information before you did, because they might think they’re smarter than you, and they’re not.

Then exhale. It’s all good. You can be smart and not know everything, and you can know a lot and still operate under the influence of flawed facts.

In order to determine what’s factual and what’s wishful thinking, it’s best to derive information from multiple sources, and avoid heavily biased ones when possible (though it’s arguably impossible to remove all bias from the process). In general, everyone has reasons to want you to believe one thing over another, and you’ll need to identify sources of information that are supported by solid science, math, and mountains of historical evidence, rather than stern beliefs, gut feelings, emotional enthusiasm, or the like. Because while the latter is based on a biased point of view, the former is testable and changes as new data becomes available. That’s the information you’ll want to use when calibrating your beliefs.

You can, of course, believe whatever you want after going through this process. Just understand that there’s a difference between beliefs built atop a foundation of factual evidence, and those perched astride junk information that’s popular because it’s shouted louder than other ideas or has the support of the majority.

There’s never a bad time to reconsider what you know to be true. No belief should be safe from your investigation, and all should be regularly revisited. Consider conducting a regular internal review, to check and see if you’ve learned anything recently that might be in opposition to a belief you’ve held so long that it’s become personal dogma.

Ideas about money, conspiracy theories, philosophies, spiritual beliefs, how society should operate, your own talents and skills and self-worth, are all worth revisiting from time-to-time. Only by establishing a habit of checking your own ideas can you be certain that at any given moment you’re making decisions based on the most up-to-date set of personal beliefs available.

“Updated Beliefs” is an excerpt from Colin Wright’s new book, Considerations, published today by Asymmetrical Press (click the link to see the book’s outstanding cover). Colin is a minimalist, author, entrepreneur, and full-time traveler who travels to a new country every four months based on the votes of the readers at his blog, Exile Lifestyle.