Back to articles

Belief Change Cycle

People often consider the process of changing beliefs to be difficult and effortful. And yet, the fact remains that people naturally and spontaneously change dozens if not hundreds of beliefs during their life. Perhaps the difficulty is that when we consciously attempt to change our beliefs, we do so in a way that does not respect the natural cycle of belief change. We try to change our beliefs by 'repressing' them or fighting with them. According to the theory of self organization, beliefs would change through a natural cycle in which the parts of a person's system which hold the existing belief in place become destabilized. A belief could be considered a type of high level attractor around which the system organizes. When the system is destabilized, the new belief may be brought in without conflict or violence. The system may then be allowed to restabilize around a new point of balance or homeostasis.

Organic systems often change through processes that take the form of cycles. While the content of these cycles shift and vary, the deep structure of the cycle stays constant. From the view of systems theory, therapeutic methods involve a structure in which an existing pattern in the 'landscape' is reaccessed and then 'destabilized' by bringing in new insights and perspectives. When new 'attractors' are introduced into this destabilized state, in the form of new understandings and resources, the system naturally and spontaneously reorganizes itself through 'associative correction' into a new stable pattern.

This natural cycle of change might be likened to the changing of the seasons. A new belief is like a seed that becomes planted in the Spring. The seed grows into the Summer where it matures, becomes strong and takes root. In the Autumn the belief begins to become outdated and wither, its purpose served. The fruits of the belief, however, - the positive intentions and purposes behind it are retained or 'harvested', and separated from the parts that are no longer necessary. Finally, in the Winter, the parts of the belief which are no longer needed are let go of and fade away, allowing the cycle to begin again.

As we prepare for the different stages in our lives or careers, for instance, we 'want to believe' that we will be able to manage them successfully and resourcefully. As we enter that stage of life and learn the lessons that we need in order to manage, we become 'open to believe' that we may, in fact, have the capabilities to be successful and resourceful. As our capabilities become confirmed, we become confident in our 'belief' that we are successful and resourceful and that what we are doing is right for us for now. As we begin to pass that stage of life or work, we begin to become 'open to doubt' that the success and activities associated with that stage are really what is most important, priorital or 'true' for us anymore. When we are past that stage, we are able to look back and see that what used to be important and true for us is no longer the case. We can recognize that we 'used to believe' that we were a certain way and that certain things were important; and we can retain the beliefs and capabilities that will help us in our current phase, but we realize that our values, priorities and beliefs are now different.

All one needs to do is to look over the cycles of change that one has gone through since childhood, adolescence, and the stages of adulthood to find many examples of this cycle. As we enter and pass through relationships, jobs, friendships, partnerships, etc., we develop beliefs and values which serve us, and let them go again as we transition to a new part of our life's path.