It’s a Multibillion Dollar Business. Here’s What You Need to Know About Belief.


This post is part of a new series on conversations worthy of attention. 

Stories of online scams often give us pause, didn't they know that it sounded too good to be true? But it's not that easy to tell sometimes. Take for example the home improvement letter:

We were doing some work down the street, and I noticed it looks like you could use a new roof. We have some supplies left over from the other job, and we'll have to return them to the supplier either way, so I can use the leftovers to give you a new roof for a really low price. 

You get something like this in the mail and might think, why not? How Stuff Works says# proceed with care. The very fact that we might want and need something done without an appreciation of how it should be done, including fair market price, makes us vulnerable. 

Why we believe

Tarot card reading, astrology, cons and psychics use what psychologists call “Barnum statements,” things that are generally applicable to most human beings. That's how they get us to pay attention.

John Oliver had a special segement on HBO's Last Week Tonight about psychics#. He says while they're are not “real” we shouldn't ignore their influence. Four in 10 Americans believe in psychics, According to the Pew Research Center. “Statistically, that means that out of all the people who saw John Travolta’s Gotti movie, four of them are psychics,” said Oliver.

Belief is a rudimentary need of the human mind. Neuroscientists Abhijit Naskar says#:

“Belief is the brain's natural self-maintenance mechanism. It enables a person function properly in daily life, without worrying about the true nature of reality, as the brain is incapable of comprehending the actual Reality. Belief is exclusively a matter of personal domain. It has nothing to do with reality.”

Our beliefs help us get through life's daily struggles. The purpose of belief is self-preservation. What would happen if we carried opinions only in things for which we had strong facts?

The business of belief

We use hunches to pursue an idea, but we need proof to follow through. This is the part where we do our due diligence. Yet, when we want something badly or need a solution to a problem that seems unsolvable or face incredible odds, we're ready to believe anything.

Morgan Hausel says “high stakes and limited options” are the triggers#, and they're common in business. We read click bait articles because even if there is a tiny chance that something might work for us, we don't want to miss out. But our mental math is poor.

The higher the likelihood of a payout, the more we want something to be true. Which means the first place we want to examine are incentives. 

Belief is a multibillion dollar business. It leverages our desire to make what we read, hear, and see applicable to our problem. Nature has given us the ability to imagine, and we use our imagination to dream, to envision a better reality. 

How belief shapes our lives

We need a belief system to function. “Beliefs are crucial cognitive mechanism of the brain,” says Abhijit Naskar. Beliefs do have power, they just work a little differently than we read in sensational headlines and stories. 

What we believe influences what we do. If you're confident, you're more likely to seek opportunities, and to find them. After we pursue something and make progress, success creates success.

If you believe in your ability to create healthy eating habits, you're more likely to explore foods that are better for you and exercise. Beliefs about character shape our decisions and our development#

Our beliefs also influence other people's behaviors, not just their thinking. They create an expectation that our brain is finely tuned to fulfil. When we choose to believe someone is great, we're likely influencing them to rise up to the occasion. The opposite is also true—someone who doesn't believe in us drags us down.

Belief is tightly connected to health. Research has found that positive beliefs about aging leads to people living 7.6 years longer#. If it helps with self-perception, it also helps with perception by others. 

Chip Conley believes there's no perfect age to be a most effective leader. The Founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality at 26 worked with Airbnb founders as mentor in his 50s. He helped them trasnform the company into the largest hospitality brand today. 

He says it's time for business to start to value wisdom as much it does disruption. Elders have tremendous process knowledge, like the ability to get things done by understanding other people's motivations. Emotional intelligence is part of it, but also a large repertoir of experience.

We believe older generations have purchasing power, backed by data. But fail to believe they have wisdom, and we could use some. It was 43-year old Steve Jobs who rescued Apple and created the iMac. Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger dispense plenty of wisdom, and keep creating success.

Conley defines wisdom as “the ability to arrive at good judgement with just the right alchemy of confidence and doubt. […] 'Good judgement', at its core, is about pattern recognition.”

What we believe about belief creates our reality. We then get to live in it.

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