10/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

Keys to Life: How Beliefs Can Limit Your Experience of Life

Do you hold any beliefs that aren't true?

What a dumb question! "Of course not! If I believe it, it must be true. After all, who do you think I am?" Does your inner voice go anything like that? I know mine does, although I rarely notice when that inner voice is off on its righteous assertions.

Let me take you into a bit of how I grew up to illustrate one aspect of the power of beliefs, how they sometimes get created, and how an early belief can have influence for years to come.

My parents were born and raised in depression-era Iowa, my Mom in a small town of 400 and my Dad on a family farm. Needless to say, they didn't have much.

Growing up, we didn't have much in the way of life's luxuries either, but I was happy. I remember my Mom always wanted "carpets and drapes." I was happy with the linoleum floors and Venetian blinds, but what did I know? "Carpets and drapes" was a constant theme that I heard growing up, but I never paid too much attention to it. Or so I thought!

I remember my Mom taking me to the local JC Penny store to get my school clothes. Mom kept saying things about how tough it had been for her as a little girl from a family without much money and how embarrassed she was going to school in hand-me-downs while all the "rich" kids had new clothes. Her children were not about to suffer that indignity.

And that's when it began - the installation of a belief about life. The way I remember it, she would say the following, almost like a mantra or rosary: "We may not have much, but we'll always have clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, and food on the table."

This was a theme that repeated through many circumstances, ranging from school clothes to all kinds of life's basics. I'll spare you the details, but the family went bankrupt. Three times! Bankruptcy was just another event to me, but traumatic to my Mom and Dad.

Well, if "carpets and drapes" were an issue before, they became a really big one after the first bankruptcy. The way the issue showed up was as a reminder of how much my Mom sacrificed for the three kids (my self and two sisters). Make no mistake, she sacrificed a lot and I have no way of really understanding just how much she did sacrifice.

And so it was as I grew up. For 18 years, clothes on the back, shoes on the feet and food on the table were seemingly constant refrains. Life was good, and the simple things were more than fine. I certainly didn't lack for anything that I noticed. I'm sure others were more well off, and I can remember visiting some of their homes, but I just never put it together as us being less well off. Their homes looked like their homes, and ours looked like ours and that was about all there was to it.

Fast forward to my early 30's. I was working for a not-for-profit organization, teaching seminars on improving the quality of life. One evening, as I was standing up there, trying to get a point across about beliefs, I suddenly became aware of the "clothes on the back, shoes on the feet, and food on the table" thing.

At the time, I was earning what I thought was a very modest salary (about $25,000 per year). I shared a two bedroom apartment with a roommate, and my bank account was just big enough to be in a real bank, instead of a piggy bank.

And all of a sudden, there on the stage, I became aware of some absolutely incredible insights into myself and how I lived my life. While I did not have much in the way of material world possessions, I did have "clothes on the back, shoes on the feet, and food on the table." Did I ever!

I had an incredible wardrobe - fine suits, custom made shirts, Italian shoes. I often ate in the best restaurants, enjoying fine dining and great wine.

And, while I "didn't have much, I did have clothes on the back, shoes on the feet, and food on the table."

Oh my! It suddenly began to dawn on me that beliefs about life that had begun developing as a child, were now running my day to day choices. Unconscious as they might have been, there they were in plain view for me to see now.

It seemed like every time I earned a bit more money, and began to build my bank account, I found another suit, pair of shoes, fine bottle of wine, etc that I just had to have. So, I went home that night, got out a pencil and pad, and began to list all the "stuff" that I had accumulated in my modest little apartment.

Turns out I had a small fortune in clothes and shoes alone. My bank account hadn't ever hit the $10,000 mark.

So, while I didn't have much, I did have clothes, shoes and food.

Hmmmm. A belief I held about what it means to be "one of us" (a Bishop), had lead to a whole set of choices about life and how to live it that had resulted in a huge imbalance on where money went. And I hadn't even noticed!

Next week, I'd like to explore even more about beliefs and what happens when we hold conflicting beliefs. We'll start with money.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)