Beliefs Determine Behavior, Right? Wrong.

At that point I realized that beliefs weren't the only cause of our feelings and that stimuli could be conditioned to cause emotions, such as being told what to do causing anger and not living up to expectations causing anxiety.
03/08/2012 02:50 pm ET Updated May 08, 2012

For many years I thought that virtually all of our behavior and feelings were caused by beliefs. When thousands of clients found and eliminated the relevant beliefs, they saw spectacular behavioral and emotional changes.

After about 12 years, however, I had a client who eliminated scores of beliefs and made many significant changes in his life, but who couldn't get rid of the anger he felt toward his mother -- who was a partner in his construction business -- when she gave him advice on how to run his company.

At that point I realized that beliefs weren't the only cause of our feelings and that stimuli could be conditioned to cause emotions, such as being told what to do causing anger and not living up to expectations causing anxiety.

As time went on I realized that sometimes a sense of ourselves or a sense of life could result in feelings, as could conditioned expectations. In other words, there were several sources of emotions in addition to beliefs, although beliefs still seemed to be the major source.

Occurrings are the major direct cause of feelings

There I was for many years, until about two years ago when I came upon the distinction between reality and how reality occurs for us -- in other words, the meaning we give reality. I soon realized that the feelings that seemed to be caused by beliefs were caused indirectly by beliefs, but directly by our occurrings. Here's an example:

Assume a woman has the belief, men are dangerous. When she sees a man and feels fear, it seems as if the belief is causing the fear. In fact, it isn't. The belief is responsible for the woman giving the man's presence the meaning, at that moment, that she is in danger. That immediate meaning, that "occurring," is actually causing the feeling of fear.

It is true that the meaning she gives that particular man is determined primarily by the beliefs she already had about men in general, but the feeling is still caused by the occurring. Therefore, by dissolving the occurring you could get rid of the fear at that moment without getting rid of the belief. This was a major insight for me.

Although the occurring can be dissolved immediately along with the emotion it caused, if the belief was not eliminated this woman would continue to give "negative" meanings to encounters with men in the future, which could cause fear.

Beliefs don't directly cause behavior either

So for the past couple of years I was clear that emotions were directly caused by occurrings and conditionings, not beliefs. But up until last week I still thought that our behavior is caused directly by beliefs. I had seen many clients totally stop their procrastination by eliminating 16 or so beliefs. I had seen many clients start taking actions they had been afraid to take -- such as doing things for the first time, approaching women, changing careers -- after eliminating the relevant beliefs.

What I just realized (and I need to check out further) is that there are usually thoughts just before we act, especially when we refrain from acting. It appears that those thoughts are occurrings or at least clues to our occurrings. If this is true, then, like feelings, beliefs are only the indirect cause of our behavior and our occurrings are the direct cause. If we dissolve those occurrings I suspect that we could take action without eliminating the beliefs.

Let's look at a specific behavior and see how this works. Procrastination consists of not doing things that either should be done or that we actually want to do. We have identified about 16 beliefs and conditionings that have seemed to cause this behavioral problem. How might your occurrings cause you to procrastinate?

Imagine you have the "procrastination beliefs," such as I'm not capable, I'm not competent, mistakes and failure are bad, if I make a mistake I'll be rejected, and what makes me good enough and important is doing things perfectly. Now imagine you were about to take on some new project. Given these beliefs, it probably would occur to you as: I can't do this project. I will fail. Anything less than perfection means there's something wrong with me.

This occurring is what would determine your behavior at that moment; the beliefs are relevant only in that they are the major source of the occurring.

It is important to remember that getting rid of the beliefs is still crucial because they are the primary cause of our occurrings. If we don't get rid of the beliefs, we will keep having similar occurrings in similar situations over and over. On the other hand, if we eliminated the relevant beliefs, we probably would stop having those occurrings.

To summarize: What seems to determine our behavior and feelings moment by moment are our occurrings, which, in turn, are caused primarily by our beliefs.

Getting rid of beliefs and dissolving occurrings are not substitutes for each other

It would be nice if we could resolve all our problems either by eliminating all our limiting beliefs or by learning how to dissolve our occurrings. Unfortunately, although doing either would make a significant improvement in the quality of our life, we should learn how to do both.

Learning how to dissolve our occurrings enables us to handle any negative feelings as they happen, instead of having to wait until we discover and eliminate the beliefs that caused the occurring. Also, sometimes the source of any given occurring is a belief that doesn't have much impact in other areas of our life, so it would only show up infrequently. As a result we might have to continually identify and eliminate new beliefs as we notice them causing new occurrings.

Here is an example of a belief that caused me to have a negative occurring, but that probably wouldn't show up often or affect my life in any significant way. I noticed that my wife Shelly usually left water glasses or teacups in the bathroom, her office, the bedroom, and any other room she happened to wander into during the course of a day. I gave it the meaning that she was making a mess in the house and I got annoyed. I dissolved the meaning and the upset went away, but I also discovered the belief that produced that occurring: Shelly is unconscious about making a mess.

On the other hand, eliminating a lot of beliefs would prevent a lot of occurrings from ever happening, but because some occurrings are caused by beliefs that don't show up very often and because some occurrings are not even caused by beliefs, this strategy would not enable you to prevent all occurrings in the future. Based on my experience over the past couple of years, other factors determining occurrings include moods, conditionings (stimuli, sense, and expectations), and physical sensations.

So beliefs are still a very important factor in improving your experience of life -- making you happier, getting rid of anxieties and other negative feelings, and enabling you to take action you had been unable to take before. But they are not the determining cause. Our occurrings are.

Please leave your comments and questions here about today's post. I read all posts and answer as many as I can.

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a system for permanently eliminating limiting beliefs. For more information go to

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