Are your beliefs your identity?

As someone who encourages others to develop a personal philosophy, I think our beliefs are fundamental to the kind of life we lead. Our beliefs help us make sense of the world, and with these beliefs, we create our version of reality. Through exploration, discussion and even debate, my personal philosophy continues to evolve. Unfortunately, for some people, beliefs are more than a way of making sense of the world. Many people will create an identity around their beliefs, as in politics and religion. However, identity defined by our beliefs has gone far beyond these two areas of contention.  

In her book, The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef discusses motivated reasoning and other topics relating to cognitive bias. She goes on to explore how these biased beliefs develop into our identities. We define our identity around beliefs such as dietary choices, exercise, sexuality, and the environment. When we feel our beliefs need to be defended or the ideas of other need to be attacked, we may be so strongly identified with what we believe that we cannot see the value in opposing opinions. Many with strong convictions do not stop at their own identity but feel the need to label those they disagree with. This contributes to a kind of tribalism that leads to a more polarised and disconnected society. 

Recently I was giving a workshop on unconscious bias where I emphasised the importance of avoiding labels and not creating “in” and “out” groups. During one of the breakout sessions that followed, someone made a negative comment about cisgender white males. It is normal to discern and categorise, but when our beliefs and our identification with them cause us to make a group of people the problem and exclude them from the conversation, we reduce cooperation and put solutions farther out of reach. If we are so strongly identified with our way of thinking that we distance ourselves from discussions, debates and opposing points of view, we will stagnate the evolution of our beliefs. Without review and revision, we cannot grow as individuals.  

My own philosophy draws on many insights from both Buddhist philosophy and Stoicism. I find the Buddhist approach to understanding consciousness very helpful and the Stoic approach to dealing with everyday reality very practical; however, both point to a more productive way of dealing with the challenges we face in life. The prescription from both of these belief systems on dealing with the injustice, misunderstanding, and struggle that we face in the world is to find calm, let go of judgment, and accept people and situations for what they are. They encourage us to gain control of our thoughts, feelings and inner processes independent of external circumstances. 

In order to make sure that your philosophy serves your best interests, it is important to expose yourself to a diversity of ideas. Doing so will allow you to explore and reflect on the utility of your beliefs. If you become too identified with your beliefs, you will likely resist this process of review and revision. You may feel threatened by opposing views leading to confrontation rather than cooperation. To avoid feeling like a difference of opinion threatens your identity, recognise that you are not your beliefs. Learn to let go of the need to be right and remember that your beliefs on only one way of seeing the world. With this approach, you will find more happiness and success in your interaction with everyone you meet in life. 


If you find my content interesting perhaps you would like to listen to a podcast that I host with my colleague Tobi Demker. where I talk about a wide variety of personal and professional development topics. You can find this under my name Peter Teuscher at Spotify, Apple and any other source of podcasts.  Or you can watch on YouTube where you can also find my channel under the same name.