Belief follows action


For a long time, I was convinced that I had to believe in myself before I could get things done. Action follows belief. If I believed I could be a journalist, I could be, for example.

My life has taught me otherwise. In fact, belief follows action. It doesn’t matter what I believe; it matters what I do.

I feel the need to explain myself, since this idea puts me slightly as odds with the extraordinary Indian independence leader, Mahatma Ghandi (yikes), who said so beautifully:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny

Self-belief is a political issue

Is this semantics? Does this really matter?

In a society that systematically undermines our sense of power as women, I think it does. We may believe we are equally capable of promotion, success, or influence, but until we take action, our beliefs do not matter.

It was when the suffragettes took to the streets that women got the vote. It was when women worked in the factories during the World Wars that they discovered their abilities.

if we wait until we believe in ourselves, both social equality and self-fulfilment will be a long time coming.

How faking it makes us powerful

Increasing, new research is providing us with scientific evidence of the power of action to change our beliefs.

So powerful, in fact, are our actions that our body posture can dramatically influence our ability to succeed in life, according to American social psychologist, Amy Cuddy. In her exceptional TED talk on body language, Cuddy explains that when we assume a “power posture” for just two minutes – such as hands high in a V position and our chin slightly up – we increase our testosterone (the dominance hormone) and reduce our cortisol (the stress hormone). And, we are more likely to take a risk, succeed in a job interview or get a promotion.

Let’s just say that again: two minutes of action can change how you think, feel and act!

Belief is an experiential moment

If we exercise, we will get fit. We believe it this to be true based on mountains of research, on the advice of professionals, and the experiences of our friends.

So why don’t we do the exercise and get fit? Until we do it for ourselves, I think there is part of us that cannot believe that it will work for us. It might work for everyone else in the galaxy, but until we do it, we doubt that it will actually work for us.

It is only when we do the exercise that we start to believe that exercise makes you fit.

The greatest believer of all time

The legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, is often seen as the poster boy of self-belief. His proclamation: “I am the greatest! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived” is the example used to show that Ali is using his self-belief to create his own future.

But the full quote of what Ali said on that occasion paints a different picture. He continued: “I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset [world heavyweight champion] Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest.”

Ali’s self-belief followed his action of beating the world champion. And he didn’t have a mark on his face!

The only belief that matters

In my own life, I made a living as journalist at BRW for several years before I believed I actually was a real journalist. Although I was writing upwards of 80,000 words a year — features, case studies, news, breaking news, profiles, and columns – I was secretly filled with self-doubt. I felt like an imposter. Eventually, I had to concede that the evidence did not fit the facts. I was a “real” journalist because I behaved like a journalist every single day.

Self-belief is important. Negative self-beliefs, for example, can really undermine our efforts to take action. But I know believe that taking action is the way to overcome our negative self-beliefs, and foster our positive self-beliefs.

It’s only when we try to do something that our self-doubt surfaces in all its horrible glory.

That’s why, in the end, there’s one belief that rules them all: belief follows action. So I guess I am not at odds with Ghandi afer all (phew).

About Kath Walters

Trainer. Mentor. Speaker. Kath Walters is a former Fairfax business journalist turned expert in media relations and content marketing. Kath trains and mentors businesses that want to use media and content to build their profile and profits -- and change the world for the better -- sharing everything she has learned over 16 years of writing and editing for top quality print and digital media mastheads. Kath has written an estimated 1.3 million compelling, informative and carefully researched words. The mastheads that have published them include: LeadingCompany, BRW, Australian Financial Review, SmartCompany, Business Spectator, Crikey, Women’s Agenda, Property Observer.


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