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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT and Beliefs

Thoughts, beliefs, and implications.

Why are beliefs so crucial in CBT? What’s the big deal? What’s all the fuss about?

To answer these questions, let’s see what several of the best experts in their respective fields had to say about belief:

  1. Oscar Wilde: “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” [1]
  2. Mahatma Gandhi: “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
  3. Don Miguel Ruiz: “We only see what we want to see; we only hear what we want to hear. Our belief system is just like a mirror that only shows us what we believe.” [2]
  4. Muhammad Ali: It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” [3]
  5. William James: “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” [4]

Now, let us look at the definition of belief. In general, belief is defined as: “The acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.[5]” In cognitive parlance, that which has been accepted to exist or to be true even without proof starts as a thought, an idea, or a concept; it starts as an opinion, an impression, or an image; it starts as a view, a consideration, or a deliberation. It matters not what we call it, it all denotes a thought that may have taken several forms.

Once impressed properly, either through an optimal emotional state or adequate immersion, a thought is likely to create an impact on the brain with proper electrochemical signaling for long-term memory and automatism. The process of long-term memory and automatism is responsible for the transfer of a single thought into a belief. This is why in CBT, we define a belief with the following clauses:

  1. A belief is a deeply ingrained thought;
  2. A belief is a chronically practiced thought;
  3. A belief is a thought that has been practiced regularly enough, frequently enough, and intensely enough.

This last definition grabs our attention because it includes one of the most powerful aspects of the process of Substitution. It also includes one of the best methods in behavior modification. And, it is the RFI Method. But before talking about the RFI Method, let us first complete the description of the relationship between a thought and a belief and the implications thereof.

If our beliefs started as a thought, it becomes easy for us to wonder about the foundation for our beliefs. According to different studies, we experience between 12,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day[6,7,8]. Ninety-seven percent of these thoughts are automatic, unconscious, and reflexive; and we may become aware of their effects only through our feelings. In other words, these automatic thoughts are more likely to be there, modus operandum, in an effortless way, and as time passes, they form our belief systems. From this explanation, it is easy to see how subtle the process of belief formation is.

This subtleness has ample ramifications at all levels. On the one hand, it tells us how easy it is for us to form beliefs that are rather limiting, yet in the most effortless way possible. On the other hand, it tells us that we can always replace our limiting beliefs with new and empowering ones, though the process requires some conscious effort, at first. “Effort,” in this case, does not denote "striving" or even necessarily having “willpower,” though the latter may play a role from time to time, especially in the beginning.

It is premature even to start talking about replacing a belief with a different one — a process known as belief substitution, without first establishing why any of us would want to do so. This establishment calls for us to go back to the above five claims made by five experts in their respective fields. Let’s use the first one in this article, and then subsequent ones in later articles:

Oscar Wilde said, “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” The Irish poet and playwright, who later became one of the most popular playwrights in London, was alluding to belief, how one can become totally convinced of his own belief, how it is not easy for one to be persuaded by anything that contradicts his own belief, and how one may be ready to even die for his own belief.

Yet, despite all this, this belief may neither be based on Reality-Based Thinking nor may it be serving he who believes it. Now, given the nature of a belief, as we have described it, how can we determine which belief serves someone and which one does not?

From a Cognitive Behavioral standpoint, the answer is, “follow the results.” This may be the simplest, most powerful, and consistent way to test a belief. It is consistent because it is based on the Reality-Based Thinking principle of Root and Outcome.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to look at our outcomes and see whether they are consistent with what we are consciously choosing. If they are not congruent, we are then to look to our beliefs. “What beliefs do I have that are associated with my current outcome in this specific area of my life?” would be a wise inquiry to explore as often as possible, every day, all day, and for as many of our outcomes as possible and in as many of our areas of life as possible.

To accomplish this, a process is required to ensure both success maximization and smoothness:

  1. Take a look at your 7 Life Category Model.
  2. Choose one category and make a list of as many outcomes as possible in that specific category.
  3. Choose just one outcome in that category, and ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10 how satisfactory is this outcome in this category of my life, compared to my conscious choice?”
  4. Then ask, “What beliefs do I have that are associated with my current outcome in this specific area of my life?”
  5. Then proceed with, “What new beliefs do I need, instead, to have a satisfactory outcome in this category of my life?”

These five steps make up what we call The Root and Outcome Principle Application Steps (ROPAS)

Looking at the above five steps of the ROPAS, we notice the following:

  1. We may be having satisfactory outcomes in one category of life yet not in another. This means it may be easy for us to think that our beliefs are serving us if we fail to look at all our categories of life
  2. One category of our life may seem to be overall satisfactory, while several outcomes in that same category may not be. This means if we are really looking at spotting the beliefs that do not serve us, we ought to look at each category of our life, outcome by outcome.
  3. We are comparing the outcome number with our conscious choice, which means it is also helpful for us to know whether our conscious choice itself may be based on a belief that is not serving us. You can see why this is important. We may be obtaining a satisfactory number in response to Step 3 yet the outcome is suboptimal and it is so because our conscious choice was suboptimal to start with, and this is because it has been based on a belief that is not serving us.

Now, time for you to practice the above steps and then circle back for part 2 of CBT and Beliefs.


[1] Wilde, Oscar. The Portrait of Mr W.H. Alma Classics, 2018.

[2] The Power of Doubt - Article by Don Miguel Ruiz, Don Jose ...

[3] Hauser, Thomas. Muhammad Ali in Perspective. Collins, 1997.

[4] James, William, et al. The Works of William James. and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Harvard University Press, 1979.

[5] “Belief: Definition of Belief by Oxford Dictionary on Also Meaning of Belief.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,

[6] Antanaityte, About Neringa. “Neringa Antanaityte.” TLEX Institute,

[7] Neuroskeptic. “The 70,000 Thoughts Per Day Myth?” Discover Magazine, Discover Magazine, 19 May 2020,

[8] Murdock, Jason. “Humans Have More than 6,000 Thoughts per Day, Psychologists Discover.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 15 July 2020,

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