Systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister James Pereira QC consider how successful change requires us to challenge our beliefs and build on the future rather than the past.

This week we are going to talk about our capacity to change and how this can be limited or increased by the beliefs that shape our world.


The need to challenge our beliefs

All of us hold myriad beliefs. They affect the judgements we make about ourselves and others. They shape our world and influence our perspectives.

Beliefs serve a very important purpose: they keep us feeling safe and secure in a world that is familiar and comfortable to us. For this reason, questioning beliefs can make people feel uncomfortable. Very few people like to have their beliefs challenged, and fewer still are open to changing them.

But questioning and changing our beliefs may be necessary if we are to bring about change. Just as some beliefs can be positive and supportive, others can be negative and disruptive, because they can create and reinforce unhelpful patterns of behaviour. So to change the behaviour we need to change the belief.

Beliefs create our reality

Our beliefs create our personal reality.

Zita Tulyahikayo
Zita Tulyahikayo

To take an everyday example, imagine that you believe that a successful lawyer should be available for clients out of hours.

If this is your belief, then when a client tries to contact you out of hours you are likely to respond positively. Having acted in a way that reflects your belief, you have created a reality for your life that reflects your perception of the way things should be. Your clients will continue to contact you out of hours. As they continue to do so, this continued cycle will reassure you that your belief is “true”.

And so it goes on. The alternative of limiting your availability after hours soon becomes difficult to achieve, since it would require you to challenge and then change what has come to appear true.

It may well be that your clients would have respected your ability to set clearly defined professional boundaries by structuring your day within regular business hours. But you will never find out, for as long as you maintain your belief to the contrary.

What we resist, persists

Resistance is another powerful way in which we can deny change in our lives. For example, it is often considered that seeking help through therapy, coaching or mindful activity is a sign of weakness.

This is not a fact, it is a belief, often supported by feelings of guilt, embarrassment or shame. People with this kind of belief will resist seeking help, and their unhealthy patterns of behaviour will remain.

The Science of Change

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganise itself to make new neural pathways throughout its life. The discovery of neuroplasticity showed how the brain was not static and immutable, but dynamic and flexible.

Put simply, what this discovery means is that we literally shape our reality through our beliefs, and when we change our beliefs our reality can change. The best and the brightest in the world are actively engaging neuroplasticity to their advantage. More and more organisations and systems are rethinking their working environment, and how those who make it up are affected by it.

People who say “I am too old to change” or “I am too set in my ways” are stating a belief, not a fact. To be more accurate, they should say “I choose not to change” or “I choose to be set in my ways.”

Build on the future, not the past

James Pereira QC
James Pereira QC

Traditionally, people and organisations have looked to the past to gather information and important insights. While this can be helpful, there is a risk of becoming limited by the past which has its own set of loyalties and beliefs which were created in a different time, and under different circumstances to those relevant today. Often we need to resolve the past and let go of the outmoded beliefs and the behaviours that go with it.

Greater and more valuable opportunities can be found in requiring organisations and individuals to connect with and learn from emerging future possibilities. This involves understanding that the future is moving towards us and we are connected to it. With this understanding, we can move more freely and successfully to a pattern of change that is directed towards the future that we wish to create for ourselves.

Challenge your beliefs

So to change, we must challenge the beliefs that support our current way of being. We must open ourselves up to the notion that we can change our beliefs, however deeply ingrained they may seem to be. We must replace old patterns of behaviour with new ones, based on creating our own future rather than mimicking the past.

We live in a world that is changing around us at a tremendous pace. Successful people will be those who can see the future possibilities that are emerging from these changes, and can adapt themselves to them.

The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles. You can reach them at and on Twitter @LifeTherapyZita and at and on Twitter @JamesPereiraQC.