Leverage Research
Exploring the mind and society

Introspecting on Your Beliefs


Beliefs vs. endorsements

Now let's talk about introspection on beliefs. It's important to be able to introspect on your perceptions and internal monologue and mental imagery. But it may be even more important to be able to introspect on your beliefs.

What are beliefs? Whatever else one might believe about human psychology, the thing we actually use in practice is a belief/desire model. We think that people (a) have beliefs about how the world is, (b) have desires or goals, and then (c) act on the basis of those beliefs to accomplish those desires/goals. In this sense, our beliefs are the components of our mental models which drive action and which underlie our emotional responses.

The tricky part is that people sometimes do and sometimes don't express their beliefs when they talk or say things in their mind. This (and other observations) has led philosophers, psychologists, and others to make a distinction between (a) aliefs vs. beliefs, (b) system 1 vs. system 2, (c) emotional-level beliefs vs. intellectual beliefs, (d) what your gut or heart tells you vs. what your head tells you.

The thing we're after is the thing that drives actions and that underlies emotional responses, the system 1, the aliefs, the emotional-level beliefs, the gut, the heart, etc. We use the terms "belief" and "actual belief" for this, and the term "endorsement" or "endorsed belief" for the system 2, the intellectual beliefs, etc.

Belief introspection techniques

We searched everywhere for existing techniques that would let us access our beliefs. We looked at the psychological literature, psychotherapy, and many forms of meditation. Ultimately, the best thing we found was a technique developed by philosopher-psychologist Eugene Gendlin.

Focusing (Gendlin)

From his research, Gendlin concluded that some people have the ability to directly attend to "implicit meaning" and put new words to it. Gendlin called this technique Focusing. He found that positive psychotherapeutic outcomes are strongly correlated with the client's skill in Focusing, and that people who do not have the Focusing ability can learn it. 

We've tested Focusing extensively and think that it's great. As far as teachability and quality, we consider Gendlin to be the cutting edge. If you want to learn introspection, learn Focusing. Start with Gendlin's book Focusing, and get the audiobook so you can hear the examples. For more, try The Power of Focusing, and we recommend the audiobook here as well. For still more, read The Radical Acceptance of Everything.

Belief Reporting

We also began developing our own introspective techniques. Jasen led the charge here, and after a year of focused work, eventually isolated the pattern behind what we now call Belief Reporting. Anja, Miya, Geoff, and others contributed to the development and refinement of the technique. Belief Reporting, like Focusing, is a technique for introspecting on beliefs. It is more specific and targeted than Focusing, allowing you to test whether you believe a proposition for any given proposition. Of course, Focusing has advantages as well. The best move overall is to master all of the techniques, not just one.

Here is the latest version of our written instructions for Belief Reporting.

We know that these instructions are hard to follow. The best way to learn Belief Reporting, or any introspective technique for that matter, is to be trained by someone who knows the technique and knows how to teach it. A teacher can correct misinterpretations, give real time feedback, and so on.

Because of this, we will be offering free introspection workshops so we can teach interested people in our communities. If you'd like know more, email us! We will also be offering training in Focusing and other introspection techniques.

The next step

Focusing and Belief Reporting are great techniques in part because of their teachability. But there are many other more subtle, more difficult techniques. The next post, which is the last in this series, gestures in this direction.

Leverage Staff

Compilation piece, written or inspired by several researchers. Opinions expressed represent common views inside Leverage, not necessarily unanimity.

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