Try a little experiment: in your mind or out loud, complete this sentence a few times: “I have faith in _________.” Then complete another sentence a few times: “I have no faith in ________.” What do faith – and no faith – feel like?
In your experience of faith, there’s probably a sense of trusting in something – which makes sense since the word comes from the Latin root, “to trust.” (“Faith” can also mean a religion, but my meaning here is more general.) Faith feels good. To have confidence is to have faith; “con+fide” means “with+faith.”
Faith comes from direct experience, reason, trusted sources, and sometimes from something that just feels deeply right and that’s all you can say about it. You could have faith in both biological evolution and heaven. Sometimes faith seems obvious, like expecting water to yield each time you prepare to dive in; other times, faith is more of a conscious choice – an act of faith – such as choosing to believe that your child will be all right as he or she leaves home for college.
What do you have faith in – out there in the world or inside yourself?
For example, I have faith in the sun coming up tomorrow, my partner while rock climbing, science and scholarship, the kindness of strangers, the deliciousness of peaches, the love of my wife, God, and the desire of most people to live in peace. And faith in my determination, coffee-making skills, and generally good intentions.
In your brain, faith (broadly defined to include assumptions and expectations) is an efficient way to conserve neural resources by not figuring things out each time from scratch. The visceral sense of conviction in faith integrates prefrontal logic, limbic emotion, and brainstem arousal.
Without faith in the world and in yourself, life feels shaky and scary. Faith grounds you in what’s reliable and supportive; it’s the antidote to doubt and fear. It strengthens you and supports you in weathering hard times. It helps you stay on your chosen paths, with confidence they will lead to good places. Faith fuels the hope and optimism that encourage the actions that lead to the results that confirm your faith, in a lovely positive cycle. Faith lifts your eyes to the far horizons, toward what’s sacred, even Divine.
Sure, some skepticism is good. But going overboard with it leads to an endless loop of mistrusting the world and doubting yourself. You need to have faith that you’ll make good choices about where to have faith! Which means avoiding two pitfalls:
- Putting too much trust in the wrong places, such as in people who won’t come through for you, in a business or job that’s unlikely to turn out well, in dogmas and prejudices, or in a habit of mind that harms you – like a guardedness with others that may have worked okay when you were young but is now like walking around in a suit of armor that’s three sizes too small.
- Putting too little trust in the right places, such as in the willingness of most people to hear what you really have to say, in the results that will come if you keep plugging away, or in the goodness inside your own heart.
So, first make a list of what you do have faith in – both in the world and in yourself. You can do this in your mind, on paper, or by talking with someone.
Next, ask yourself where your faith might be misplaced – in dry wells or in dogs that won’t hunt. Be sure to consider too much faith in certain aspects of your own mind, such as in beliefs that you are weak or tainted, that others don’t care about you, or that somehow you’re going to get different results by doing pretty much the same old things.
Then pick one instance of misguided faith, and consciously step away from it: reflect on how you came to develop it and what it has cost you; imagine the benefits of a life without it; and develop a different resource to replace it. Repeat these steps for other cases of misplaced faith.
Second, make another list, this one of what you could reasonably have faith in – in the world and in yourself. These are missed opportunities for confidence – such as in people who could be trusted more (including children), in the basic safety of most days for most people, and in your own strengths and virtues.
Then pick one and see if you can have more faith in it. Remember the good reasons for relying upon it. Imagine how more trust in it will help you and others. Consciously choose to believe in it.
Third, consider some of the good qualities and aspirations in your innermost heart. Give yourself over to them for a moment – or longer. What’s that like?
Try to have more faith in the best parts of yourself. They’ve always been faithful to you.
This is republished from:
This comes from Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist, New York Times best-selling author, Advisory Board member of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and invited lecturer at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard universities. See Rick’s workshops and lectures.