Belief Dictates Experience, Not Vice-Versa

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Neale Donald Walsch wrote, “You are what you experience. You experience what you express. You express what you believe.” This factual assertion is why belief is so important. Whatever you believe dictates how you perceive the world and how you express yourself in it. Your beliefs shape and color all of your experiences.

Your beliefs are what cause you to be happy or sad about your experiences. People make the mistake of thinking there are universal beliefs shared by everyone. The reality is we each have our beliefs, our models of reality to which we subscribe. Some models are better than others. Some models reflect reality more than others. If you are unhappy, changing your beliefs is the cure, not drugs. In psychology, we call this changing your perception of reality. Beliefs are self-reinforcing. People make the mistake of thinking experiences create their beliefs, but this is rarely true. Our beliefs shape our interpretations of our experiences. Seldom will experience inform belief. If an experience runs contrary to a belief, the experience is typically discounted (the exception that proves the rule) or dismissed (love is blind). If you want to be happy, you must change your beliefs, not your experiences. People are not fulfilled because of what happens to them during the day. The beliefs people hold will inform their interpretations of daily lives.

If you want to be successful, you must also change your beliefs. For instance, whether you believe it or not, cooperative groups are more successful as a whole than competitive groups. Armies are victorious when the soldiers work together in a coordinated manner towards a common goal versus trying to prove which soldier is the toughest, strongest, sharp-shooterist. Sales teams sell more when working cooperatively than when they compete for prizes. Manufacturing departments produce more units with fewer defects at a lower cost when working together versus competing with each other or management. Employee-owned companies, those owned by the workers who are compensated both by wages and stock ownership, outperform capitalist companies where workers are competing with owners for the profits. Millennia of history have proven that humans are most successful when working cooperatively and least successful when competing.

Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War in 500 B.C., stating, “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” Despite what the military-industrial complex would hope you believe, this remains true today. When Eddie Lampert purchased Sears in bankruptcy, he re-organized the company and implemented a competitive system between departments. Departments started sabotaging one another to improve their scores. Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix after being charged $40 in late fees by Blockbuster video when he returned Apollo 13 (competition with customers). In 2000, Netflix offered to sell to Blockbuster for $50 million, but Blockbuster declined in the misplaced belief Blockbuster could beat Netflix in the marketplace. You may recall Netflix was mostly shipping DVD’s to customers at that time.

Similarly, on three occasions between 1922 and 1933, Coca-Cola had the chance to purchase Pepsi. Again, Coke declined under the belief that they could beat Pepsi in the market. Red Bull once owned the energy drink market but refused to sell/merge with Coke or Pepsi. Red Bull’s market share continues to decline, mostly to Monster (Coke) but also Rockstar (Pepsi). Yahoo declined Microsoft’s $44 billion purchase offer in 2008, later selling for $350 million in 2017. Is it any wonder that John D. Rockefeller is famously quoted as saying “competition is a sin”?

Of course, you may ask how this would not lead to monopolies, and you would be correct. Companies merging does ultimately lead to monopolies, which is a good thing. Economies of scale are maximized under monopolies, and both consumers and companies win. The problem with monopolies comes when competition again rears its ugly head, and the monopolies start to compete with their customers. Competing against your customers creates horror stories, such as those from Comcast customers or pharmaceutical companies raising the prices on insulin and epi-pens. AT&T has successfully merged with several companies, each time arguing consumer prices will fall. The fact is that AT&T raised prices each time. Food companies lobby the government to change definitions of “food,” so manufacturers can improve margins by replacing ingredients with cheaper substitutes. This fact is why some store-bought bread often has over 20 ingredients though all you need for bread is flour, water, salt, and yeast.

People railing against monopolies forget that they often enjoy exceptional service from many monopolies. Most Americans only have one choice of water or sewer provider. Before AT&T was broken up into the “baby bells,” people often received a free telephone with their home service. Most gas companies provide exceptional service despite being monopolies. Electric companies were also renowned for their service before the electrical grid was connected nationally, forcing regional companies to compete. Everywhere you turn, competition reduces quality, increases costs, and destroys value for consumers. Even in America, individual responsibility used to mean that citizens had a sacred duty to take care of the community, ensuring everyone was fed, clothed, and sheltered. In America, unlike most of the world, we were our brother’s keepers. Cooperation is what made America great. Now, individual responsibility means that no one helps anyone else. If someone finds themselves poor, sick, or homeless, only the individual is to blame. Cries for help are met with taunts to pull yourself up with your own bootstraps. As the last remaining superpower in the world, the irony is that the country which will defeat America… is America.

Business owners hate unions. The owners believe that workers are competing for the companies’ profits. Gone are the days where a business owner with a solid product or service enlisted employee-partners in a win-win cooperative arrangement (win-win-win if customers are included in the equation). Today, employees are not assets in a business. Instead, they have become expenses like property, plant, and equipment. They are “human resources” and a line item in the liability section of the ledger.

Anyone wondering why Europe is fighting so hard to save its citizens during the current pandemic need only consider that most European countries have invested enormous sums of money in their citizens’ educations and healthcare. European citizens were expensive to create and recouping that investment requires that those citizens live. European citizens are assets to their employers and their countries. In the USA, citizens have already paid for their education and must pay for healthcare directly or to insurance companies. Keeping citizens unhealthy and uneducated is a profit-center in the USA. It makes no difference whether Americans die because Americans are only assets when consuming healthcare, education, or daily living expenses. Otherwise, people are liabilities for American companies (and one particular political party famous for voter suppression and gerrymandering).

There are countless examples of cooperation succeeding where competition fails, yet relatively few examples of competition outperforming cooperation in the long run. All of this stems from the beliefs we hold. As a business consultant, I can attest that most of the problems I find in businesses are the result of competition within the organization or competition with customers (charging the highest possible price for the cheapest possible product/service; e.g., McDonald’s, Walmart). McDonald’s has been closing stores in the USA since 2014 despite a growing population. Walmart has experienced decreasing quarterly growth since 2006. Even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has proclaimed that one day Amazon will go bankrupt. The reason is that Amazon competes with its own people and customers, along with everyone else. All of this competition stems from the beliefs embraced by those at the helm. Business owners attract and hire people with similar views toward competition, which is why a fish rots from the head. The sickness of the owners’ beliefs propagates throughout the company.

In the end, there are those of you who will disagree with the assertions made herein, and you have countless examples of why I am wrong. I encourage you to respond below. However, if you changed your beliefs, you would see that these same examples may also prove me correct if operating from a different belief system. Ultimately, regardless of our individual beliefs, the truth just doesn’t care what you believe. The truth is that John D. Rockefeller was correct; competition is a sin. Companies like Lincoln Electric and Trader Joes, who work cooperatively with employees and customers, are more successful. Employee-owned companies consistently outperform publicly-held companies in terms of longevity and customer satisfaction while also compensating fairly.

This fact demonstrates the real difference between people and companies, and is something of which I am reminded when I hear someone say, “Corporations are people too.” Most people want a long life, a fair wage for an honest day’s labor, and close friends or family. Conversely, most companies claim only to want to be as profitable as possible. Like people, companies focused exclusively on money will not usually live long, and definitely won’t live well. Like people, the companies that live the longest and best treat everyone fairly and are loved. When I hear “corporations are people” I don’t disagree. I just wish they would start acting more like it by seeking a better quality of life.

In the end, if you want to change your experiences, start with changing your beliefs. There is an objective truth to most things. Cooperation outperforms competition, regardless of what you believe. Most people, the vast majority, are good. While people might walk past without saying hello, those same people will usually stop to help fix a flat tire or offer aid in an emergency. In September 2001, when some horrible people caused great harm in America, the world rose in support of America and shared the burden of our grief, including several countries that America has historically treated poorly. There is good in everyone.

There is good in you.

I hope the takeaway from all of this is that you start to believe in cooperation, and believing, start to see and create it. I think the world is a better place because you are in it. Please take a minute today and prove me right. Offer someone a smile, a hug, or a warm cup of coffee. Go to bed tonight after a day of expressing what you hoped the world would be, and you’ll find that it’s a little bit closer to that ideal as a result of your efforts.

I believe in you.