How to Stay True to Your Beliefs: An 8-Step Guide

Photo by C.A. Meyer.

Photo by C.A. Meyer.

            When it comes to staying true to what you believe, nothing seems more daunting, especially in today’s world. Living out your values takes courage. Most often, it means being counter-cultural: choosing the unpopular over the mainstream trends. It doesn’t promise you endless friendships, nor does it secure you daily comfortability. If anything, it demands the opposite: it requires getting vulnerable. In the realm of social media, that certainly couldn’t be more difficult. Over the course of the past year, I’ve tried and failed at several ways to discover my beliefs and values, remain true to them every day, and demonstrate them to others. And I can tell you, it’s not easy. But there are a few steps I’ve found that make it just a bit more so, and I’m sharing them below in the hopes of emboldening just one person to be brave in their beliefs.

1.     Ask yourself, “What do I believe and why?”

            This may be an obvious question, but it’s surprising how many people have never thought to ask themselves the toughest questions in humanity: what do I believe and why? There’s so much to learn from yourself, so many facets of who you are that are innately wrapped up in subconscious beliefs produced from the events or individuals in your life that have influenced you. It's important to take the time to sift through them, mull them over in your mind one by one, to discern what you truly believe and why. Does that belief or value stem from somewhere deep inside you and you inherently feel it to be true? Or is it a product of an unfortunate event from your past that clouded your understanding, so that you subconsciously formed a belief you know to be false? This is likely the most daunting step to take for yourself, and I encourage you to quiet any outside voices or opinions, while at the same time opening up your mind to the possibilities. Read books—lots of them. Look at the values of the people you most admire and ask yourself why you admire them. Explore the raw, messy potential of the unknown, that cerebral place beyond the boundaries of political correctness, and see for yourself what you respond to most. Once you determine what those beliefs or values are, it’s a matter of putting them first in your life and pushing forward with that new mindset. Ask yourself, “How can I carry these out with me into the world every day?”

2.     Have an accountability system.

            Don't be intimated by the word "system." It can one person or five, it can be sticky notes on your bathroom mirror—whatever works for you, but you need to find a way to hold yourself accountable to what you believe in. I have found the most inspiration and guidance from my handful of accountability partners, whom I call my "prayer partners," people that I know are going to be there, unafraid to say to me, “Hey, I don’t think this aligns with your values.” They're the ones who you can call on because you know they've gone through it or are going through it, too, and as a result, are willing to walk with you through the struggle. Take your time in determining who these people are in your life—and if you can’t identify anyone, seek out places where you might meet them. It took me 23 years to figure out who my people were, and I can count them on one hand, those outside of my family. It's such an immense comfort to know I can call them no matter the time or situation, and simply say, “This is what’s on my heart. This is how it’s conflicting with my beliefs. What do I do?” And they will drop everything to help me, as I would for them. That’s the vital ingredient when it comes to accountability partners: there has to be an equal need of the other's trust and guidance. You have to be equally vulnerable in order for it work. Be careful about the people you choose to trust with your stories, with your hardships, and be sure that they’re willing to invest in your journey as much as you are in theirs. If you don’t want to reach out to a person, put inspirational sticky notes on your mirror. Set reminders on your phone. Start a diary that you write in every morning. We're all human and humans fail, so you have to set up protective measures to give yourself the best chance at remaining true to who you are every day.

3.     Be who you are in private in public.

            I see so many individuals in my generation who bow to the pressure of appearing as an online caricature of themselves, emotionally muted and politically or religiously neutral, when that’s not who they and they’re close friends and family know them to be in private. It’s a cliché, but life is too short to live for other people’s opinions, to live for the social media “highlight reel.” Don’t you want to stand for something more, represent yourself as someone more, than the girl or boy with great abs frolicking on a tropical beach? When it comes to priorities, put your values ahead of your physical appearance. Put your belief system ahead of that dopamine thrill we all get every time someone likes one of our photos. I understand the struggle surrounding that and the vulnerability it requires—trust me, I get it—but it’s so important to try to build that frame of mind slowly until you get to the point where every day that you walk outside your house, you can assuredly say to yourself, “I have no problem telling a person what I believe if they ask. I won’t hesitate. I take no issue in sharing this important story even though it’s not going to get me a bunch of likes on Instagram. I’m living my life according to what I believe, and that’s all that matters.”

4.     Be mindful of the people you spend your time with.

            There’s a very old saying that I’m sure you already know, which is, "You are who you’re friends with.” Another way of saying this is, “You value what the people you spend the majority of your time with value.” This is one of the most important steps you can take to stay true to what you believe in, and that is to survey the people in your life whom you deal out your time to. Ask yourself how you feel when you walk away from them. Do they inspire you to continuously pursue your beliefs or stay true to your values? Do they hold you accountable to them, and if so, are they potential accountability partners? Or do they make you veer from them? For clarity, all of your friends don’t have to be people who share your faith or uphold identical values to your own—although whoever you're romantically involved with should—but what you do need to ask yourself about them is, whatever they believe in or value, are they adhering to that in their lives? Are they practicing whatever they preach, or are they continuously betraying what they claim to value? Lastly, ask yourself it they're the kind of friend to you that you would want to be to others. Once you determine these answers for yourself, it may be really, intimidatingly clear that you need to do a clean out of your contact list. I’m not encouraging you to have a full friend-dectomy, but your time and energy is valuable. Spend it on people who enrich your soul and on those who will allow you to enrich theirs.  

5.     Filter out the counterproductive content you expose yourself to.

            This is the second part of being mindful of how you spend your time: of all the things you surround yourself with in your daily life, ask yourself if those are keeping you plugged in to your belief system. What kind of music do you listen to? What kind of TV shows do you watch? What reading material is your brain processing every day? Are each of these things reflective of the kind of individual you want to be? If someone were to walk into your apartment or scroll through your phone, would you be okay with whatever they see there or would you be ashamed and want to hide something? It sounds a bit extreme, but you need to make those small choices, too; it’s the small, seemingly inconsequential choices we make every day that have the most profound impact in the end—simply because they form habits. And our habits inform our character. For example, if you consider yourself a feminist who advocates for the fair and equal treatment of all women and you’re frequently listening to an artist that references sexual abuse or mistreatment of women in his lyrics, consider finding a new favorite artist to listen to. Again, it sounds extreme, but even the smallest of tolerances seep in to our subconscious and can affect how true we remain to our beliefs. If you’re watching a particular film or TV show that provokes that nagging thought in your brain of, “Well, I’m not cool with that but the main character is attractive, so I’ll keep watching,” don’t. Don’t keep watching. Turn it to something else that your brain doesn’t have to warn you about. The past century of cinema is bound to offer something that is both entertaining and nondestructive to your values.

6.      Walk yourself through regret.

            As scary as that sounds, you have to address your past to be brave in the present. If there are a lot of things in your past that you sincerely regret that you’ve also never dealt with, whether it’s hurting someone or being the one who was hurt, things you’ve done or things you’ve said, whatever it is, if those memories and the misconceptions they’ve given you about yourself are keeping you from being true to your beliefs and being vocal about them—because you don’t think you’re good enough, qualified enough, because you think your past ruined it for you—you need to face them. You need to come to the understanding that there’s nothing you’ve done or said that will ever keep you from being good enough to step out and say, “This is what I believe.” No one is going to come out of the woodwork and call you a hypocrite except yourself (and if someone does do that, they’re not your friend.) Sit down, be gentle with yourself, and walk mindfully through those really tough moments. The best way I know to go about doing that is to ask yourself these four questions: 1. What is it that I regret and why? 2. How did I react in that moment and how can I react differently should it ever happen again? 3. Do I need to atone for something? Do I need to apologize to someone or to myself, or even to my higher power? 4. How can I forgive myself? Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, write down your answers. It helps to go back and reflect on them when you encounter feelings of doubt, to remind yourself of how you can be better. But in doing that, don’t look at your past as an albatross around your neck. Rather, see it for something that made you stronger in who you are, as something that led to your courage to fight for what you believe in. Once I took these steps to face my own shadows, I was astounded at how much braver I was every day, how little I bowed to the opinions and wills of others, and how much louder my inner voice became to enable me to live my life authentically. If you need an accountability partner to help you through the process, call them.

7.     Demonstrate every day.

            When you wake up every morning, you should ask yourself, no matter what your beliefs are, “How can I demonstrate them today? How can I implement my values and beliefs in everything I do, in every conversation I have with someone today?" It sounds cheesy, but you’d be surprised how life-changing this is. An overwhelming number of people go through their whole lives regretting something they did decades before, allowing that hardship to tell them who they are, to tell them what they should or shouldn’t believe about themselves and about humanity, and that keeps them, every day, from touching someone else's life. I write this now to whomever is reading this, you are not what you’ve done, and you’re worthy of believing in a greater good. Your experience is what makes your voice so important. Use it, and use it loudly. You never know what life you could touch by simply being the truest version of yourself and demonstrating your values unashamedly.

8.     Build a thick skin.

            This goes without saying, but at the same time, it needs be included. In order for you to stay true to what you believe in and actively demonstrate that every day by choosing courage and vulnerability with others, you’re going to face occasional opposition. You’re going to encounter people who don’t at all agree with your beliefs or align with your values and are vocally intolerant of them. And you’re going to want to never speak out about them again as a result because who likes confrontation? Not many people. But if that’s the small cost of living an authentic life that consistently brings value to the lives of others—whether they realize or accept it at the time—it’s undoubtedly worth it. In response to these encounters, remember to be kind and compassionate. Meet their intolerance with acceptance. And if you can, empathize. Their abhorrence for your values is indicative of their life experiences. Your kindheartedness may be the first step to helping them ask themselves what they believe in and why, or at the very least, it could inspire them to be more tolerant of others' beliefs. 

            I hope this list helps you, as it daily helps me, to stay emboldened to be true to your beliefs. I hope, sincerely, that you’ll take the time to sit down and go through each of these steps. And if you feel as if there’s no one in your life you can relate to, or you’d like to have a one-on-one conversation with someone, comment below or contact me here. I know how hard it is to start that dialogue with yourself, let alone with someone else, but I guarantee you, it’s the most important one you’ll ever have. If there’s ever been a time in human history to be true to who you are and stand up for what you believe in, it’s right now. Our culture needs it. The world needs it. Without you realizing, you could be doing someone a favor—if they see you exhibiting the courage to live out your beliefs, they’re ten times more likely to do the same, or at least consider it. And that’s the greatest change you could ever make in the world.

            Trust me on that.