Dissection: A Lesson From Freshman Biology 101

By: Meagan Skidmore

The year is 1987. A literal bell rings and threatens to shatter my eardrums.

The students hustle and clamor as they rush into the classroom just barely avoiding a tardy. Enter Biology 101- where the culmination of the school years’ work is in the earning the privilege and “getting to” dissect a fetal pig. Not a fulfillment of any hopes and dreams of this young high school freshman. 

And yet, dissection is the one sure fire way to learn biology piece by piece, taking it physically apart in order to be put back together again, physically and cognitively speaking. 

Literally and figuratively, we took our specimen and stretched, pinned, snipped, opened, poked, prodded, and removed some things in the way in order to “see” as much as we could. To a young teen this was disgusting (the formaldehyde stench was potent) but it did result in a better understanding of my own biology as far as it related to a fetal pig’s.

Imagine if only that class were Psychology 101 where we poked, prodded, and opened our proverbial mind to reveal our thoughts and beliefs and dissected those. I think I could have gotten more excited about that sort of assignment.

Indulge me and let’s dissect the anatomy of a belief. 

Class. Is. In. 

What is a belief?

First something must happen that creates curiosity or an impetus for a need to know or understand. Ideally this happens in a situation conducive to learning, asking questions, inquisitiveness and so on.

Pathways in the brain aremade by connections between neurons (nerve cells). When a behavior is performed, the connections between these cells change with the frequency of the behavior performed. These neural pathways are like grooves in the road maps of our brain. 

The more frequently we travel the road, the stronger and more second nature the behavior. You can practice traveling down “new roads” or neural pathways by performing a new behavior with frequent repetition, connecting new beliefs to support the new behavior, as well as visualizing a positive outcome resulting from these new behaviors. (Source: Dr. Susan Rieck, The brain and our habits: Natural pathways to wellness, https://maximus.com/the-brain-our-habits)

….or in this case, for the purposes of our discussion, a thought.

A belief is simply a thought that you have thought over and over and over again

The more we have a certain thought the more ingrained it becomes in our brains, literally. They are called neural pathwaysfor a reason. As I mentioned before, our brains are all about efficiency and so will always go to our habit brain to pick from our thoughts. The brain will pick the ones we use (or think) the most.

Those thought(s) ultimately produce our feelings.

And then that thought (or thoughts) feels true because you believe it is true. 

I call this the anatomy of a belief. You can learn more about it by listening to Episode #3 on my podcast, Beyond the Shadow of Doubt™ (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-3-the-anatomy-of-a-belief/id1641584986?i=1000577877697).

I believe we feel threatened as humans in challenging a belief when we forget to come back to the basics of what a belief actually is and from where it originated.

We forget that we got to choose it in the first place; we may not realize that we did, in fact, chose it.

Father Richard Rohr talks about this idea of awakening to our power when it comes to what we think or believe. He describes this idea of shifting our locus of authority in his book The Universal Christ.

“An utterly new idea from Paul was that the Gospel was not about following some criteria outsideof the human person—which he called “the law,” but that the locus of authority had changed to insidethe the human person. This is why he rails against law so strongly and surprisingly in both Romans and Galations. The real and “new” law is an actual participation with Someone inside of us: the “love of God that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5 and throughout). This Inner Authority, this personal moral compass, will guide us more than any outer pressure or law, he believes, and it is available to everyone.” – Father R. Rohr

The process of learning to become autonomous over our beings is so important. It is empowering and where the growth happens! 

At its foundation, the true beauty of a beliefis that WE CHOSE IT.

Whether we are aware or not of this fact is separate.

Think about it.

Even if we were taught a certain way of being or doing from a young age, there were still other options. Whether or not we were aware of them, they still existed. 

It’s the WHY we chose the belief that matters most—that is usually where we have less clarity.

—did we take it on someone else’s authority (parent/teacher/religious leader/other adult)?

—did we look inward and ask our Inner Wisdom? Or did we only look outward?

—did we “go along with it” because peers did too?

Raising our conscious awareness of our beliefs is key to gaining more clarity. 

My coach Amber Smith taught that “…the most dangerous beliefs are the ones we don’t challenge.” In our interview, Episode #52 of my podcast Beyond the Shadow of Doubt™ (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-52-the-most-dangerous-questions-are-the-ones/id1641584986?i=1000622361815), she shared further:“Before I started doing belief work…(where I was willing to look at what I believe) I had a story in my head about how I was and I thought I was just saying what was true about me. Like ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I don’t have a good imagination’ or ‘I don’t have a lot of persistence’ or whatever.When I started a business, probably like you, there’s a lot of beliefs that you have to challenge about yourself. And I realized some of the stories that I had believed about myself were not true.Growing up I would hear, ‘oh, Amber is so athletic’ or ‘Amber is such a peacemaker.’ And I thought that was just trueand this is why it’s so dangerous! It’s because there’s other stories! Those probably serve me —being athletic, right? I was an athlete, but there’s other ones like ‘I’m not creative,’ that really hurt me in the beginning of my business.

I was like, ‘Well, I’m just not creative! I don’t have good ideas’ or another one is ‘I’m not that interesting’ and I just thought it was true. I thought this is who I was. This is how it is. This is why it’s dangerous!” – Amber Smith

I would love to know how that lands for you?

What comes up for you as you consider challenging a belief? If we like a belief because it “works” for us we tend to keep homeostasis. We don’t want to rock our boat. However when you become aware that the belief doesn’t “work” for or actually causes harm to some individuals, it often brings up cognitive dissonance. You are now faced with the choice to examine the belief and rethink it or challenge it. 

Or not.

The choice is yours.

It’s hard.


Sometimes devastating.

You begin to question not just that belief but perhaps others that you have long held dear.

Cue what I call a pivot in our journey, whether that’s a faith journey or fill in the blank….We may view our beliefs as a state of being. If a belief is tied up in our identity it is harder to question or re-evaluate it. 

A belief is NOT you. You are the one “listening” to the belief (or thought).

You are also the one who can change it.

You are much more expansive and exist beyond your beliefs.I’d love to know your thoughts. 

Class dismissed.

PS: If you would like to join my free coaching group CLICK HERE

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