Stress Relief: Level 3 Beliefs (Presuppositions)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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In my two previous posts this week, I identified two of the three key levels in my proposed model for how to think about the nature of our beliefs: 

Level 1 = Conscious Thoughts And Opinions

Level 2 = Underlying Philosophies About Life 

For my final post in this brief series, I’m going to discuss our deepest level of personal beliefs—our underlying presuppositions about life. 

Presuppositions are similar to philosophies, but they differ in several important ways.  In addition, they are also the most powerful hidden forces keeping our Level 1 and Level 2 beliefs in place, and they are by far the most difficult beliefs for people to critically examine and change.

How Do Presuppositions Differ From Philosophies?

Presuppositions are even more basic than our specific personal philosophies.  They are also much more social in nature, meaning that just about everyone in a particular society accepts them as being absolutely true.  For example, here are a few of the presuppositions that just about everyone in America assumes to be true: 

  • The world we live in is 3-dimensional.
  • Science is a method for discovering truths about life.
  • Human beings consist of a mind, a body, and a soul/spirit.
  • Time always has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • If I am reading these words right now, this must mean I am alive.
  • The basic geometry of the universe is Euclidian geometry (the type we all learned about in grade school).
  • Stress is something that actually exists and is something that human beings frequently suffer from. 

Most of these presuppositions are simply taken to be true by the vast majority of people in our society.  They are rarely questioned by anyone, and even when this happens, any contrary arguments are quickly dismissed as being foolish. 

Thus, these types of taken-for-granted truths about life form our deepest  foundation of beliefs, which then gives rise to our more specific (and more numerous) Level 2 philosophies, which in turn give rise to our Level 3 conscious opinions and beliefs.  And while we often are quite aware of some of our Level 2 philosophies, we rarely ever take notice of our Level 3 presuppositions—i.e. our most basic taken-to-be-true assumptions about life. 

When Your Presuppositions Change…

There are two main reasons why presuppositions are so important, and why I devoted this week’s three blog posts to developing this multi-level model for understanding our beliefs:

1)    Our basic presuppositions about life are frequently wrong, even though most people accept them as gospel truths and will fiercely resist any attempts by anyone to cast doubt upon them;

2)    When one of your basic presuppositions about life changes, it has a huge domino-like effect on a whole bunch of related Level 2 and Level 1 beliefs.  In other words, how you view the world changes in a major, major way.

Let’s go back to the list of examples I gave you of presuppositions that are very common in our society.  All of these presuppositions have been questioned over time, and most of them have already been shown to be untrue.  Here are few you may already know about: 

  • The world we live in is 3-dimensional (Einstein revealed that our world  actually consists of 4-dimensions).
  • Time always has a beginning, a middle, and an end (Stephen Hawking recently suggested that this conceptual model of time may not be accurate).
  • The basic geometry of the universe is Euclidian geometry (Buckminster Fuller outlined a completely different model of geometry, called Synergetics, which he believed is more correct than Euclidian theories).
  • Stress is something that actually exists and is something that human beings frequently suffer from (a few stress experts, including me, have completely rejected this common point of view). 

How Can This Model Help Us With Our Stress? 

The model, by itself, just gives you a framework for looking at your beliefs.  It encourages you to look way beyond your Level 1 opinions to pinpoint other Level 2 philosophies and Level 3 presuppositions which are strongly connected to them. 

A good bit of stress can be eliminated by correcting any mistaken Level 2 philosophies you might have.  Even better, if you recognize and correct any faulty Level 3 beliefs, your stress levels might improve dramatically. 

Just remember that when you are searching for presuppositions, they may be very difficult to spot.  That’s because they are so taken-for-granted that they don’t seem open to question.  So you may need help from others, if you want to ferret them out. 

One of the purposes of this stress relief blog is to help you identify and correct any faulty presuppositions about stress that you might have.  But there are many other presuppositions that are equally important to recognize, and as we go along in this blog (and in my free monthly newsletter) I will try to point out some of these to you. 

So try this model out for size, if it is new to you, and see if you can spot any of your Level 2 philosophies or your Level 3 presuppositions.  This is a very useful skill to have, and as you hang out on this blog, you should get progressively better and better at it, as time goes on.

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