5 Reasons Why People Don’t Want to Change Their Beliefs

by Jessie Cordova, a Bright Morning Senior Associate and guest blogger 


The work of coaching people around beliefs is the work that must happen in order to create equitable learning spaces and outcomes. But we need to understand this: asking someone to believe something different than what they currently believeis like asking someone to cut off their right arm. It can feel that serious. Our beliefs are such a part of who we are that if we are asked to let one of them go, it’s like losing a part of ourselves—like losing a body part.

Understanding why people resist changing their beliefs is essential because it helps us amplify the empathy and compassion necessary to partner with colleagues purposefully yet urgently. And that is what we must do, because kids are waiting.

Why don’t people want to change their beliefs?

  1. They do, just not with you. If we release our egos for a bit, we might understand that sometimes the person we are coaching does want to do the vulnerable beliefs work, just not with us. If we do not have a trusting relationship, then confronting beliefs feels way too dangerous, and no one wants to exist in a state of fear when demonstrating that type of vulnerability.
  2. They don’t have clarity of the belief and its impact. Not yet. This is an awareness gap. They may not understand that A) their actions are stemming from a specific belief they hold and/or B) the manifestation of that belief has created a problem for the people around them. In their eyes, if there is no problem, there is nothing to fix. For example, Mr. Hart may not realize that he deeply values control, and the ways in which that value is manifesting in the classroom are negatively impacting the learning environment for his kids. Perhaps his students feel scared to speak up or make a mistake or are consistently navigating anger or frustration because they see how unfairly consequences are being administered. If Mr. Hart hasn’t done the work to develop awareness around this foundational belief of his, we can’t possibly expect him to be productive in addressing it.
  3. They don’t understand the origins of the belief. Not yet. Maybe they are pretty self-aware and have undergone a clear identification and impact process, but sometimes the breakdown happens in not knowing how the belief came to be in the first place. It can feel risky to do something about a situation when we do not understand how it came about. If they do not understand where it came from, they could be reluctant to let it go. If Mr. Hart allowed himself to explore how his value of control developed, he might find that he actually does not agree with it. Perhaps he was raised in a family where one person was granted authority over the household and he picked up that way of being over time. Has he actively chosen to still value control or is this just what he is doing by default?
  4. They don’t understand the stakes and implications of continuing to hold the belief. Not yet. If a person is not centered on the full impact their beliefs (and actions) are having on the people and spaces they exist in, then there is very little will or urgency to explore those beliefs. The environment Mr. Hart has created for his students impacts them in the day-to-day and in the long-term. It impacts them academically and socially, emotionally and even spiritually. If we play this scenario out over a sustained period of time we will find that students are not able to learn as much as they could. They will be distracted by feelings of discomfort, fear and confusion that will make it difficult for them to focus on learning. Their confidence and sense of self could be compromised. It is extremely difficult to learn when basic needs like psychological safety are not met. If Mr. Hart isn’t thinking about all these implications of how his beliefs impact his kids, he may be less likely to do serious work interrogating that belief.
  5. They don’t know other beliefs that might better serve everyone. Not yet. So many of us have been living with our beliefs for decades. This deep dedication to them has offered comfort and familiarity. Beliefs can be so deeply ingrained that it blocks people from seeing other possibilities. Hart may have been raised and taught in spaces where control over others was deeply valued. If that is the case, it might be difficult for him to get curious and explore other ways to exist in his classroom. What are other options for his teacher identity?

When you have a better understanding of what could be blocking people (and yourself!) from the rigorous work of exploring beliefs, you can find the entry point that meets them precisely where they are—and without judgement. For a step-by-step approach on how to coach someone around beliefs read The Secrets in Equity Work: How to Coach Beliefs.

In the meantime, ask what it would take for you and your clients to get close to a ten on that vulnerability scale and do the work together.


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or position of Bright Morning.