Belief Entrenchment: The Blind Spot of Leadership

Helio Borges
6 min readNov 21, 2023

Why Individuals and Leaders Cling to Beliefs in Times of Adversity

At a Crossroads

Individuals and leaders often find themselves at a crossroads when faced with disruption, challenges, or adversity. They can either cling to their existing beliefs and perspectives or adopt a more open mindset, willing to consider alternative viewpoints and adapt their beliefs accordingly.

While openness is often associated with personal growth and resilience, it is common for individuals to entrench themselves in their beliefs, particularly in the face of adversity. If an individual at the crossroads makes the wrong decision, it has limited consequences. On the contrary, a leader´s decision-making has consequences in organizations and society.

Belief Entrenchment in the Face of Disruption

In more predictable times, many leaders made important decisions based on their past successful experiences, which, in time, turned into beliefs that shaped their leadership style. When confronted with disruptions, they had those experiences to rely on.

In today´s world, characterized by chronic systemic disruptions, making decisions based on past experiences sourced from the person´s beliefs will cause more problems than the solutions they try to implement. You only need to go over the social media or the news outlets to see, without doing much analysis, the negative consequences of that kind of mindset in the decision-making of organizational and societal leaders in affairs ranging from corporate board upheavals to international conflicts, political clashes, religious intolerance, and racial discrimination, to name a few.

This phenomenon, known as belief entrenchment, is a complex psychological process rooted in a range of factors deeply intertwined with our need for stability, cognitive dissonance, identity formation, and social confirmation.

The Need for a Stable Worldview

One of the primary reasons why individuals cling to their beliefs, even in the face of contradictory evidence, is the deep-seated human need for a stable and coherent worldview. Our beliefs provide a framework for understanding the world, giving meaning to our experiences, and shaping our decisions and actions.

When this framework is challenged by disruption or adversity, individuals may experience uncertainty, anxiety, and even loss of identity. Clinging to existing beliefs, even if inaccurate or incomplete, can provide security and cognitive stability in the face of these threats (Sullivan, 2018).

This psychological need for cognitive stability is further supported by research on confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out and favor information confirming our beliefs while disregarding or discounting contradictory evidence. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the face of adversity, as individuals may be more motivated to protect their worldviews and maintain control over their circumstances.

Cognitive Dissonance and the Motivation to Avoid Inner Conflict

Another psychological factor that contributes to belief entrenchment is the concept of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a state of psychological discomfort that arises when an individual holds two or more conflicting beliefs, ideas, or attitudes (Festinger, 1957).

When confronted with evidence contradicting their beliefs, individuals may experience cognitive dissonance, leading to a motivational state to reduce this discomfort. One way to reduce cognitive dissonance is to reject or ignore the contradictory evidence, reaffirming existing beliefs and maintaining a sense of psychological equilibrium.

The Role of Identity and Social Confirmation

Our beliefs are often deeply intertwined with our sense of self and identity. They form the foundation of our personal narratives, shaping our self-perception and our understanding of our place in the world. When our beliefs are challenged, it can feel like an attack on our very identity, leading to a defensive reaction and a stronger entrenchment of those beliefs (Aronson, 1987).

Additionally, our social environment can play a role in reinforcing our existing beliefs. Surrounding ourselves with individuals who share our beliefs can create a sense of validation and belonging, further strengthening our commitment to those beliefs. Social confirmation can be particularly powerful in the face of adversity, as individuals may seek reassurance and support from their social networks, which may reinforce their existing beliefs. (Kahan, 2012).

Illuminating the Blind Spot of Belief Entrenchment

While belief entrenchment can be a natural response to adversity, it can hinder personal growth, limit our understanding of the world, and impede constructive dialogue. Overcoming belief entrenchment requires consciously cultivating openness and flexibility in one’s thinking. This can be achieved through a variety of strategies, such as:

  • Knowing your beliefs: See below for details.
  • Seeking out diverse perspectives: Actively engaging with individuals from divergent backgrounds and viewpoints can broaden one’s understanding of the world and challenge existing assumptions. This can be achieved by participating in diverse social groups, engaging in intercultural dialogue, and reading literature from various perspectives. (Allport, 1954).
  • Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, contemplation, and yoga, can promote non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings, facilitating a more open and receptive mindset. Mindfulness can help individuals detach from their beliefs without abandoning them, allowing for a more objective evaluation of evidence and a willingness to consider alternative perspectives. (Kabat-Zinn, 2005).
  • Engaging in critical thinking: Developing critical thinking skills allows for a more objective evaluation of evidence and a willingness to reconsider one’s beliefs in light of new information (Paul & Elder, 2006).
  • Embracing uncertainty: Accepting that not all questions have definitive answers and that knowledge is constantly evolving can reduce the fear of changing one’s beliefs. This can be fostered through education and exposure to diverse perspectives, which can help individuals develop a more nuanced understanding of the world and appreciate the limitations of their knowledge. (Eichstaedt & Marty, 2011).
  • Promoting Psychological Safety: Creating an environment where individuals feel safe to express their thoughts and beliefs without fear of judgment or rejection can encourage open dialogue and challenge entrenched beliefs.

Knowing Your Beliefs

I did not become more positive after studying Positive Psychology, a branch of Psychology that studies happiness, flourishing, and what makes life worth living. Still, I understood the nature of my being and acting; thus, I could make conscious decisions about the kind of man I wanted to be vs the one I was at that moment in my life.

The core of research on Positive Psychology is based on the PERMA Model: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. Many surveys at the U. Penn Center of Positive Psychology indicate how you score on those variables.

Jer Clifton is a senior research scientist in the Positive Psychology Center in the School of Arts & Sciences at Penn. There, he directs The Primals Project, which promotes empirical research on the origins and psychological impact of primal world beliefs. If you want to know more about your beliefs, you are invited to read the article How Beliefs Shape your Mind? from U. Penn. In the article, you will find links to the Primal Beliefs Survey. Anyone can take the survey, and the results are mailed to you without charge.


Understanding the psychological factors that contribute to belief entrenchment is crucial for fostering personal growth, promoting resilience, and encouraging constructive dialogue in the face of adversity. By recognizing the deep-seated needs and motivations that underlie this phenomenon, individuals and leaders can develop strategies to cultivate openness, embrace new perspectives, and thrive in a world of constant change.

As individuals and leaders navigate the crossroads between clinging to familiar beliefs and embracing new possibilities, the journey toward personal growth and collective understanding begins with a willingness to challenge our assumptions, explore diverse perspectives, and embrace the dynamic nature of knowledge and belief.

For more information about innovation, inspirational leadership, and well-being, please get in touch with me at or WhatsApp at +584143287997.


Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Addison-Wesley.

Aronson, E. (1987). The social animal. W. H. Freeman and Company.

Eichstaedt, J., & Marty, M. E. (2011). Overcoming belief entrenchment: The role of intellectual humility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 248–262.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press.

Kahan, D. M. (2012). Why we are polarized. Public Discourse in the Age



Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges