Beliefs are, for most of us, powerful reminders for what makes us stand out as being unique and different from others. They are usually tied in to the values that we hold, and can be seen as both enabling to us as well as limiting. The ones that are most deep seated and inherent to our make up are those called our core beliefs, formed when we are between the ages of four and eight. These can be particularly tough to change because they have been a part of us for so long and are so core to what we perceive as most important to us, that we can be unaware of what they are.
What I find interesting is that we can also have beliefs that override those limiting beliefs, enabling us to live better lives. These enabling beliefs can occur through having new experiences, challenging our perceptions of what we are capable of, opening our eyes to new possibilities. If you were to ask someone who knows you well how you might have changed for the better in the past 5-10 years it’s likely they would point out a few examples. These would undoubtedly be due to changes in your beliefs and values about certain things, however large or small.
So how do we form beliefs and more importantly how do we cast off those we don’t want, to enable us to live better lives and do the things we want to do?
Well the starting point when we form beliefs is our inner search for evidence to support and confirm a particular belief is true. One of the most common negative/limiting beliefs people have is “not being good enough”, whether that is something specific or in more general terms. To make this believable there will be a habitual part of you, alert to any situation that confirms this to be the case. Like a lawyer in court you will be mounting up evidence, documenting every time you have ever found yourself in a situation that confirms that belief, going all the way back to early childhood if necessary.
What’s important to recognise is that our beliefs will be grounded by a positive intent or purpose, relating to when the belief was first formed. Quite often this positive intent is to ensure we are kept safe and secure, or to fit in and cope better with the environment of the time when the belief was first formed.
What is unfortunate is that once one belief is no longer useful and we find conflicting evidence that prove the first belief wrong, we don’t always take heed and quite often ignore this new evidence! This is because we have this inherent part of us that wants to keep matching to patterns that are already strong and well established. This ancient pattern matching part of us automatically looks at experiences that we repeat often and thinks…ah this must be important lets make sure we keep doing this! Again there is a positive intent behind this which is simply to make our lives easier. I have written more about this pattern matching part of us here.
We also form beliefs by initially “acting as if” something will be true even if we can’t know for sure. The most obvious example is when as a toddler learning to walk, you would have acted as if walking is possible. Or the time when you might have started your first day at work not knowing if the job would turn out well, but went in with the belief that it will. So for you to believe something, it is not necessary for you to know for sure it is true, but simply to have the expectation it will be. What is important when “acting as if” is to involve yourself physically as well as mentally.
So now to the good bit; the process of leaving behind an unwanted belief
First, you need to check if the belief still has a positive intention, in the context of your life right now. Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself what is there that this belief is giving you that you don’t want to lose? Knowing this is important to helping leave the belief behind. It may also be neccesary to ensure you can have this positive intent met in a more helpful way, making the belief less reliant on it.
So now you need to look for evidence, literally, of when this belief has been proved wrong. This might not be so easy but it will be there. These can be actual behaviours or simply ways of thinking that conflict with your belief. It may take some time so give yourself a few days if needed and just make a note of them no matter how few or insignificant they might be. It can also be very helpful to ask a close friend or family member. It is important not to feel like you need to justify, judge or analyse these examples, even though it might be tempting. Simply note them down as facts. It is helpful to see this exercise like the analogy I made earlier of a Lawyer preparing evidence before court.
The next step is to find an enabling belief that will be a much better substitute to the one you want to leave behind. It is important to realise that changing a belief can be empowering based on specific caveats or criteria that help make that belief true. So if your limiting belief is for example “I am not very confident in large social situations” you might create a new one along the lines of “I can be confident in large social situations when I am prepared”.
Now you need to look for evidence that your new belief is true. Again like the Lawyer analogy simply look for the factual proof of when your actions or thinking support the belief, no matter how small or large, and note them down. Again no need to judge or justify them.
The next step is to act as if the new belief is true. As mentioned earlier you can trust in this process of pretending the belief is true. Like an actor playing a part., you will achieve the greatest success by embodying the belief both physically and emotionally. The most empowering way to do this is to first stand with your eyes closed and imagine yourself acting out your belief, really focusing on how it feels differently, noticing what you are doing in your imaginary place and spending a few minutes in that state. The belief will become more powerful when you then act it out in your day to day life or the specific circumstances of the belief. Repetition is key as the pattern matching part of your mind, as described earlier, will then recognise this belief and your behaviour as acceptable, allowing you to feel more comfortable with it and thereby making the old belief less powerful.
In my experience changing old beliefs can be quick and easy for some and harder for others, depending on individual circumstances and how long you have held the belief.
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By Lawrence Michaels