What is the idea behind examining our belief systems?
Good and bad, all of our life experiences shape us, and go on to create beliefs that we then carry, about life and the world around us. These beliefs that we develop are usually meant to be purposeful, at least when they come about, to keep us feeling safe and ok about ourselves in the world. So, we reinforce these beliefs, and then go on to rely on them to inform the decisions and choices we make in life, both consciously and unconsciously.
When we decide to investigate our beliefs and bring them more prominently into our awareness, we can come to understand why we developed them in the first place and then be more decisive about whether they are still working for us.
Why might we need to do this in our lives?
Each and every one of us is ruled by our belief systems to varying degrees.
Everything we do and don’t do, and every decision we make is, connected to a choice and a belief held in our belief system.
Consider, that thing you really want to make happen for yourself but still haven’t?
Perhaps it just needs more time? Or quite possibly, some part of your belief system is involved in creating limitations within you and keeping that thing from happening.
We call these beliefs, limiting beliefs. We all have limiting beliefs, many of which originated in childhood and have been a part of us for so long they have become very strong. Some of these old ones have even lead to us creating life habits around them. These are the limiting beliefs we want to go after, so that they don’t negatively impact our choices, our actions and ultimately our lives, forever.
I think of our belief system in the same way I think of all the other systems of the body, i.e.; respiratory, digestive, circulatory, nervous system, etc.
All though it is not physical in the same way, I think of the belief system as most like the respiratory system in that it too can be consciously altered. With our respiratory system, we can choose to hold our breath if we want, or slow our breathing down, etc. and much, if not most of the time, we just breath rather unconsciously. This is true of how our belief system works, we can go along in life making nearly unconscious decisions with it everyday. The good news is we can also slow it down and make very different intentional choices and change our belief systems in order to support our selves in the way we wish.
Through the understanding of the mind-body connection, we have come to understand that a healthy belief system can have just as much impact on our well being as all the other bodily systems.
Here is a personal example of this within myself. For years I believed I could not draw. Then later in life, as I was assisting in a 5th grade class as part of a special project I was involved in, I found myself reliving a personal experience I had had in grammar school in an art class that did not go well. I remembered the day vividly and how miserably my project came out. My work did not meet my expectations or the expectations of my teacher, who promptly said to me, “it’s ok, not everyone can draw“. At that point in my life, I decided for myself, that I was one of those people and that “I can’t draw”.
I proceeded to carry that belief with me in life for many years (reinforcing it along the way when drawing came into play, “I can’t draw”, “I can’t draw”…) until this day when I was acting as teaching assistant. The teacher I was working with on this day insisted that everyone can draw and she even showed us how. This was a huge break through for me as I sat there participating right along side the fifth graders drawing! Aside from the short instruction she gave, the truly changing aspect for me was the story and consequently the new belief in my mind that “everyone can draw”! I’m not saying that I am a newly born fine artist, but I am now, not the least bit apprehensive to put pencil to paper.
How have you’ve seen it work for your clients?
Recently I had a client recognize that she believed the people in her life weren’t ok on their own and that she had to take care of everyone else. When she first became aware of this, she didn’t even think of it as a belief, but instead as just a fact of life that she had accepted long ago.
As we identified that it was in fact a belief of hers, she was able to understand how it came about and begin work on shifting it. As she was able to turn this belief around and test it out, she was rewarded with a new way of being in her life, which allowed her to trust and come to know, that others truly can take care of themselves.
This lifted a huge burden she had carried in her life for so long. In reflection she realized that she had missed out on so many opportunities because of how this belief impacted what she allowed herself to do. Now with her newly gained awareness and newly re-worked belief, she is making all sorts of new choices and adventuring out.
Another client uncovered a limiting belief, that he identified coming about as a result of a humiliating experience at about age 10, where he decided he was “not good at being in charge”. Because he had taken this experience and belief to heart, it caused him to hang back, stay in the shadows in group projects in school and then later in life, to not take any professional or career risks in which he might have to be innovative or lead. As you might imagine, this really limited his professional advancement. Shortly after we uncovered this belief and re-worked it, he volunteered to do a presentation for his colleagues at work on a subject that he had taken upon himself to pursue!
What are the steps we need to take to do this?
Working with a coach is a wonderful intentional way to work through uncovering your limiting beliefs. Either way, with a coach or on your own, It takes a gentle, non-judgmental process of self-witnessing and consideration.
Here are some steps to get started on your own:
-Slow down, add pause and self-witnessing to your decision making process and take an honest look at what’s behind your choices and decisions.
-If they are motivated by a negative belief then that is a limiting belief that you are carrying. It may be an old belief that you are holding onto simply out of habit.
-Next ask yourself “Why do I hold on to that belief?” “Where did it come from?” Even if, or maybe especially if, it is a negative belief, there is usually a powerful feeling and reason you believe this. "Is it really true?" Could there be another truth?"
-Then ask yourself “In what way do I benefit from keeping this belief?” Sometimes you have to really think outside of the box here to find this answer. It can even be counterintuitive, but look closely, because however unreasonable it may be, there is always something you are getting out of your beliefs.
-Next ask yourself “What ‘life rules’ have I created for myself as a result of holding this belief?” And, “What has holding this belief kept me from being and doing?”
-If after this process of examination you wish to re-write this belief, ask yourself, “What new positive belief would I like to hold instead?” And also, “What new ‘life rules’ would I like to make for myself pertaining to the new belief?”
-Then practice these and remind yourself of them often.
Anything else we need to know?
Our belief system is wired into our brains, thereby creating an auto pilot scenario from which we can ‘safely’ take actions repeatedly, over and over, rooting a reaction, connected to a belief, turning it into a habit...
So, as we’ve discussed, adding pause and mindful witnessing to our experiences and the beliefs they touch upon, will help us to stop and make different choices. Overtime as we become freer in our thinking and our choosing, we can have new experiences that support new positive beliefs. This shifts the whole pattern so that we can then, from our new beliefs, create new habits and eventually the new normal we desire.