1. We’re all largely driven, motivated, limited, empowered and controlled by our beliefs; this can be both good and bad.
2. We have positive, negative and incidental beliefs.
3. Beliefs typically form over a long period of time. From the day we are born that computer on top of our shoulders is being programmed.
4. They often develop with no real effort, input or awareness on our part. We rarely make conscious decisions about them; they take root in spite of us.
5. They are the result of our influences and our experiences.
6. We know that in certain situations and circumstances (home, work, clubs, church, politics), there exists a level of pressure to align our beliefs and thinking with the majority in order to be accepted, valued and respected as part of that group.
7. Having different beliefs to the majority (in your immediate world), or changing your beliefs won’t always be well received. In fact, it will often be resisted and strongly discouraged.
8. Quite often we adopt the beliefs of others. We grow into the thinking of our parents, teachers, preachers, bosses. We don’t explore or discover our own truth, we simply make theirs.. ours.
9. I like the idea of being part of a group where identical beliefs and consensual thinking is not a pre-requisite for membership. Or acceptance. Or respect. That kind of group appeals to me.
10. We should re-examine, question and test our beliefs to determine whether they empower us or limit us.
11. Just because you’ve believed something for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right; it just means you’ve believed it for a long time!
12. We have an emotional attachment to some beliefs and the thought of letting go of them scares the crap out of us. But sometimes it’s in the letting go that we have our eyes opened.
13. In an effort to align our beliefs, thinking and behaviour with the group, we often lose US. We lose our own identity and individuality, waste our potential and live a life of frustration, compromise and under-achievement. We don’t become the best US we can, we become what is expected of us; we succumb to the enormity of conformity.
So the smart plan would be to keep the positive beliefs and lose the bad ones.
The time to consider change is when we realise that a particular belief is having some kind of negative impact on our life; our potential, our productivity, our relationships, our possibilities, our career, our family, our physical, mental and emotional health. Changing beliefs is easier said that done, keeping in mind that we are emotional beings who have been thinking, doing and believing a certain way for a very long time. The good news is that change is very possible if we’re serious about the process and we’re prepared to do the work.
So how do we change our beliefs?
1. De-emotionalise the process. The greater the level of emotional investment we have in a certain belief, the more likely we are to be irrational, defensive and even protective of that belief, no matter how much of a negative it has been in our life. The challenge comes in being brave enough to open our mind and expand our thinking to the possibility that some of our long-held beliefs may be wr..wr…wr…ong! Scary I know. Deep breaths, you’ll be okay. A good question to ask ourselves is “what do I believe?”, but the better question is “why do I believe that?” When we discover the ‘why’ then we will find it easier to change the ‘what’.
2. Do what scares you. Of course we need to wrap some logic and common sense around this piece of advice; I’m not suggesting we throw ourselves of a cliff because we’re scared of heights! But working through challenges that force us to confront and deal with our fears is one of the most effective ways to change the way we think, believe, behave and produce in our world.
Most of our limiting beliefs are about US (what we can, can’t, should, shouldn’t do, be, create, achieve), so when we confront, rather than avoid the things that scare us, we typically experience an instant shift in our thinking. When you do something that you believed wasn’t possible for you (running a marathon, holding a snake, completing some study, standing up for yourself, speaking in public), not only do you experience a shift in your thinking about that particular achievement, but you also start to question other self-imposed limitations. “Wow, if I can do that, what else can I do?” When people run their first marathon, the biggest shift is usually in their psychology not their physiology. It’s like they open a door to a world of possibilities. That potential (to do amazing) was always there but it took an experience (facing and overcoming a fear) to open that mental and emotional door which had been locked shut for far too long.
3. Hang out with different people. Hang out with negative, paranoid, miserable, fearful, excuse-making, under-achievers… and pretty soon you’ll be just like them! Who we hang out with doesn’t determine who we become but it sure does influence us. As much as possible, spend time with people who you admire, respect and trust; people who will empower you, not handicap you.
4. Expose yourself to different environments, cultures, ideas, thinking. Some of us have lived in our little boxes for so long that we think the world starts and finishes at our doorstep. Spend time talking to people you would normally avoid or people you might consider yourself to have nothing in common with. They will teach you something. Travel, explore, see different things, do different things. Occasionally expose yourself to things that are ‘not you’. Consciously and proactively set yourself to learn new things.
I recently had a conversation with someone who was being very critical of a particular religious group that exists here in Australia (and many other countries). When I asked him which parts of their theology, philosophy and doctrine he disagreed with, he looked at me blankly. The truth was he that he was criticising something that he knew nothing about. He’d never read any of their religious texts, never had a (meaningful) conversation with anyone of that faith, never been to a service and never even considered that the group he was criticising could possibly teach him anything or be a ‘viable’ (for want of a better term) religious option. After a little probing, I learned that he had simply adopted his ignorant, arrogant beliefs from his equally uneducated, opinionated and intolerant father.
5. Think for yourself. Stop trying to fit in, and start being you. Don’t be a sheep. Question the way you think, behave and believe right now. Explore where those beliefs came from and identify them as a positive or negative in your life. Don’t adopt someone else’s beliefs because you like that person, make those beliefs your own when you’ve questioned them, explored them, tested them and discovered them to be true.
6. Work hard to over-ride your default setting. Sometimes there’s a tendency for us to feel (yep, it’s an emotional thing) that our old, destructive beliefs are somehow more real than the new ones we’re trying to install into our hard-drive. Yes, it’s only a feeling but it can become a reality when we let it happen. If you’re like most people then you will have regular battles between emotional you – the one with the unhealthy emotional attachment to those old beliefs, behaviours and habits – and logical you – the one who understands what you can do and become and is prepared to do what’s necessary.
Replacing your old destructive beliefs with new empowering ones will be an on-going (life-long) process. This means being more aware and conscious of your beliefs and how they impact on you in the moment. Right now. Not in theory but in practice. Sometimes that will mean consciously over-riding an urge to conform to a pre-existing belief (way of thinking, doing, being, reacting, communicating), in order to create better results in your world. And as always, in order to create different, you need to do different.
Craig Harper (B.Ex.Sci.) is a qualified exercise scientist, author, columnist, radio presenter, television host, motivational speaker and university lecturer. For the past 25 years he has been a leading presenter, educator, motivator and commentator in the areas of personal and professional development. You can visit Craig’s blog at Motivational Speaker.