Changing Thoughts and Beliefs
Knowing where thoughts and beliefs come from can facilitate the process of change, but it isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the need to know can hamper the change process. However, if you want to do some exploring try the following.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Center yourself by taking slow, deep breaths until you feel yourself slowing down. As you breathe out, it might be helpful to think “I release all tension” or “I release any cares” or “I am relaxed.”
- For those who are more analytical, pick one or more of the following questions that resonate with you and just see what comes up when you ask.
- When have I thought this same thought before?
- Where does this thought come from?
- How has this thought helped me in the past?
- In what ways does this thought hinder me now?
- For those who are more creative and empathetic, try the following questions.
- Where do I feel this thought in my body?
- What does it feel like?
- What images or feelings come with it?
- What does it remind me of?
Whatever answers you find, it is important to remember that these thoughts and beliefs have served you in some way in the past. Acknowledge that you did the best you could at the time and move on. Know, too, that one of the functions of our brain is to categorize and process information as soon as possible. It is very good and quick at this job, like a computer. It’s a complicated process that involves accessing memory and processing related sensory input. This makes information processing a very subjective process and unique to each individual. It also happens largely outside our awareness. Don’t judge yourself for how you’ve reacted to life in the past. Your brain was just doing its job.
While it may be normal, this type of thinking about, and reacting to, people and situations doesn’t always serve us. The great news is we can change it! We can make a choice about how we respond to the world, rather than reacting automatically. We will feel better about ourselves and how we engage with others and life when we learn this two-step process. It’s simple, but not easy. Focus, engagement, and determination are necessary. You’re replacing one habit that no longer supports you with another that serves you better.
The first step is becoming aware of when we make assumptions, interpretations, and judgments based on limiting beliefs or hold back due to our inner critic. Write in a journal about situations that don’t go the way you would have liked. Describe what happened and the thought that triggered it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re trying to change. Give yourself a pat on the back for that. After just one week, it should be pretty clear how your thoughts are creating experiences that may not be what you want.
Once you notice how your thoughts and beliefs are creating your day to day to life, you can create a new reality! We choose what we believe, what we create and, in the moment, how we respond to life. Consider how you would rather think when those limiting beliefs, assumptions, interpretations, and the inner critic surface in your life. Write it down in your journal. Rather than the generalization that all women are bad drivers, how could those adults in my childhood have believed instead? What would have been less judgmental and less limiting to women? Some women are bad drivers? Some people are bad drivers? What would you like to believe instead of your assumptions and limiting beliefs? What are some other ways of looking at events and interactions rather than interpreting them under the same light that has not served you in the past? How will you respond to your inner critic when it berates you for some thought or action?
A helpful additional step could be to talk to someone you trust. Someone who will be objective and hold your agenda rather than their own. It can be tricky talking to family and friends because even though they love you, support you, and want the best for you, sometimes their idea of what is best for you is not the same as yours. A coach, mentor or therapist will help you see different perspectives and possibilities but won’t tell you what it means to you or what you should do about it. Those answers can only come from inside of you.
What would your reality be like if you could think about life in a new way, a way that opened up possibility instead of limited you? Because you can. Our thoughts create our reality. If you don’t like how you interact with others, if you don’t like the similar situations you seem to find yourself in, create something different. Create the life you want. It’s not easy, but it’s simple (and it will become easier with practice). Just apply the two step process diligently and you will see a difference!
- Notice when your thoughts about people, situations and life limit you (and the other person) in some way. The different types of automatic thoughts:
- Interpretations: how we perceive people or events through the lens of past experience
- Assumptions: if it happened once, it will again
- Limiting Beliefs: generalizations about a group of people that are not true of everyone in the group
- Inner Critic: the voice that stops you from doing things that cause you to step outside your comfort zone
- Replace the limiting thoughts with new ideas and possibilities that you determine will create the life you want.
- Interpretations: what is a different way to look at this situation, or to think about this person, that is more beneficial?
- Assumptions: what are some of the different outcomes possible?
- Limiting Beliefs: how accurate is this belief? What might be more true?
- Inner Critic: how much do I want this? How much do I deserve this? What are some things I can do to move forward? How can I respond to my inner critic when it gets in my way?
This, like life, is a process. If you’re not getting the results you want, try some new thoughts and beliefs. Make adjustments. Don’t be afraid to play around with this. Have fun. Be creative. Be imaginative. Experiment. This is your life – your reality – you are creating. Don’t settle for adequate when you can have greatness. You deserve to be happy and realize your full potential!
How do you manage your challenging thoughts? What did you learn from the exercise above?