Written by: Jenny Smith
How to change your beliefs
Each of us has a set of personal beliefs. They can be about anything and will relate very strongly to our personal experiences. A belief is a feeling of being sure that something is true or a feeling of certainty about what something means and is much stronger than just an idea or a thought. Changing your beliefs can happen from time to time,due to age, circumstance etc…
When are beliefs formed?
Psychologists have come to realise that most people hold on to beliefs that were formed way back in their past based on an interpretation of painful and pleasant circumstances. This means that beliefs are not necessarily true, they are simply a summary of what made sense at the time. An example is if a child rings a friend and asks them to come and play and the friend says no, the child could interpret this to mean that they are not fun. If this thought is returned to often enough it could develop into a belief. In the child’s mind there is evidence for this interpretation¬† in that the friend doesn’t want to play with them. This evidence makes them feel that the belief is true.
How beliefs can affect others
Our beliefs cause our emotional reactions to situations and other people. If we hold a belief that people don’t like us we will behave with suspicion and an expectation of being rejected when we meet others. If we hold a belief that we are intelligent we are more likely to be more comfortable to express our opinions and thoughts. More often than not beliefs remain in the unconscious part of people’s minds. This means that until we become aware of the beliefs that we hold, we are blind to a lot of our behaviour and responses.
For some people their belief system will work for them, they will have internalised positive messages about themselves and come to positive assumptions about situations. For others the story may be different. It is possible for a person to appear to be very successful in many ways, in their job, their relationship and their home life but for some reason they don’t feel good inside. This can often be to do with holding limiting beliefs that they are not aware of.
Finding hidden beliefs often requires us to do some hunting and it can help to approach this as if you are trying to solve a mystery. By looking at your behaviours and reactions you will find clues that can lead you to a much clearer picture of the programming that is running your life!
A useful starting place is to keep a journal of your inner dialogue. This would include specific thoughts that you notice you are having, particularly repetitive ones and also details of scenario’s that you mentally replay. Going back to your journal a couple of days later and re-reading what you wrote gives you a chance to see from a different perspective through which you are more likely to see a belief that you hold in your mind. This shift in perspective supports you to break the pattern of seeing these beliefs as true.
Becoming aware of what you say is another very powerful act of tuning into deeply held beliefs. Many people do not realise how automatically they speak and tied to old ways of seeing the world they are. Start by noticing any ways in which you limit yourself by saying things like ‘I won’t be able to do that’ (without having tried) or ‘I can never make that work’. Notice if you give your power away for example by attributing how you feel to things outside of you as in the example ‘she made me feel’ or ‘the traffic was really frustrating today’. Whilst these sorts of comments are incredibly commonplace they all point to a belief that something outside of us controls our feelings rather than us. This is a very limiting perspective as it means that unless the situation or person outside of us changes we are stuck in feelings that we don’t want!
Look back at situations
In the heat of the moment it is often very difficult to identify what is making us behave or communicate in a certain way which is why looking back on situations is very helpful. Talking through your beliefs with a good friend can be both interesting and illuminating and if you have a strong trust of each other you may be able to discuss in depth ways that you have seen each other behave. Be aware of any feeling of shame that may creep up on you, as particularly with negative beliefs, there can be a link to an experience of having been shamed or in some way led to feel bad about yourself. If you notice these sorts of feelings coming up in you it can really help to share them with someone that you feel safe with.