Have you ever had a strong belief that you were so confident in you were convinced it was an absolute certainty? Most of us have, and still do. Some beliefs become so strong, in fact, that they shape the very reality in which we live. They embed themselves so deeply in our being that we automatically reject or ignore any evidence that contradicts them.
The question you have to ask yourself, if you have beliefs such as these – and you almost certainly do – is whether or not they are limiting or edifying beliefs.
What do I mean? Well, what purpose do these beliefs serve? Are they helpful, or are they a hindrance? Do they tend to distort your reality, making it difficult to form relationships for function in other areas of your life, or do they foster relationships and make success more readily available to you?
In many cases, it’s sad to say, beliefs that become so inflexible that they cannot tolerate contradicting are limiting, not constructive or edifying. This has to do with behavioral flexibility. The more flexible you are in your behavior, or the better you are able to adapt to a given situation, the more likely you are to succeed in that situation. Your perceptions of any given situation are largely governed by your belief systems. So if your inflexible beliefs taint your view of a particular situation, you will be limited in how you can respond to that situation, and more prone to failure.
Scientific basis for belief and change (WARNING!!! psychobabble ahead!!!)
There is a scientific basis for this process. Without going into too much mind-numbing detail, neuropsychologists have developed models for general cognition, or how we think. One widely accepted model is the Interacting Cognitive Subsystems model, or ICS. Within this model there are 9 different subsystems that account for all of our cognitions – conscious and unconscious. Two of these subsystems control how we assign meaning to events around us, which I contend is how we create our reality. These two systems are called the Propositional subsystem [PROP], and the Implicational [IMP] subsystem.
The [PROP] subsystem is basically responsible for acknowledging and categorizing new information taken from the senses. So if you try and climb a tree as a kid and fall out of it and break your arm, the [PROP] subsystem catalogues the event in your memory.
The [IMP] subsystem assigns judgment or value to the events that are registered by [PROP]. In the example of tree climbing, the [IMP] subsystem labels the event of breaking one’s arm while climbing a tree as “bad,” or “traumatic.”
In the case of really painful or traumatic events, the [PROP] and [IMP] subsystems may create very powerful beliefs, like “I climbed the tree, and fell and broke my arm, therefore climbing trees is bad,” or “… if I climb a tree I will break my arm…” These same beliefs may be created if a less traumatic event happens frequently.
The problem is, that the beliefs that are created by [PROP] and [IMP] are not always logical or true. Nevertheless, once they are embedded, they become your perceptual reality, which some would argue is the only reality that matters. These beliefs can also be incredibly difficult to break or overcome.
That AHA!!! moment…finally…
There are a number of ways to overcome even the most inflexible of beliefs. Hypnotherapy has been shown in clinical studies to be a very effective tool for belief and behavioral change, as have some forms of psychotherapy. These methods work to “reprogram” the [PROP] and [IMP] processes to introduce alternative meanings to events – a process often referred to as “reframing.”
However, there are ways you can reprogram your beliefs without a therapist. One is to use self-hypnosis, or meditation, to fully explore your beliefs. By learning to reflect deeply you can, with time, also learn to detach the meaning from traumatic or repetitive events and change beliefs and habits.
Sometimes we experience a traumatic event that forces us to rethink our beliefs. This type of a change works on the principle of “cognitive dissonance,” where the evidence that contradicts a belief is so strong that it cannot be ignored. In essence, it overrides the [PROP] [IMP] process and forces new meaning on the past events that formed the belief itself.
So how do I start changing potentially limiting beliefs?
1. Deep reflection. Develop the skill of introspection, or being able to deeply reflect, without judgment, on your inner thoughts, attitudes, beliefs. This is a skill that may take some practice, or even guidance from someone who is already skilled in this area. But developing this skill is absolutely necessary for the steps that follow… and for general personal growth. Specific practices that are often used for deep introspection are meditation, self-hypnosis or other deep relaxation techniques.
2. Recognition. First, you must recognize which beliefs may need modification. You can start to do this by looking at a particular goal or habit you have, then examining your attitudes and thoughts about it. When you see thoughts and attitudes that are limiting; i.e. – thoughts that have negative words or meaning such as “can’t”, “always”, “never”, etc. – that should raise alarm bells and you should examine how they contribute to or hinder your progress.
3. Reframe. After you have identified thoughts, attitudes, or beliefs your would like to change, learn to reframe them, or put them in a different context. For instance, if you have developed a phobia of climbing trees because you broke your arm while doing so as a young child, begin to change the thoughts you associate with climbing trees. If you immediately think “Ill break my arm” when you think of climbing a tree, learn to actively replace that thought with something like “Climbing that tree didn’t cause me to break my arm. Being distracted by the squirrel that was in the tree cause me to slip and fall. Climbing trees is perfectly safe as long as I pay attention to what Im doing.” Now, when you first attempt this there may be some skepticism. But if you keep at it your beliefs will eventually change as new information is introduced to the [PROP] [IMP] process.
As I said above, sometimes our beliefs may be so ingrained that we need help in breaking them. If you have such beliefs, and they are having a negative impact on your life, there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. The only thing you have to lose is limitation.