This part is about understanding your belief systems and how they control you and how to start taking control of them. This isn’t a light and uplifting read, but it is important to understand if you want to improve your life. In the next part, I will help you to understand one way you can change your beliefs.
But first, you need to understand how they controlling your life. Please note this is about beliefs around yourself; therefore excludes religious & scientific beliefs etc. For example, the earth is flat.
In Robert Dilts ‘Logical Levels Model’, you have different types of beliefs.
Your identity has the biggest impact on your life and your environment has the least:
- identity, then
- and lastly your environment.
Let me say that again your environment has the least effect on you, yet this is what most people blame and try to change; therefore they often get stuck there.
When you are blaming, you are discharging your pain or discomfort onto something or someone else, so you don’t have to deal with your issues. If you don’t deal with your issues you will always be the same.
If you want to make effective change, working on your identity will give you the biggest and quickest changes. I recommend a holistic approach with an emphasis on changing your identity.
Any time you hear yourself think or say;
‘I am..’ smart, fat, brave etc these are identity beliefs.
Your values are abstract beliefs; like family, honesty, integrity etc. These incorporate multiple beliefs around each topic and if ‘family’ is your highest value then you would put it above everything else, including work.
Most of your limiting beliefs usually manifest via your negative identities.
Shame is one of the most destructive emotions. An example of the difference between shame & guilt; shame – I am bad, guilt – I did bad. Shame is a negative identity and guilt is a negative behaviour.
A quick note to parents, when you are saying to your kids ‘bad boy’ you are shaming him and creating a negative identity within him. If he has an identity of being bad he will feel the need to do bad things to fulfil his identity.
Moving this into guilt language is a better way of saying it, ie ‘that is bad’. Means that the behaviour is bad, the person is not. Moving the action into the behaviour belief system means that the child learns not to do it, as he knows it is a bad thing to do. Your tone and body language can also have a negative impact even if your words are correct. I will cover this later.
When one of my children does something wrong, I put my arms around them (showing that I love them no matter what they do) and I tell them ‘that was unacceptable behaviour’. I discuss what they did wrong, what made it wrong and what type of behaviour we expect from them. Then I tell them that I will always love them, no matter what they do. I tell them this is just another learning moment and talk through what they have learnt.
Even ‘positive’ identity imposed on us can have negative consequences. Eg telling a kid they are ‘smart’, often they won’t want to do hard things and opt to take the easy route as getting something wrong would break their identity of being ‘smart’. As a result, they can fall behind, this can cause conflicts within the belief systems which could cause anxiety.
To guard your kids against this we teach our kids a different definition of what smart is. Being smart really means embracing mistakes, getting things wrong and failures, as these are actually learning moments.
These are the times we learn the most, without feedback loops we would never improve. When you are confused, I hear people say it makes them feel stupid. When it is actually you in peak learning mode!
When you start thinking about it this way they become positive experiences instead of stressors and you learn better and quicker.
You can spot shame by how it manifests:
Moving away – withdrawing from people, keeping secrets.
Moving towards – Appeasing & pleasing people, so they think good of them.
Moving against – gaining power over others; being aggressive; blaming others; humiliating others.
(for more information on shame or shame resilience theory, read Brene Brown’s books, or TEDx talks, or Netflix show)
To start to take control of this, instead of it controlling you, you must start taking responsibility for all the things in your life, the good and the bad. The word ‘responsibility’ means to be ‘able to respond’. This is the opposite of blame.
If you believe you can’t respond, then you were in victim mode; ie victims think that life happens to them and they have no choice in it. Eg I was speaking to a kitchen designer who was telling me he had a few non-paying clients, he said they put so much stress onto him that they made him have a heart attack, his words to me ‘them non-paying b@$t@rds made me have a heart attack’. He was discharging his pain onto them, ie blaming them. This rarely helps. His stress was coming from him making his pictures in his own head; of him losing his business.
I explained it to him by pointing out; the only thing that they did was not pay you, everything else was on you. You caused your own stress by the way you were thinking about it, which caused your heart attack. This is taking responsibility for how you respond to what’s happening to you and taking control. This is akin to the thinking from the ‘growth’ mindset (check out Carol Dweck’s book; Mindset).
By taking responsibility it allows you to problem-solve. He could have chosen to think differently about it. I approach things with the mindset; expect the best and plan for the worst. Nearly everyone that I speak to that is stressed has this in reverse ie imagining the worst happening to them (expecting the worst) and doing nothing about it (acting as if everything is fine). He could have gone to the bank for an extended overdraft, he could have reached out earlier and set up a payment plan; this is taking control.
Social scientists love twins: they create a natural control group. There is a famous study where they asked one of the twins why he was an alcoholic: he said ‘My father was an alcoholic, so how could I be anything else?’
When they asked the other twin why he never drank he said: ‘My father was an alcoholic, so how could I be anything else?’
It is nothing to do with what happens to you; but how you decide to respond to it.
Once you start taking responsibility and admitting it to yourself, then you can start catching your shame and deciding to behave differently.
You are starting to name it and tame it.
I said in an earlier post that my major depression was the best thing that ever happened to me; this is true to a degree. Its wasn’t the years of suffering that made it good but how I finally responded to it and what I learnt as the result. I only wish I had decided to respond much earlier in my life so I didn’t have to suffer for 20 years plus.
The question is when is now a good time for you to start?
Don’t be like me and wait until things get bad. Start now.
You will also start to notice other people’s shame manifesting which helps tame your responses to it.
The more you do this the stronger you become, and the stronger you become the easier it is. It is the equivalent of ‘lifting more weight’.
I recently read Chris Voss’ book ‘Never Split the Difference’. He was the head FBI negotiator, he dealt with a lot of ransom cases around the world. When dealing with the family of the hostage, he would finish the call by telling them I will ring you again in an hour and he always made sure he did.
This is similar to a time several years ago when I was roped into running a leg of the Belfast marathon the night before it. I hadn’t trained in a few years, so you can guess my fitness levels. It was the final leg running through the city centre and there were lots of people out watching the race. Within 5 mins of running, I felt I couldn’t run any longer but with loads of people watching I didn’t want to stop. I convinced myself that I would run for another 5 mins then I would allow myself to stop and hopefully there would be fewer people around. I was wrong, there still was a good-sized crowd but I wasn’t feeling any worse, so I decided to run 5 mins longer. I never stopped, I just ran for 5 mins at a time until I finished. It turns out it was close to my personal best over that distance and I hadn’t trained.
Chris Voss knows the unknown and the uncertainties in life can be the biggest negative stressors. He knew if he told them he would speak to them again in an hour, it removed a lot of uncertainty. They only had to hold it together for an hour each time.
Life is not about holding it together forever but it is about holding it together for an hour and winning the day, then the marathon that is life becomes easier. When training for marathons, rest days are needed. So go easy on your self and if you need an hour or a day off now and again, that’s okay, eventually, your fitness will increase.
This was potentially a heavier, difficult topic for some. Hopefully, I have started a bit of introspection, thinking about your beliefs. How much you value yourself, how you see yourself and start to let go of how you think others see you. This will free you to write your own, happier story.
And remember, no one is perfect, so do NOT expect yourself to be. We are only human so having off days is okay, as long as you are on an upward trajectory. Remember, improving a bit each and every day wins the race.