How do your beliefs affect what you experience in your life?
You’ve probably hear the expression, “It’s all in your head.”
Most of us don’t want to hear that. We want to find the blame for our troubles elsewhere, and preferably, outside of ourselves. “There is a medical reason why I can’t lose weight.” “I don’t have a good job or enough money because the economy is bad.” “My coworkers don’t do their share and that’s why we aren’t meeting our company’s goals.” “I don’t have time to exercise because I am too busy.”
Be careful what you tell yourself, because it most likely will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The source of our success or failure is often in our heads. This isn’t about blame, it is about beliefs.
Our brains are amazing, powerful instruments. One of the benefits of teaching Educational Psychology for many years is that I got to dig deep into brain research. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. Understanding how our brains work explains so much about our behaviors and offers clues as to the path to success.
Our brain learns based on our experiences and then signals us accordingly. If we enjoy praise and discover that being helpful to our first -grade teacher results in praise, our brain learns this and conspires to help us be helpful so we can get the praise we want. If we had a terrible experience- say getting food poisoning from eating bad scallops, our brain will signal us to develop an aversion to scallops.
When I was on a marching band trip in high school, we all ate bologna sandwiches. It was a hot day and we were up in the mountains at a very high altitude. Everyone got violently sick. The smell of vomit permeated everything. To this day, I cannot look at bologna without feeling queasy.
I bet you have a similar experience.
Our brains are pattern seeking devices. That is good, and often serves us well. Here’s the interesting part. Our brains can’t distinguish REAL experiences from IMAGINED experiences.
This explains the research on placebos. Given a placebo, many times a patient will feel as much relief as one who has actually had the medicine. Think of a toddler, crying after bumping into something. There is no external wound, but a Ninja Turtles Band-Aid takes care of the “injury” and the toddler stops crying. When I was a teacher, we used ice packs to “solve” many childhood injuries, both real and imagined.
Ted Kaptchuk studies placebos at Harvard. In trying to figure out how placebos work, he conducted a study in which the participants were told they were taking a placebo, but that placebos often helped people to reduce their pain. The study showed that even though the patients knew the medicine was fake, they still showed relief from their ailments. The studies showed that “rituals and drugs use the very same biochemical pathways to influence the patient’s brain.”
If our beliefs and rituals influence our brains, we should inspect our beliefs, and especially, the rituals, or actions we take, because of those beliefs.
We all have self-limiting beliefs. This often causes us to take action that perpetuates those beliefs.
For example, Christy believes “l never have enough money.” This leads Christy to feel bad about herself. She goes shopping and buys a bunch of inexpensive items (because she can’t afford good things) and she instantly feels better. The feeling is short lived; the cheap junk doesn’t give her satisfaction and doesn’t last. Having spent money she doesn’t have, Christy feels even worse. When the credit card bill comes due, Christy doesn’t have enough money to pay it. This reinforces her belief that she doesn’t have enough money. It becomes true. It is a cycle.
The way you talk to yourself matters. We say a lot of bad things about ourselves:
I’m not smart.
I never do anything right.
I’ll never find anyone who really loves me.
I’m stuck in this dead-end job.
People like us never get ahead in this world.
The more we say it, the more likely we will take actions that perpetuate this belief. Our brains love patterns. The brain sees those actions and helps us to make sure we get what we expect.
We can use our beliefs to create negative things in our lives or we can use them to create positive things. In order to do that, we need to change what we say to ourselves and the actions that follow.
I’ve been working on this concept for the last several years. I am starting to see big payoffs in my life. I also recognize how negative thoughts and patterns are limiting other people I know and care about. It hurts, because as long as we have limiting beliefs we will not reach our potential. Reaching my own potential and helping other people to reach their potential is a major mission in my life.
Here are things I’ve done to replace my negative beliefs and actions with more positive ones. It is a work in progress, but I am healthier, happier and more fulfilled than I have ever been. If you struggle with self-limiting beliefs, give them a try.
Replace negative self-messages with positive ones.
For years, I believed, “I’m just not able to do athletic things.” Now, I try to catch myself when I think about my beliefs and ask, “is it true?” Then I look for evidence.
Recently, while in Mexico, I tried a water spinning class. It looked like fun. I like biking and swimming. I started to watch from the sidelines. The instructor invited me in, but I was hesitant. I wasn’t in shape for it. It would probably be too challenging. Everyone else looked young and fit. She insisted that I join in, and reluctantly, I did. I figured I could quit if it was too hard.
What I found was that I was really good at this new sport. I never fell off the bike, like many others did. I kept up with the rap music and was the only one who didn’t quit in the middle of the push- up sequence. I nailed it, and the instructor gave me a high -five.
This was evidence that my self- belief was not true. I thought about how I can swim laps for an hour, or how I rode by bike around the entire perimeter of Mackinac Island. Confronting the evidence made me realize that my belief was not true.
If this belief is not true, what about other beliefs I have about myself?
Stop hanging around negative people.
You know the ones. They are optimism sucking vampires. They complain constantly and bring down your energy. Find some positive, optimistic people to be around. Professional development leader Jim Rohn said we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Don’t hang out with losers if you don’t want to be one.
Look for the good in every situation.
We all experience struggles. Life is not perfect. Bad things are going to happen. We can’t change everything that happens to us, but we can change how we think. Dan Miller, of the podcast and book 48 Days to the Work You Love, teaches that when something bad happens, the question to ask is “What does this make possible?” Having met and worked with Dan, I understand how this philosophy has shaped his life and success and have adopted it as my own.
Act as if you are the person you want to be.
Here’s a secret. Sometimes I am not motivated to do things. I know I have to take action to move forward. On a daily basis, I ask myself this question: “What would my best self do?” Then I go and do that.
My best self goes to the gym when I don’t want to.
My best self stops working to have coffee with a friend, even though I want to keep working.
My best self does not wear ratty t-shirts.
It is amazingly effective. I reinforce the connection between what I want to do and what I actually do.
Our beliefs, followed by actions caused by those beliefs creates our reality. Understanding this principle means that we can take charge of our lives and ultimately, create the lives we want.
Do you have beliefs that get in the way of your best life? What does your best self say? Have you improved your life by changing your beliefs? I would love to hear your experiences.