Your beliefs are the greatest limiters on yourself and your life.
So much of what we do in life stems from our beliefs about who we are, who we can be, and what we can accomplish.
The problem is that many of us don’t have a clear perspective on who we are and what we’re capable of.
Our beliefs about ourselves are often created by other people or reinforced by our experiences. Often, these beliefs aren’t remotely accurate.
Sometimes you need to change your thinking about yourself and your life.
By the time you reach the end of this article, you should be well equipped to challenge and change your beliefs for the better.
What is a core belief?
Core beliefs tend to be formed in childhood and reinforced by life experiences. They can be positive: “I am a valuable person.” Or they can be negative: “I am an unworthy person.”
These are associations that your subconscious automatically makes without you needing to think about them. You’ll have these beliefs when you say to yourself, “This is just who I am.”
Do my core beliefs accurately reflect reality?
Consider the following example: A child who is told by their parent that they are worthless and unlovable will grow up feeling worthless and unlovable. In addition, that child will have a difficult time with loving relationships in adulthood because of the trauma they experienced and the beliefs their abusive parent created.
Does that mean that belief is fair, reasonable, or even real? Of course not!
These destructive and abusive words were hammered into them so frequently that the child began to strongly believe they were true. In many cases, that’s a hard belief to change because it’s so deeply ingrained.
As an adult, when their relationships fail, they will tell themselves that they are unworthy and unlovable.
After all, if they were lovable, their relationship never would have ended. Surely they would have found a way to make it work? They believe they should have done better, even if the breakup was entirely outside of their control.
That person’s beliefs are their greatest limiter. They aren’t unworthy or unlovable because some abusive person made them believe it. They aren’t unworthy or unlovable because a relationship didn’t work out.
Abusive people aren’t worth listening to. They don’t even have their own actions under control. If they are actually in control of their actions, then they’re a**holes and not worth listening to.
A relationship ending doesn’t make a person unworthy or unlovable. Relationships need to end sometimes. It could be that the partners grew apart and couldn’t find a way to come back together. Maybe their values in life didn’t mesh as well as they thought.
The truth is that relationships can end for many reasons that have nothing to do with how lovable or worthy a person is. Sometimes sh*t happens, and that’s the way it is.
Still, people who believe they are unlovable and unworthy will look for ways to make it their fault because they believe they are responsible.
That is just one example of how our core beliefs may not align with reality.
Here are some more so you can get a better idea of the scope of the issue.
I am a failure because I couldn’t keep up with my job.
Maybe the job just wasn’t a good fit for you or the tasks weren’t something that aligned with your skillset. Maybe your boss overloaded your role with so many responsibilities that it was impossible to actually do the job in the time that you were allotted.
I can’t lose weight because I have no self-control.
Maybe you just haven’t found an approach that works for you. A lot of weight loss and diet advice is superficial and doesn’t provide the support a person needs to make a real change. Maybe it’s an issue you need to address with a therapist, like emotional eating or an eating disorder.
I am lazy and can’t do anything right when I do try.
Psychologists today are toying with the idea that there is no such thing as laziness. The belief they are exploring is that laziness is actually the result of other problems that are currently unaddressed.
For example, a person with ADHD may appear lazy because their executive function is negatively impaired, so they can’t effectively plan and they easily become overwhelmed.
Furthermore, a person with depression isn’t lazy because they have low energy levels. And a person who struggles with a fear of failure is not lazy either. Rather, they avoid attempting things because they are convinced their efforts will go unrewarded.
These things are problems, but they don’t necessarily mean you are that thing. It just means you’re experiencing that problem, which needs to be addressed.
How do I go about changing my beliefs?
The good news is that beliefs aren’t set in stone. In fact, beliefs that hold you back or cause you harm are definitely things to change about yourself!
Bear in mind that changing a belief is a difficult process that will take time and work. Changing your beliefs is not something that will happen overnight.
After all, many of these limiting beliefs about ourselves have been present for a long time, so it makes sense that it will take a long time to change them.
But if you do that work, you can have a better outlook on life and yourself.
How do you do that?
Step 1: Identify a core belief.
A core belief is most easily identified through how you think about yourself. It may be positive or negative, but it is often preceded by “I am” and “I.”
Some examples include:
- “Everything I do is wrong. I am a bad person. I don’t deserve happiness.”
- “I am ugly, unattractive, and unlovable.”
- “I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure and a loser.”
- “People cannot be trusted. I’ll be hurt if I’m vulnerable to anyone.”
It’s important to note that it’s not your fault that you think or feel these things. These negative core beliefs exist because experiences or people cause you to believe they are true.
Many people think they are who they are, and they are doomed to live according to those beliefs, for better or worse. In reality, we can change that trajectory by choosing our thoughts.
Step 2: Challenge the core belief.
To address your core belief, you need to understand where it’s coming from. You’ll be moving this belief from your subconscious to your conscious mind.
How you do that is similar to peeling away the layers of an onion.
Take notice of what is upsetting you when you’re feeling bothered. Once you notice what is upsetting you, pause and ask yourself, “Why?” to peel back the layers.
Let me give you a personal example from my experience to better illustrate the point and process:
Socialization had a dramatic emotional effect on me for the first 30 years of my life. I would see other people with close friends and relationships and feel angry, sad, or unworthy because I didn’t feel like I had any of those relationships.
I would tell myself something was wrong with me because I couldn’t establish and maintain meaningful relationships.
Therefore, I believed I was a bad person or broken because I couldn’t be happy for the happiness of my friends and my loved ones.
But, when I went to therapy, that core belief was something we unwound. We used an exercise that drilled down into my core belief by asking “Why?” again and again about subsequent statements until I couldn’t find an answer.
The process looked like this:
Q: Why does this upset me?
A: Because I feel alone and disconnected from people.
Q: Why do I feel alone and disconnected from people?
A: Because I don’t feel like I have any friendships or relationships, even though I do.
Q: Why don’t I have any friendships or relationships?
A: I guess I’m not worthy of them? Maybe I’m just a bad person?
Q: Why are you not worthy of them? Why are you a bad person?
A: I… don’t know?
And I didn’t know. I had no idea where that negative core belief came from until I was diagnosed with bipolar depression and high-functioning autism.
Autism causes my social processes to operate much differently than neurotypical people. The bipolar depression caused many negative feelings of anger and sadness while depressing the positive emotions I should’ve been able to feel.
This core belief wasn’t something that another person imposed on me. Instead, it was a core belief created from living with undiagnosed high-functioning autism and bipolar disorder for decades.
All that time, I believed that I was an angry, bitter, antisocial person, but I wasn’t. Many of those feelings lifted with treatment.
But, in addition to treatment, I had to reframe and change that core belief about myself.
How can a person go about reframing and changing their core beliefs?
Step 3: Create a positive core belief to replace the negative one.
Once you identify that negative core belief, you can work to replace it with a positive one.
Instead of dwelling on the negative when you are upset, focus on a positive replacement. Repeat that positive affirmation over and over to yourself until you calm down.
Let’s give some examples to get you on the right path:
- “I don’t deserve happiness.” should be “I only have one life, and I deserve to feel happy like anyone else.”
- “I am unlovable because of who I am.” should be “I am lovable just the way I am.”
- “I am a failure and a loser.” should be “I don’t always succeed, and that’s okay.”
- “I can’t trust anyone because I’ll get hurt.” should be “Some people can be trusted. Trust is the only way to make friends and have healthy relationships.”
Do take note of the language used in creating these beliefs. Your replacement belief should be something realistic.
For example, we use “I don’t always succeed, and that’s okay” because there are times you’re not going to succeed. That’s just life. Your subconscious mind won’t accept the mantra as true if it’s unrealistic.
The thing about failure is that it doesn’t have to be the end of the road or be some reflection of your character. Okay, you failed at what you tried. What can you learn from it? What can you do differently? Can you try something else?
Successful people don’t view failure as an end. They view it as a signal that something didn’t work correctly, so they must look for a different path. It doesn’t have to be personal if you don’t take it personally.
The key to this work is the gradual strengthening of the belief. Whenever you are upset, peel down the thought to get to the root cause of the emotion. Then repeat your mantra for that emotion until you find yourself calming down. Try to make this a habit that you do every time a negative belief enters your head.
The more you do that, the stronger it will anchor into your subconscious and the greater the impact it will have on you.
You will find that your perception of the situations with those emotions will change, and you’ll feel more positive about them. You should also find that those negative emotions recede as time goes on.
Just bear in mind that results won’t be immediate. Don’t allow any negative beliefs about how you are useless or incapable to halt your progress. Doubt is normal, but it can also poison the mind and prevent growth and development.
Stay patient, remain flexible, and know that an evolving understanding of who you are and what you are capable of will have long-term benefits for your entire life.
Are you ready to think and feel differently?
Many of us believe we are doomed to follow the natural thoughts and impulses in our brains. The truth is that we have more control over these processes than we think. There is just a process that isn’t common knowledge to do it.
It takes a focused effort to bring those subconscious thoughts forward and turn them into conscious thoughts so you can change them.
The good news is that you are capable of doing this. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
You can then unwind all of the negative thoughts about yourself and replace them with healthier thoughts.
In doing so, you will find that you can improve your mind’s overall environment, peace, and happiness.