Ep 11: Ten Ways To Change A Negative Belief
“To succeed, we must first believe that we can” – Michael Korda
The article with this podcast was originally published in a book Sonika co-authored, Seize Your Opportunities: How To Live Your Life Without Limits.
There is no doubt that what we believe influences who we are, affects the choices we make and ultimately determines the results we produce. Beliefs shape what we see, what we experience and what we expect. More than anything else, they determine how we feel.
If we want to increase our effectiveness in business, empower our relationships and enhance our joy in life, we need to improve the quality of our thinking. We need to shift our limiting beliefs to empowering ones, replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and nurture internal conversations that inspire us to risk living our full potential. We must acquire the beliefs of winners if we are to be a winner, the beliefs of successful entrepreneurs if we wish to be a successful entrepreneur. We must work as much, if not more, with our minds as with our behaviors if we are to create ourselves anew in any context – business, marriage, sports, health, school, family, work, etc.
What is a Belief?
A belief is a recurrently practiced thought that is held as true or real. It is a statement we repeat over and over to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, until it becomes second nature. Beliefs are so successfully and habitually reinforced that they become an unconscious insidious force that filters how we view, experience and manifest reality. We are so accustomed to these filters that we don’t realize we never experience the world as it is; in fact, most beliefs go unnoticed and unexamined our entire lives. Despite this fact, beliefs have great power – they have been known to heal us, kill us, motivate us, immobilize us and inspire us. Our very happiness and success depends on what we believe.
Luckily, beliefs can be examined and changed. Any old belief can be replaced with a new practiced thought.
How Do I Decide Which Beliefs to Change?
In order to shift a negative belief to a positive life-affirming one, we must first take stock of the disempowering beliefs that grip us. Observation is always the first key to changing any unwanted behavior. It is through observation that we can bring unconscious beliefs up to conscious awareness and then decide which ones we want to actively change. The best way to bring to the surface beliefs you would like to change is through self-examination.
You can discover and examine your beliefs best by journaling and noticing what you write about. Pick any topic to explore – business, life, relationship, yourself, your children, health, sex, religion, money – and you will see beliefs all over the place! Write a narrative and simply go back through your writing and notice what beliefs lie hidden throughout.
Or talk out loud with someone who will take on the role of helping you listen for and pull out beliefs as you do. We are often blind to our own beliefs, so an outside ear can be extremely valuable in helping us uncover unconscious thought patterns. Have your partner repeat back or write down the beliefs they hear.
As you explore a topic, notice specifically where you are unhappy or dissatisfied. Unhappiness is our biggest clue that we are holding beliefs that are inconsistent with who we want to be. Use complaints, upsets, disappointments, fears, etc. to point you to beliefs you wish to change. Anger, fear, panic, doubt, depression, sadness, resentment – all intense feelings are tied to strong beliefs, so anytime you are feeling intense emotion, it is a good time to notice what you are thinking.
Ask yourself questions. What don’t you like about who you are or what you do? What experience in your life do you wish to change? Or spout off a list of what you think you can’t do. Say why you aren’t more successful. Complaints and upsets are imbued with limiting negative beliefs.
You can also pay attention to yourself in unpleasant situations, especially at times when you feel emotionally disabled or immobilized from taking some action you really want to take. There is nothing like being in the middle of an unpleasant experience to take note of the thoughts and beliefs that are running haphazardly through your mind!
Another powerful way to discover your operating beliefs is to listen to winners and successful entrepreneurs talk about their beliefs. Sometimes hearing what someone else believes will make you aware of the gap between what they think and what you think. For example, I recently heard a very successful entrepreneur say that he assumes everyone he meets wants to buy from him, wants to be his partner and wants him to fulfill his dreams. When he walks up to the door of a potential prospect, he imagines a red carpet laid out for him. Hearing this made me aware of contrasting beliefs I have about myself in comparison and gave me some powerful beliefs to aspire to.
How Do I Go About Shifting Negative Beliefs?
There are several ways to successfully change beliefs. These ten strategies are not presented in any particular order. Feel free to read through them and choose whichever ones appeal to you most for changing your beliefs.
Remember, a belief is a practiced thought that is held as true. Question the truth of it, and it breaks down. As a result, in the strategies that follow, many questions are asked. If you merely read the questions and avoid asking them yourself, you will not get the power of them. Be sure to pick a belief of your own that you want to change and sink into the questions and processes presented here. If you do, you will experience profound changes in how you think and thereby open up limitless new possibilities for yourself.
In the many strategies that follow, and for purposes of illustration, we are going to work with changing the belief, “I can’t make enough money”.
1. Examine your belief: Question its validity; create doubt.
A first step to shifting a belief is to non-judgmentally and curiously inquire into the belief. Sometimes examining a belief is enough to shed new light on old thinking and break a belief apart. Ask questions, like: “Why do I believe this? What evidence or proof do I have to support the truth of this belief? Where did this belief come from? When was the first time I remember thinking this thought? Did my parents have a similar belief?
If you believe you can’t make enough money, you are likely to uncover other supporting beliefs. “I can’t afford to take a long vacation” or “I still have lots of credit card debt”. But even these, when inquired into with questions, will eventually break down what appears to be a grounded belief into an irrational one. For example, you could ask, “Why do I think I don’t make enough money just because I have credit card debt?” Or “Why do I think I can’t afford a long vacation?”
Keep breaking the belief down into tiny little bits. Every generalization will break itself at some point. “Is it true all the time? According to whom? Was there ever a time when I did make enough money? What would happen if I was wrong about this belief and I did make enough money? What is true about the statement, I can make enough money?” Keep going until you have poked holes in your belief and created doubt about it.
2. Look for evidence to the contrary.
We do not see things as they are. Everything is filtered through our beliefs. Since we are never seeing the world as it is, we filter out conflicting evidence to our belief. We only see what fits with our belief, that which proves the belief. So a great way to dismantle a belief is to look for evidence to the contrary. You might say, “Well, it’s no that I couldn’t pay bills last month, I just couldn’t pay more on all my credit cards like I usually do. Oh, and I did make more money last month than I have ever made before.”
When you look for evidence to the contrary, you pave the way for a new belief. You present evidence to support and strengthen your new belief while simultaneously weakening the old unwanted belief.
3. Re-frame the belief.
An event has no meaning on its own. It just is. People give events meaning according to their beliefs, values, like and dislikes. In other words, the meaning of an experience is dependent on the context and who’s experiencing it.
Reframing is changing the way you perceive an event and so changing the meaning. When the meaning changes, the response and behavior changes also.
An example of reframing “I can’t make enough money” might be “I am so great at always creating new dreams to spend money on that I am always wanting to make more money”. Now, the negative frame around “I can’t make enough money” has changed to a positive one and the belief has new meaning.
4. Explore the gift behind your belief.
One of the most potent questions you can ask about your belief is “What is my belief giving me? What is good about my believing this?” There are always benefits to our negative beliefs, gifts we receive.
One tool I have used in my coaching practice to help people access gifts they receive from their negative belief is to ask, “If some part of you were giving you this experience to help you learn something, to help you grow or empower you in some way, what do you think there is here for you to learn?” This is a very powerful question to ask and may pull out a hidden opportunity for you to use this belief to expand yourself beyond what you may have previously thought possible.
Another way to get at what your negative belief gives you is by enthusiastically exaggerating your belief, to embrace it as good, to release your resistance to it. “I love that I can’t make enough money! Yippee! It is so great that I don’t have all the money I want!” Then explore in an upbeat mood, “What is great about not having enough money? What do I love about not having enough money?” You might respond with, “I don’t have to pay taxes! I get to only work 10 hours a week! I’m inspired to go make more money than ever.”Once I loaned someone a lot of money with a high rate of return and he couldn’t pay me back as promised. My belief that I was foolish and bad with money, which was the source of my having given him the unsecured loan in the first place, was reinforced. The gift of my belief, upon examination, was that I got to blame him for my financial situation rather than take responsibility for myself. As a result of seeing the gift of my negative belief, I was inspired and motivated to believe otherwise and to make money on my own like never before. Armed with my new belief, I went from making $1,000 a month to well over $10,000 a month in just six months!
5. Take 100% responsibility for your belief.
Most disempowering beliefs give us an excuse to not take action, to stay safe, to resist change, to blame others or situations for our experience of reality. We get validation for being and staying exactly where we are with many of our unworkable beliefs. For instance, you may just prefer to blame and complain rather than to actually take the actions necessary to bring more money into your life. So what you get out of believing this thought gives you an excuse to not act. We are often more comfortable with taking a victim stance than being 100% responsible for what we believe, feel and do.
Ask yourself what you get to be right about by having this belief. Who or what do you want to keep blaming for your current situation? Take responsibility. Choose your belief. Say from a powerful place, “I want to believe I can’t make enough money. I love that I can’t make enough money.” Or better yet, explain to someone how you make sure you don’t make enough money. An interesting thing happens when you take responsibility for and choose your beliefs. The moment you own a belief as yours, take responsibility for creating it and for keeping it alive for all it gives, you in that same moment become aware of your power to change it.
There was a time when I was in a battered relationship and I was quite accustomed to thinking of myself as a victim. That all changed dramatically one day when I described in great detail all of the things I did and said to keep myself a victim in my relationship. Soon afterward I ended that relationship and never again created a relationship where I was victimized. Taking responsibility had me see how much power I had in that situation and I couldn’t help but use that same power to create big changes!
6. Declare the desired belief as though it were already true now.
A belief like “I can’t make enough money”, is merely a practiced and well-rehearsed thought. That is all it is. Every part of us is wired, however, to think a habituated thought is true.
One way to shift your negative belief is to state the new desired belief as if it were already true now. “I can and do make more than enough money.” Speak it out loud. Feel the power and possibility of this new belief. Focus on what you want to be true with all of your attention as if it were already a reality.
Add strength to your belief by looking for evidence of where it is already true. (You will have already done some of this when you looked for contrary evidence to your old belief.) Speak the evidence you find out loud. You might say, “I do pay my bills every month. I have $4000 in my retirement account. I make more money now than I ever have before. I pay more than the minimum balance on my credit cards every month”. The more solid the evidence you find, the more congruent your new belief will feel to you.
7. Utilize the power of visualization. See your new belief played out in your mind.
Visualization, which is sometimes referred to as the “theater of the mind,” is the ability to see, in your mind’s eye, some event that you know will take place in the future. The mind doesn’t know the difference between an imagined and actual occurrence and there have been studies carried out that show an improvement in performance when visualization is used.
When visualizing, it is better to use all of your senses as if you are really living your vision, not just observing or remembering it. Successful visualization requires not just thinking the right thoughts, but also feeling the emotions and vividly imagining the behaviors. Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting should be part of your “theater play” in your mind.
When ready, close your eyes and ask yourself, “Who would I be without this old belief”? Really feel and see yourself without this belief. What would you be like? What might you believe instead? Then, imagine your new belief being played out in your day-to-day life. Visualize your bank account with a higher balance. See yourself getting more clients or prospects, or your boss giving you a raise. Imagine higher sales commissions and company awards for having made the most in your company. Hear the applause. Feel the feelings associated with your visual experience. Make it as real in your mind as you can.
Whatever story you have imagined sets the stage for what you experience in life. It is very beneficial to write your vision in story form of how you want your life to be. Write out a narrative of what you are accomplishing and experiencing with your new belief. You can look one, two, five, ten, twenty years out, and write a different story from each vantage point. What are you doing? How much money are you bringing in? Write about your credit cards being paid off and going on a long vacation. Include how much money you have been able to save up and the fun, good things you have been able to buy or do because of your increased revenue. Write about everything as if it were already true now. You add great strength to new beliefs with present-time narratives to live into and read over and over again. It is especially fun years later to read them over and see how much of what you wrote you have actually created!
8. Living in the Question.
Most of us are trained to think that the way to change a belief is to have a change in some outside stimulus first. For instance, you might think the way to change your “I can’t make enough money” belief is to first have enough money. Once you have enough money, then you will be able to do the things you want to do with money, and only then will you believe or experience that you make enough money. This is another way of saying, “I need to be presented with new evidence first in order to believe a new thought.” In a diagram, this line of thinking would be illustrated as: Have à Do à Be.
In actuality, changes in belief and behavior occur in the opposite order: Be à Do à Have. First, we need to become and experience as true what we want, then take action consistent with that experience and only then will we have the outer manifestation of what we are wanting.
One way to practice “being” is to do what I call “living in the question”. It is my favorite way to shift beliefs. The question to live into has the following form: “If I knew ________, how would I be now? What would I say now? What would I do now?” To make it specific to our example, you would ask, “If I knew I could make enough money, how would I be now? What would I say now? What would I do now?”
What I love about this question is that it tricks the mind. By asking an “If” question, old beliefs are temporarily suspended and you can bypass the usual resistance of the mind to new ways of thinking. Not only that, but you have to actually imagine what you are asking before you can answer the question! You have to see yourself making enough money before you can say what you would be doing if you were making enough money. Your mind is now smack dab in the middle of a new vision, a new belief possibility, and your mind didn’t even know it!
The beauty of the unconscious mind is that it will always answer whatever question it is asked. So, when you ask the question, “If I could make enough money, what would I be doing now?” an answer will invariably arise. Now the most important part of this question is the word “now”. You don’t want to answer this question with some un-useful, disconnected generalization, which is what you will get if you don’t include the word “now”. You want to come up with an answer that will inspire you to take some new action in this moment, an action that will in turn provide you with more evidence to reinforce and strengthen this new belief.
For instance, your mind might answer, “If I knew I could make enough money, I would make more sales calls”. If that is the case, follow up your response to that question with action. Actually go make more sales calls. This is why I call this strategy “living in the question”. It is a question to live into, a question to ask several times a day, a question to take action on the answers to as you receive them. When you repeatedly “live into” the question and take action accordingly, you will over time find that you have indeed added more evidence to back up and reinforce your new belief.
9. Act as if.
This takes visualization and puts it into action. Pretending you already believe something new has great power and backing it up with posture and action helps you embody a new belief more fully. Acting as if something is already true, in short, helps you believe it.
“Acting as if” calls you not only to imagine who and how you would be if you already believed what you want to believe, but to ask yourself what you would do differently if you already fully embodied this new belief. Where “living in the question” calls for new actions in the moment if the belief were true, “acting as if” calls you take actions now as if you already embodied these new beliefs. Act now like you already are your imagined future self. Act right now like you already can and do make enough money. Carry big bills in your wallet. Offer to pay someone’s meal. Tell someone you will attend an expensive seminar. Walk with your head up high. Attend a business meeting in a suit.
Then bump it up a notch. Ask how you would act and what you would do if you already made much more than enough money. You might stay at a fancy hotel, or fly first class, or wear a nice suit, or ride in a limo. “Acting as if” might manifest as you walking into a fancy hotel in a nice suit and ordering a drink at the hotel bar like you were a wealthy person staying at the hotel, or test driving a fancy car or checking out million dollar homes available for sale in your area.
You will be amazed how “acting as if” helps to convince you that your new belief is real.
10. Get support.
Be with people who believe what you want to believe. Hang around successful folks who are already living the life you want to live. Remember, you become like the people you are around. Or said another way, your network = your net worth. So get yourself a coach or a mentor. Join a class or a group of people who are moving consistent with the beliefs you want to embody. All successful people have outside support. These chosen support networks will be a source of hope and inspiration for you when you fall back into old belief patterns and habits.
To get support, we often need to be willing to be uncomfortable. When we are with people who live beyond our beliefs, dreams and current lifestyle, we often feel uneasy. Old beliefs are brought to the surface, and oft times, we feel bad in the face of them. To avoid feeling bad, we avoid the very situations that would nourish us to rise to our full potential. And sometimes, we just plain have a hard time asking for help. We think we ought to be able to produce massive change all by ourselves. But as is commonly known, most every successful person has support. If you are serious about shifting significant beliefs so you can life the life of your dreams, then be sure to secure support for yourself.
Beliefs can change in an instant or it can take years. How long it takes depends on what you believe [pun intended]. The important thing is that you can change them. You can believe anything you want.
Shifting beliefs is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself to bring more joy and success and love into your life. When you successfully change a belief from a constrictive one to a more expansive one, your entire world changes. What once felt like a closed door will suddenly feel like an open window, a breath of fresh air, an unlimited space of possibility. There is nothing you can’t do or be when you choose and line up with beliefs that are matched up with your full potential, with who you are meant to be.
Give yourself the gift of change. Choose a new thought. Experience the wonder of living beyond belief.