Today you’re going to learn how to change beliefs about the world and ourselves to those that protect, support, and bring happiness.
Byron Katie, a mother and businesswoman from California, fell into depression in her thirties. She struggled with the illness for ten years and, in the depths of despair, contemplated ending her life. However, one morning she had a thought that changed her life. She realized that it wasn’t the external world causing her depression but her beliefs about the world.
Instead of trying to change the world, she began to observe the reality around her, experiencing what was happening in the present moment. This discovery formed the basis for the creation of a method called “The Work,” which helped Byron regain her health.
The transformation of destructive beliefs about the world occurs through confronting them with four questions and examining how reality looks when those beliefs relate to ourselves.
Architecture of change
Our emotions and behaviors depend on how we interpret the world. It’s worth checking whether there are distortions in our thinking that distort reality.
1. The map of reality is as you think it is
How we perceive the world is incredibly subjective. Even though we may see the same things or events, we can interpret them in completely different ways.
“Each of us sees, hears, and feels differently,” explain Harry Alder and Beryl Heather, NLP specialists and authors of the book “NLP in 21 Days.” “Sensory stimuli pass through countless mental filters based on memories, feelings, and perceptions. Thanks to these filters, we interpret the world in a limited, unique way that we call our own reality.”
Our inner reality is a representation of the external reality. Alder and Heather refer to it as the subjective map of the external world that every person carries within themselves.
“It contains everything that happens around us, the meanings things have for us, our beliefs, and feelings – the perception of reality or what we consider an experience or reality,” they explain. “The map forms in the mind when we try to understand the world. Every smallest experience has its place in such an organized mind – a compartment, classifying drawer.”
From a biological standpoint, internal maps consist of neural connections in the brain that result from electrochemical processes occurring in an individual’s life. Each of us creates a unique network representing reality; the shape of this network is influenced by the environment in which we were raised, significant people, chance encounters, observed situations, knowledge, or experiences.
Mental maps are only fragments of reality, limited by individual abilities to create internal representations of the world and our biological and psychological capabilities (such as perception sensitivity, selective attention, temperament, or personality).
We experience subjectively. Nevertheless, most people consider their inner world as a faithful reflection of reality and their views as the only true ones, shared by all reasonable people.
EXERCISE “THE WORK”
The first step in “The Work” is to write down your assessments of any stressful situation in life, past, present, or future. It could be a conflict with someone you don’t like or a meeting with someone you resent, fear, or feel saddened by.
You can use the following questions:
1. Who annoys you, confuses you, and why? What is it about these people that you dislike?
2. How do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
3. What should they (or shouldn’t they) do, think, or feel? What advice would you give?
4. Do you need anything from them? What do they have to do to make you happy?
5. What do you think about them? Make a list (remember to be judgmental and petty).
6. What is it that you don’t want to experience again with this person?
Now, taking one of the recorded beliefs, answer four questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Are you absolutely certain that it’s true?
3. How do you feel when you think that it’s true?
4. How would you feel if you acknowledged that it’s not true?
The next step is to reverse the analyzed belief and search for truth in that belief, for example:
Belief: “I don’t like Paul because he doesn’t listen to me.”
Reversed belief: “I don’t like myself because I don’t listen to Paul.”
Confirmation of the reversed belief:
“It’s difficult for me to listen to Paul when I judge him and get angry at him.”
(After reversing your belief, look for as many facts as possible confirming its validity). Proceed in this way with each belief recorded in the first part of the exercise.
2. Foundations of schemes
Mark Twain: “I have experienced many terrible things – fortunately, most of them never happened.”
The processing of what reaches the human senses from the outside world occurs in the brain – the most important organ ensuring survival and self-control. The brain doesn’t register pure facts; instead, it immediately processes and evaluates them in the context of their impact on our survival.
Furthermore, the brain triggers an emotional response even to an event we only imagine or recall. It’s not the facts that anger, terrify, make us happy, or evoke hope; it’s our thoughts and beliefs about them.
According to Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist and creator of cognitive-behavioral therapy, individuals who suffer, are unhappy, or experience strong stress often display consistent and negative bias in perceiving the world. More precisely, they rely on automatic patterns for interpreting situations that function improperly.
Therapists simply refer to these patterns as thinking errors. They are the cause of developing destructive beliefs, which in turn hinder our growth and efficient functioning.
The mechanism of faulty thinking is sometimes so deeply rooted in our way of seeing the world that unfavorable thoughts about events arise automatically, and we are often unaware of them – it’s easier for us to label the feelings that arise after them. Becoming aware of distortions in our thinking increases distance from beliefs and, consequently, facilitates a constructive reaction to life events.
EXERCISE “THINKING ERRORS”
Analyze the types of thinking errors and familiarize yourself with examples. Write down a few thoughts that arise in situations where you feel fear, anger, sadness, or other negative emotions.
Do your thoughts include any of the listed errors?
1. Catastrophizing or fortune-telling – predicting a negative future without considering other, more likely possibilities, e.g., “I will definitely embarrass myself during this presentation.”
2. Dismissing or ignoring positive information without any reasonable basis – thinking that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities are irrelevant, e.g., “I achieved the highest sales this month, but that doesn’t mean I am competent. I just encountered open-minded people.”
3. Magnification/minimization – exaggerating the significance of negative aspects and/or minimizing the importance of positive aspects in self-evaluation, the evaluation of others, and situations, unsupported by reasonable arguments, e.g., “The lack of orders proves that I am a bad professional,” “Praise from the boss doesn’t prove that I am a good salesperson.”
4. All-or-nothing thinking (black-and-white thinking) – thinking about events in terms of two extremes rather than a continuum, e.g., “If I don’t achieve spectacular success, I am a failure.”
5. Tunnel vision or binocular trick – selectively focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation, oneself, or another person, e.g., “This salesperson is incompetent, inexperienced, unpleasant, and rude.”
6. Mind reading – the belief that one knows what others are thinking without considering more probable explanations, e.g., “She probably doesn’t answer my calls because I am not important to her.”
7. Overgeneralization – drawing general conclusions based on insufficient information, one or only a few facts. This thinking error is most common with stereotypes.
8. Personalization – the belief that one is the cause of others’ negative behaviors without considering more likely reasons for their actions, e.g., “The client was rude to me; I probably did something wrong.”
9. Misuse of “must,” “should,” “ought to” beliefs – a fixed idea of how things should be, also applying to other people, e.g., “It’s unacceptable that I lost control. This shouldn’t have happened to me.”
3. Controlled creation
Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
The thoughts we believe in are a fundamental ingredient in the beliefs we create about the world and ourselves. Anthony Robbins, in the book “Awaken the Giant Within,” simply refers to beliefs as a sense of certainty about something.
Not all thoughts that cross our minds become beliefs. Only when we find arguments confirming a thought and believe in it do we create a belief on a certain subject. “We can create beliefs about literally everything if we find enough experiences to support those beliefs,” says Robbins.
This means that by forming beliefs, we have a tremendous impact on reality and our own lives. Our minds will always find arguments, whether to deny a theory or to confirm it, depending on the thoughts and beliefs we project into the future and the reality around us. So, if you think of yourself as a failure, you won’t achieve much. If you see potential in yourself, you’ll also see more opportunities for success in the external world.
You can take control of creating your life by recognizing beliefs that hinder, limit, and make you unhappy, and by changing them to more favorable ones. How? You don’t have to suddenly become an incorrigible optimist; it’s enough to look at reality more rationally and transform negative thinking into healthy thinking.
The theory of healthy beliefs was introduced to psychology and medicine by American psychiatrist Maxie C. Maultsby, the creator of rational behavior therapy. He argued that a belief can be called healthy if it meets at least three out of five conditions: it is based on facts, helps protect our life and health, achieve goals, resolve conflicts, and feel the way we want to feel.
Maultsby supplemented his theory, emphasizing that what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another, and what is healthy for us now may not be healthy at another time.
EXERCISE “HOW TO CHECK IF BELIEFS ARE HEALTHY?”
Write down a few of your beliefs about the surrounding reality and/or yourself. Let them concern matters that are important to you, evoking both positive and negative emotions.
Focusing on each belief one by one, ask yourself if this belief:
➔ is based on obvious facts?
➔ helps protect your life and health?
➔ helps you achieve both short-term and long-term goals?
➔ helps you resolve conflicts or avoid them?
➔ helps you feel the way you want to feel?
If you answered affirmatively to at least three questions, it means that your belief is healthy. If you answered negatively to at least three questions, your belief is unhealthy and needs to be changed. If you couldn’t give a clear “yes” or “no” answer to most questions, it means that this belief doesn’t impact the quality of your life.
4. Question construction
Anthony Robbins: “If you ask frightening questions, you get frightening answers.”
Anthony Robbins argues that the difference between people lies in the questions they ask themselves. “Your brain’s computer is always ready for your service, and regardless of the type of question you ask it, it will reliably provide you with answers.”
Questions direct our attention and illuminate the situation, presenting it as hopeless or creating an opportunity. Therapists in cognitive-behavioral therapy harness this power of questions when working with destructive beliefs.
EXERCISE “SOCRATIC DIALOGUE”
Recall a specific situation from your life that triggered negative emotions. Write down this event and name the associated feelings. Now, think about and write down the main thought that accompanied you during this event – the thought that provoked negative emotions, or how you interpreted the event. On a scale from 1 to 100 percent, assess how strongly you believe in this thought.
Now answer the following questions:
1. What arguments support the idea that your thought is true?
2. What arguments contradict the truth of this thought?
3. Are there other possible causes of the event than the ones that first came to your mind?
4. What could happen in the worst-case scenario as a result of this event? Can you survive it?
5. What could happen in the best-case scenario?
6. What is the most realistic solution?
7. What are the consequences for you of believing in the truth of this thought?
8. What other thinking would be more beneficial for you?
9. What will you do in connection with this situation? What will you change?
Now, reevaluate on a scale from 1 to 100 percent how strongly you believe in your thought.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to change beliefs about the world and ourselves. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.