Self Mastery

Improving Relationship Communication

Small Relationship Changes That Get Big Results

John Gottman studied relationships over many years noticing the small things we do in our interactions.  By observing small gestures in their conversation he could tell with better than 80% accuracy whether couples would still be married in 6 years. (

I say that these behaviors “seemed small” because at the beginning of his research they were not deemed significant. However, these small communication dynamics of how people bid for attention and responded to each other, when compounded over years, added up to make or break the relationship.

Here is an example with person A and B so that you can perhaps see your behaviors on either side of the conversation.

When partner A is talking does partner B follow up with a question to gain a deeper understanding?  Or, does B assume to have all of the information from their statement about what is going on and reply without asking questions for clarification. Does the response acknowledge or validate person A’s experience, or do they contradict it? For example, if you are having a difficult time communicating with your partner how do you phrase the issue? Do you say something like? “You don’t listen to me.” Or, do you phrase it closer to: “I don’t feel I am being understood.”

The first, with the phrase, “You don’t…. “ is going to be heard as an accusation or criticism. You might be stating a fact, but when your message is packaged as a statement about their behavior failing you, yourr partner will likely hear it as a criticism. They are then likely move to a defensive posture in the conversation. Their response will be more defensive, a criticism back, or change the subject as it has become emotionally uncomfortable. Your response to their criticism or withdrawing will likely amplify emotions to another level. In any of these scenarios, what you wanted, which is to be understood and get a closer emotional connection, didn’t happen.

You have a better chance at a constructive conversation by phrasing it as, “I am trying to express myself here and I don’t feel that I am being understood.”  Someone might point out that they essentially mean the same thing. If person A is not listening it is equivalent to saying that person B is not being understood. Except that our minds don’t process these as equivalents.

To be a better communicator we need to be aware of how our phrasing is going to be heard, or misinterpreted. To be a better listener we have to be aware of our own responses of attack, defend, withdraw, criticisms, and rebuttals and have enough personal power and mindfulness to put them aside.  That takes some work putting our false beliefs, and emotional reactions under scrutiny and dismantling them. Once you do that, you can then move to the next step of a connecting response.

What would make a healthy response?  How about, “I heard you say that I don’t listen to you. Can you give me an example?” This question opens your awareness to something specific so you can reflect on what interfered with listening and understanding. Another response might be, “I heard you say that I don’t listen to you.  When that happens how do you feel inside?”  This response first affirms that you heard them.  Asking for a level of deeper is an effective way to connect. With these exploratory questions you also have a chance to the core belief of the problem provided it is done respectfully.

A middle ground here is to rephrase what was said and say it back.  This is called active listening and sends the message that you are paying attention and trying to understand.  This isn’t always necessary.  If your husband asks if you want to go to the movies you don’t need to say, “What I hear you saying is that you want to go to the movies and that you would like me to go with you. Is that correct?” When it is straight forward conversation we don’t need to work that hard. It is during conversations about abstract problem issues like our emotions and behaviors that we need to employ a different kind of listening, what I call Listening for Understanding.

One of the backwards things that often happens in our communication is that instead of asking for what we want, we push our partner away from giving it.

What we probably want is a closer, stronger, connection with them.  The more honest thing to say is, “I want to feel closer to you and one of the ways that happens for me is when our conversation slows down and we really take the time to understand each other. Will you work with me so we do more of that?”

One of the things you notice is that this is really long. That’s not how we automatically communicate. We have learned to say things in a short hand style and most of the meaningful context is lost.  With our shorthand we expect the other person to get it, but that is unfair. They can’t know all the context and associations we have in our mind.

The mind processes the two statements differently. When Person A told their partner they weren’t listening the focus of that comment was on the partner and what they were doing wrong. Person B is now in a defensive mode and concerned about protecting their image from more criticism. The subject is no longer about what Person A is feeling and what would help. Person B’s mind is not likely to make the jump between these two things.

You have to make the changes within your self.

The hard part of all of this is that the changes to make are part of our belief system and unconscious responses.  If something is unconscious it means that you don’t notice it.  It is difficult to change things we don’t notice. That part where you stop responding in a defensive manner, withdraw, or criticize back happens so quick that it is done before our intellect knew we did it. It will take practice to catch those moments and change the habit. Part of the challenge is you first have to refrain from the automated defensive/withdraw/criticism response. The steps to this are:

  1. Taking the time to become aware that you do this.
  2. Taking responsibility for our expressions
  3. Identifying the emotions and beliefs behind this response
  4. Changing the emotions and beliefs behind the impulsive response.
  5. Developing the habit to speak in a connecting way

If you are trying to solve issues in your relationship you are likely looking for something big.  Because of this you will likely look at this process, or other suggestions and dismiss them with the justification that these changes are too small or will take too long. These changes don’t seem to be big enough to fit the size of the problem you have. Because of that unconscious criteria you will push away 100 small changes you can make, and should make.  The pattern to notice here is that if you are dismissing and not doing the little things that voice will also dismiss and not do the big things when they show up.

The reason the relationship probably got into problems is because you and your partner began doing lots of little things that weren’t helpful. You probably didn’t notice them at the time. Those little jab comments were funny in the beginning when you had plenty of other positive communications. But a couple years later, when you or your partner are stressed about work, finances, or children, they don’t feel funny anymore. Commenting to correct, instead of listening to understand, interrupting, not asking for what you want but expecting them to provide, all add to the negative emotional impact.  These are all small things, but when you do them 20 or more times a day they build substantial momentum of disconnection, frustration, and resentment.

If you want to make big changes get some skills and successes
at making a lot of small changes.

Start by getting it in your mind that a lot of little changes will add up and be worth the effort.  To really grasp this, go outside to a somewhat open area and make a note of where you are standing. Then begin walking in one direction counting out 100 steps.  When you get to 100 steps, stop. Turn around and look at where you started. Notice how far it is. Then ask yourself, “Could I have gotten that far in one jump?”

You can find specific exercises to address these small changes in beliefs, emotions,  behaviors, and communication in the Self Mastery Course and the Relationship Course. 

Forgiveness Self Mastery

A message from a subscriber about her experience doing the Self Mastery Series Exercises.


I wanted to circle back with you on this newest installment of the Self Mastery program on forgiveness. I must say that it could not have been more timely. Over the weekend my preteen daughter was assaulted by another girl at a sleep over. There are few things that a parent or a mother can go through when a child tells you something of this magnitude that is as hurtful as this. 

At first, I had an understandable emotional response, and then the Ego’s Judge came out about the other person and people needing punishment. Then the Ego’s Victim in my mind showed up and proclaimed that I was powerless to do anything about it. I did approach the parents of this other child and held in my mind the expectations that I had thought would be upheld at a trusting scenario like a sleepover. When that didn’t turn out as I had expected, the Judge and Victim voices of the Ego started another vicious cycle. I had put myself in Emotional Hell. Actually, I was there, rented an apartment and had started charging rent. 

 I started to punish myself over the next week and suffering. Working out and sleeping less, not eating. waking up early, and mentally abusing myself without any consideration. Then today I heard your message of how to forgive from the Self Mastery series. It was hard to listen to, I’ll admit. Mostly because the Ego Judge wanted to continue terrorizing everyone and the Ego Victim accepting it. But then I did as you said from the other exercises. I stepped outside of the argument these NON-personas in my head were having and said, “Who is it that we are angry with” and they all shrieked, ” YOU!!” we’re ALL angry at YOU because (filling in blank)…SOMETHING must be done…. So I asked, “Exactly what is it that can be done??” And they paused and said, “Well, honestly we don’t know, but this seems like a good idea to continue harassing you and   It seems to FEEL like we’re doing something, so maybe we should just keep doing this? 

It was actually really, really funny and I started laughing.  Here I was, nearly in tears over this admittedly unfortunate situation with my daughter and the Ego voices in my head, with their own personas leaped on to my emotions like a pack of ravenous wolves. They were very loud, very certain about doing something, or that I wasn’t doing enough. But when I really looked I saw that they had nothing of value to add.

Finally, I became the forgiver and it was like a dimmer switch in my head was turned down. They became less and less visible, less and less noisy. They aren’t all the way gone, but it’s much better to an extent.

I will continue to monitor how I do over the coming weeks. .
Thank you.  A. K. 

How Not to be Jealous of Your Friends

Our mind can work like a computer doing multiple processes in parallel. In one story we are happy for our friend and their recent success. In a parallel emotional track we have a pang of jealousy for their same success.  On a third track, or following that jealousy is a self-judgment about what a lousy friend we are.  Then, with that bad feeling about being a bad friend, we might even over compensate with congratulations to make up for it in a way that feels false. This is all possible because our mind can do multiple narratives and emotional responses at the same time or in rapid succession.

The first step to getting past such jealous responses is to be aware that this is what the mind does, even if you don’t want it to. Much like the doctor tapping the knee to check your reflexes, the mind can have a number of conditioned responses to the same input.    Often we are pulled into the next layer by judging ourselves, or our mind for these rapid responses. Unlike the reflex in the knee, you can change the responses of your mind and emotions.  Acknowledging and accepting breaks the self-judgment cycle.

The second step involves identifying the source of the reaction. When it comes to jealousy and envy of our friends successes one of the biggest factors is often self-judgment.  It is likely that you have had in your mind an image of success about where you wanted to be in your life at this point. Beliefs are acquired over years form Images of lifestyle, income, relationship, children, and career that you have labeled success.  Your mind unconsciously remembers all of these standards. Whenever you see someone achieving such a “success”, an Inner Critic jumps to compare where you are to the stored reference of success.  It then gives you an emotional slap for having failed to achieve unsaid forgotten standard.  Your friend getting what they want, is just a trigger for the Inner Critic to give you an emotional slap.

Why the emotional slap?  Sometimes we have learned through negative reinforcement.  We have collected in our memory a way to motivate our self even if that motivation has made us feel bad or label us as a loser/failure.  Are we really upset that our friend got something they wanted?  No.  We are more likely hurting because our mind quickly and unconsciously did a self judgement. If we don’t have awareness we don’t notice this dynamic. All we see is our friend with what they have and think that is causing us pain, so we direct or ill feelings to them. When you notice these less conscious layers of beliefs then you can detach from them and the emotional response changes.

At more layered levels we might add in a sense of comparing ourselves not just to our fictional image of perfection for our self, but to them.  Sometimes our mind’s mental function of comparison doesn’t use its own image of success, but uses someone else as the basis for comparison.  In that case the Inner Critic labels one person as the successful winner.  In its continual game of comparison and keeping score when it labels someone else as a winner it indirectly labels us as the failure. This self-judgment is often at the core of the jealous reaction. Detach from that belief dynamic and you will not just be a better friend to others, but to yourself also.

You can find more specific instructions on finding and changing these core beliefs by doing the exercises in the Self Mastery Course.  The first four sessions are available free. 

Related Articles:  Jealousy 

Workshops and Retreats

What Goes on at One of Gary’s Workshops and Retreats? 

I want to explain that I don’t know what is going to happen at one of my events.  I don’t know the specific content of what I will cover, or how I will go about it.  I’ll get to explaining why this is in a minute.

First I need to answer two common questions. I don’t repeat the stuff that I have in my online program. That would be boring for me and the people who have already worked on it. Part of the reason I made recordings was so that I didn’t have to repeat the same material. I like to get creative and that means new approaches incorporating new practices.

Second, I do a mixture of talk, ceremony, meditation, discussion, journeying, and a process I call Dreaming. “Dreaming” is a mindfulness exercise where you inventory through various emotions, impulses, thoughts and beliefs with a high degree of awareness. It allows for bringing various unconscious beliefs and repressed emotions to the surface so they can be worked with and changed.

The whole intent of every practice, and the overall process is to let go of the stuff that is causing unhappiness and opening to more love so you can be genuinely happy.

Aside from that, one of the hardest things for me to do is to explain what to expect at one of my events.  I understand the feeling people have of “needing to know” what is going to happen.  Particularly since you are taking valuable time off, spending money, traveling to get there, and investing in your self.  You want to be sure you will get the personal changes you want.  In spite of the need to have that question answered, it is difficult to describe what is going to happen over several days. Even though I am facilitating the process, I don’t know what is going to happen. Yes, you heard me.  I don’t know what the outcome of any exercise is going to be for any individual person. I just know from experience that the process works.

I am not trying to be coy or mysterious here.  I honestly don’t know what a person will discover in their unconscious beliefs or what emotions will need to be shifted. I can’t know that. The person doing the process knows themselves better than I do, and they don’t know it.

It is impossible for me to write up what you will have as your experience at one of my events because the person next to you will have a different one in just about every exercise we do. You might review an old relationship and realize how much your ex really loved you. The person might review their old relationship and have to release repressed anger about them.

Everyone that shows up is different. One person is working on healing their relationship and making it better. A second person is getting over a heartbreak and needs to heal so they can move forward. A third is working through a layer of self judgments that seems to cause feelings of anxiety and insecurity. A fourth wants to have an experience of peace within themselves where all the internal dialog goes quiet. A fifth has realized that they have lived their life trying to please other people and now want to have the courage to say no to others and yes to themselves. A sixth person doesn’t quite know why they are there, they just have a feeling that they are supposed to be there.  They are all bound for a different experience, yet their hearts desire can all be met with the same inward approaches.

One of the ways that I address different needs at the same time is to address the common elements of Beliefs, including Perspective and Emotions.

Beliefs and emotions are at the corner stone of how we feel and how we behave.  If you change your beliefs you will change your actions. If you have faith that getting into a relationship will lead to a painful heartbreak, you will not want to get involved with anyone. If you get into a relationship you will be looking for them to break your heart. You might even leave before they get the chance.  That is just three different ways one belief can lead to sabotaging a relationship. No doubt we have more than one unconscious belief about love, relationships, heartbreak, our self and people.

When I take people through the various processes at my events I don’t know what agreements they are going to find.  I do know that it is important to see those beliefs as structures in the mind instead of facts about life.  This is the part about Perspective. That means that you discover what you think and believe about your self isn’t true. For some people that is a relief. For others it brings up a fear about not knowing their identity. These little hurdles change from person to person.

I guide people with exercises and practices to embrace new emotional experiences of love. I do exercises and practices to have them identify their beliefs and see them as false.

Since each person has a unique set of beliefs they will see something different. They will also be working through the process from a unique point of view and level of awareness.

Some people have more motivation, or experience with the process so they trust to go further. They bet more of their faith and power into a process. They dig in find extra layers of beliefs and fear to release.

The bigger the release of fear and lies, the more room there is for love and truth to take its place.

Everyone gets the right amount of transformation corresponding to their own motivation, emotional needs, ability to absorb from the different exercises they are dealt, and investment in the process. Each person gets a different amount from each exercise. When I add the next exercise to the process then each person gets a different amount again. Over the course of a few days the return they find they have changed a great deal. Sometimes it is hard for people to leave an intensive event because they know they don’t want to go back to who they were before they arrived.

As you go through the week you become more skilled at the types of practices and working through emotions to maximize the change you specifically are looking for.  In the end, I do my best to get everyone what they ask for and need. Sometimes you walk away with more than you bargained for. Sometimes you leave with the clarity of the personal work to be done and a confidence in your ability to do it. I can’t promise you enlightenment at the end of retreat, but I can promise you will be happier.

Gary van Warmerdam



How to Change a Belief

With all our intellectual smarts and education you would think that changing a belief would be easy.  Except that if it were easy we would quickly change any thought without it showing up again, but that doesn’t happen. Yet sometimes a thought or belief does change quickly. Maybe some beliefs are easy to change and some others are harder.  Why is that? What if there are certain techniques that work for some beliefs but don’t work for others? Could it be some beliefs are like nuts and bolts that are reverse threaded? Most come apart with a turn to the left, but certain beliefs need to be turned in a different direction to loosen? I’ve been intensely focused on changing beliefs for over 20 years.  I first started with my own and then began to coach other people in changing their false beliefs. Here is an answer to these questions and summary of how to change a belief.

How can you change a belief in a way that will work?

The first step to changing a belief is to understand their construct and what makes us so attached to them.

Here are some typical beliefs that you might be motivated to change?

*They are so stupid. – A judgment that tends to create conflict.

*I’m not lovable.  – A self judgment that creates feelings of unworthiness.

*He is such an idiot. – Can create anger, resentment, disappointment.

* I hate/dislike/am unhappy with my body.  – Unhappiness and shame.

* I shouldn’t have done that. – Guilt, Embarrassment

The first thing you notice is that I’ve identified emotions that are often connected with these types of beliefs. Usually the idea, or thought, by itself doesn’t FEEL bad. It is when we have that thought as a belief that we have strong emotions. It is the emotions part that cause us the misery. A thought by itself is just a concept in the form of a sentence or statement that we can manipulate with our intellect. We can pick up an idea or drop it in a moment  without any problem.

For example, we can have a thought about what we, or someone else is wearing and whether it looks good or not without having much emotion.  But what if we walk into a business social event wearing jeans and find everyone else in business suits? The “thoughts” about what we are wearing now comes with heavy emotions. It is no longer a conceptual idea that we can easily drop or change with our intellect.

We might think thoughts about what people think of us.
But we are likely having strong emotions because our beliefs say they are judging us.

We are quickly into emotionally charged beliefs connected to thoughts like:

“I’m such an idiot (worthlessness feeling).  I must have misread the invitation (feeling stupid). Everyone here is staring at me (feeling judged). I should go back home and change (self doubt and insecurity about a decision).  This is going to look bad to my boss’s boss (feelings of inferiority). I’ll never get promoted again (fear of loss). This is a career ender (feelings of doom and hopelessness.)”

What is important to note about all these thoughts and emotional beliefs is what you were wearing didn’t change. When you got dressed you believed you were perfectly fine with what you were wearing. Your clothes didn’t change to something terrible. But suddenly you looked at the same clothes with a different set of beliefs and that activated many emotions.

The powerful component that we need to consider when changing a belief is that we will need to change the corresponding emotion.  The “thought” in our mind is just a conceptual thing and our intellect might say that it should easily and quickly change. However, changing the emotions that are attached to the belief need a different approach. Emotions don’t move, dissipate, or change very well through our intellect. The strength of emotions connected to a belief are part of the difference between an “easy” belief to change and a “hard” belief to change.

Some beliefs are harder to change because they have much stronger emotional attachments.

Identity is Part of a Belief

Suppose that in your negative self talk there is a thought such as: “I feel like such a loser.” What our mind does with this kind of thought is to build a mental story. In a way it plays a very short mental movie. In that movie our mind projects an image of our self as a loser character.  That character has one attribute, “Loser”.  For that moment of the movie this is your whole identity. Since it is a version of you based on only one negative attribute it is a completely distorted self image. In that moment you have no other characteristics, no other history and no other qualities that would make this image accurate. It is a false image, but because the imagination fixates on one attribute and exaggerates it to a whole personality it is accepted as true in the moment. It also might seem true because it is congruent with emotions you feel in that moment.

This Self Image is a False Identity, but we don’t notice it as a lie.

The part we don’t see of the movie is that it is archived in our sub-conscious memory. Our mind doesn’t give proportional credit to all our other qualities and characteristics. Our mental process isn’t concerned in bring up all our previous experiences and accomplishments to create a truthful image of our self. Our mind is making a simple movie for the moment in an effort to explain the current emotions. Our mind does not fairly and proportionally balance the “loser” identity with all our other good and generous qualities. When our mind plays the “Loser” movie fixes that as our WHOLE identity. It also sees the “Loser” as what we have always been and what we will always be. Whenever we look to those “Loser” moments in our past our memory calls on the “Loser” character to show up in our memory and imagination. Another word for this false self image of an identity is “Ego.” 

By taking something that is a slip up in one moment and exaggerating it we have turned it into a self rejecting self image and will generate lots of emotions every time we think about it. We can also generate feelings unconsciously nor realizing our mind still has it stored as our identity. Your mind doesn’t care that it is believing a lie. It also doesn’t care that the lie is about something so fundamental as who you are.

This False Self Image of Identity is Part of the Belief.

In the process of changing a belief you have to include changing your identity, or at least your mind’s false version of identity.  Since your false  identity is part of memories, when you change a belief you will also change emotional memories. One of the ways you can make this go smoother is to have another sense of your identity that you can associate to in its place. If you don’t have an alternate identity perspective then the process will include developing a different sense of self. The exercises in the Self Mastery Course will give you practical ways to shift your perspective on this identity process as well as the other steps to change a belief.

If you have been unsuccessful in the past at changing beliefs sometimes it is because you have not successfully shifted your sense of identity at the unconsciously stored level.

Some people try to make this identity shift by affirmations like, “I am smart and brilliant person.”  There are a number of problems with this approach.  One of which is that the current belief structure already has an identity for you. The “I’m so stupid,” part of the mind dismisses these positive affirmations before the can be integrated deeply. There is more on this aspect in my free podcast about how Affirmations Backfire.  For now I’ll just say that changing our False Identity perspective is one of the steps that needs to be included in order to change a belief.

Sometimes the belief wills seem it is about another person, such as, “they are such an idiot.”  Yet behind this statement is still implied a kind of projected Identity. There is a belief in our own persona that feels righteous, better than, and smarter than the other person. We are indirectly propping our ego up with this image.

Something to consider that makes this easier, is that you aren’t actually changing your identity.  You were never the distorted image of a “stupid” person to begin with.  This was a false identity narrative that you acquired. When you give up this identity you will be giving up something false. In a way you won’t be losing an identity, but rather moving closer to who you authentically are. I suggest listening to my free audio and doing the exercise on Becoming the Neutral Observer so that you will have an experiential understanding of this.

Faith – the Glue that Holds Beliefs Together

I give a detailed explanation about the role Faith has in beliefs in my book MindWorks so I will be brief here.  Faith (not the religious kind) is a kind of personal power that we invest in thoughts or ideas. It is the power of our conviction that turns an idea into a belief. When you are absolutely convinced or passionate about something there is a certain kind of energy that flows through you and keeps any contradictory or distracting thoughts out of your mind. When we are “convinced” that we or someone else has done something “stupid” or “wrong” it is that force of faith that makes it difficult to see it any other way. The opposite of this energy is skepticism. When we are skeptical we look at what we are telling our selves or what others tell us in a very different way.  We look at it from all sorts of angles and consider alternatives.

If we have the belief that we are stupid, or another thought with congruent emotions, it is because we have invested some faith in this self image of “stupid”.  The false self image of us as a stupid person is attached to us using this elastic gluing energy of faith.  When we try to discount it, deny it, or push it away, we find it springing back due to this elastic glue.  One of the keys to changing beliefs is that we have to break these bonds of faith that keep us attached to false ideas and false identities.

Beliefs that are held in your mind with a small amount of faith (glue) are easier to break than beliefs you have invested a lot of faith in. Your ability to change a belief will depend on your skill at skepticism as well as your ability to direct your personal power of faith. Your skepticism over what you believe and your personal power are two factors that affect how long it takes you to change a belief.

Steps to Change a Belief

  • Become aware of the different parts that make up a belief.
  • Release the emotions held in those beliefs.
  • Shift your perspective so you can see the identity as false.
  • Break the bonds of faith that make an idea or thought powerful.

It’s not a complicated or long list, but it needs to be done for each belief. Since we might have many beliefs, as indicated by numerous negative thoughts, the process will have to be repeated.  In the beginning these mental and mindfulness practices might seem slow and clumsy. That is to be expected because you are doing things like shifting perspective and releasing emotions for the first time. It is normal to feel somewhat incompetent when you are learning new skills.  However, the more you practice, these things will become natural and you will do them with ease. The important thing is to put in the work developing these skills so changing beliefs become easy.

I mention that these practices are skills, and I mean that. Much like doing math, or reading, we fumbled through and practiced our multiplication tables and long division.  We spent hours upon hours listening to conversations in order to learn a language and then were taught through repetition how to pronounce syllables and read words. Releasing emotions, changing perspective on our identity, and changing the ideas we have faith in are also mental skills. If you haven’t learned these skills then you have probably had a difficult time struggling to change your beliefs in the past. You can find help in learning these belief changing skills in the Self Mastery Course audios.  These processes are also outlined in my book, MindWorks: A practical guide to changing thoughts, beliefs, and emotional reactions.

The Self Mastery Course: Practical Tools for Getting Rid of the Emotional Drama in Your Life
  • Stop Emotional Reactions
  • Change Core Beliefs
  • Quiet the Criticizing Voice in Your Head
  • Develop Communication and Respect in Your Relationships
  • Create Love and Happiness in Your Life
Check out Gary's Self Mastery Audio Program and Download FOUR Sessions FREE