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How to Identify Core Beliefs
Why is identifying core beliefs important to our lives? Let’s take a recent client of mine who was trying to lose weight. After some early success she couldn’t figure out why she reverted back to old habits of binging on food that caused her weight loss to plateau. With some investigation she discovered an idea in her mind that she agreed to long ago and had since forgotten. She had agreed to feeling deprived if she didn’t eat everything she wanted. Since our minds naturally direct us to avoid the unpleasant feelings like “deprived”, she ate food to avoid these feelings. Beliefs in her mind she was not aware of were driving her to unwanted behaviors.
When she stepped outside the emotion and the perspective of being deprived she saw a completely different dynamic. By overeating she was actually depriving herself of a healthy body and physical vitality that she really wanted. By identifying that one core belief about food she is back on her way to effortlessly changing her eating habits.
Finding these hidden beliefs often requires that we do some hunting. I look at the process like solving a mystery. We begin by gathering clues until all the pieces fit in a way that we can see the hidden belief that drives destructive behaviors and habits. You might also think of it as solving the mystery of who you are.
Sometimes these agreements in our mind are right in front of us and we don't see them. The same way we might not see the windshield because we have trained our self to look through it. It might not seem like much until we bump our head into it. Beliefs are the same way. We have to retrain our mind to see the beliefs in front of us.
You might conclude that some of these suggestions below don't seem that significant. And you would be right to a degree. Without training our mind to the see the significance of certain beliefs they will seem unimportant. These techniques become much more powerful when coupled with awareness and other techniques for changing agreements. Some of these can be seen in the core belief inventory example.
Journaling your internal dialogue.
Writing the thoughts that come to your mind is a common place to start. Going back a couple days later and reading what you wrote is an even more effective process. The delay provides a shift in perspective that allows seeing your thoughts from a different point of view. It is this shift in point of view that is critical to seeing a belief we hold in our mind. The shift in perspective breaks the hypnotic effect that the belief has in appearing true.
Like the woman who felt deprived when she couldn’t eat everything she wanted. Everything is an exaggeration that turns the belief into a lie. She would be depriving herself if she was not allowed to eat food. That is true. The belief that she has to eat everything or she will feel the emotion of being deprived is not true. That part is just an agreement in her mind. By going back and reading your thoughts you have a better chance and finding these distortions in your belief system.
The thought may appear true, but behind the story is a false belief that is causing the reaction. By looking at things from a different point of view illusions in the mind are revealed.
Observe the words that come out of your mouth.
This one might sound silly because we “know” what words we speak. But you might be surprised to notice the imbedded agreements within your words. Many of the words we speak come out as an automatic reaction of our belief system. Being aware of our words can reveal a great deal if we know what to look for. Take for example the comment, “Traffic was really annoying today.” It sounds like something we would commonly say or hear.
Except this statement purports that our emotions are determined or created by something outside of us such as traffic. The weather is another thing that we often blame our emotions on. What does the number and speed of automobiles on pavement have to do with determining our emotions? Nothing really, but people reinforce this unconscious belief every time these type of phrases come out of their mouth.
While it may appear that traffic is making us upset, this isn’t true. This statement doesn’t take into account what is going on in our mind. Our expectations, judgments, interpretations, and beliefs about traffic have more to do with what we feel. The traffic situation or weather is just a trigger to the belief system in our mind. If it was traffic or weather then everyone would respond to every situation the same. This doesn’t happen so it isn’t the situation.
How many times have we said, “He/she makes me mad (sad, feel guilty, crazy)”? Do we control other people’s emotions? I don’t think we would agree to that. So it is not likely that other people are the only factor determining what we feel inside. Anytime we use phrases like, “He/she makes me feel…” we have a chance to expose a paradigm of lies in our belief system that we are living by. Just like the traffic and weather, our reactions have a lot to do with us but our words expose another belief.
It is often hard to see these beliefs as false because in the midst of emotion they appear true. We wrongly attribute the cause of emotion to traffic and leave it at that without paying attention to the words that come out of our mouth or the assumptions behind them.
If we pay attention to the words that come out of our mouth we find clues that will help us identify beliefs. Seeing our thoughts and words as not being true is a critical step if we are to make any progress. There might be some resistance to this approach because our ego resists catching ourselves in a lie.
However, having the self awareness to catch your mind lying will help a great deal in becoming more authentic in your expression. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that it will improve all your relationships and you will be happier.
Being aware of our emotions is a critical element in solving the mystery of what we believe. By identifying the emotion it is easier to see the specific belief behind the situation.
Michael was giving a talk at a large meeting and had anxiety about it. This scenario would often be dismissed as a fear of public speaking or fear of rejection, but looking at the specific emotions reveals a lot more. As we investigated the emotions we discovered that it wasn’t just fear, but there was also guilt. Michael was specifically afraid of feeling guilty for upsetting the audience with the information he was going to share.
By being aware of the emotions we get a much clearer picture of the beliefs and assumptions in his world of the mind.
A. People in the audience will be upset and disappointed emotionally.
B. Michael will be the cause of their emotional state - GUILTY
C. Wanting to avoid the unpleasant feeling of guilt - FEAR
With this much information the scenario might appear true. By looking at just one of the imbedded agreements the scenario quickly changes.
D. ASSUMPTION: Michael is the one responsible for determining other people’s emotions.
This assumption ignores that the audience has expectations and interpretations of their own. If Michael assumes he gets to determine how another person feels then he might as well believe he can cheer up a depressed person. It assumes that the people in the audience don’t have a mind of their own and rely on Michael for their happiness. This is like relying on traffic or weather for your happiness. Once this hidden assumption is identified Michael can begin to consider that he is not responsible for other people’s emotions. The potential for guilt begins to fall apart with this level of awareness. As the possibility for guilt dissolves, so does the fear.
These types of beliefs can be difficult to identify and break without some practice. We haven’t practiced looking for false assumptions and challenging them in this way. Our mind is actually conditioned to ignore these false assumptions and try to find solutions to the problems they create.
When I spoke with Michael he was trying to sort out how he was going to present the news to cause the least upset for himself and others. He thought a really artful presentation would solve his problems. This is commonly the type of compensating strategy the mind gets busy with and distracts us from the real source of anxiety. In reality the really artful solution was to dissolve the false belief that was generating the problem.
Once he directed his attention to the beliefs and assumptions creating the emotions the fear and guilt dissolved. The stress and anxiety about giving the “right presentation” fell apart. Michael could relax and just be himself.
Our minds work very fast and are quick to devise compensating strategies to maneuver us out of uncomfortable emotions. Compensating strategies of pleasing other people and making them feel okay don’t alleviate us of our uncomfortable emotions. It usually just causes us to run around feeling stressed and overworked. Compensating strategies also keep us distracted from seeing the beliefs and assumptions in our mind.
A more advanced technique for identifying core beliefs is to refrain from engaging in compensating strategies which will bring many beliefs to the surface. But to be successful at this approach you first have to be able to identify your compensating strategies. Trying to control or influence another person’s behavior is a compensating strategy. What does a boss who micro-manages people believe and feel behind their strategy? Only the one that is living the false beliefs can solve that mystery and free them from their trap.
By identifying and changing the core beliefs in our mind so many of our uncomfortable emotions and sabotaging behaviors dissolve away. The first and most critical step in this process is to be aware. Journaling, reading what you wrote, and observing the words you speak are just beginning practices that start the process of building self awareness. For a more detailed approach take a look at this core belief inventory.