Is your life going as smoothly as you would like it to? In life, we all sometimes doubt whether our goals are reachable (even reasonable), and while pursuing our dreams, bump into problem after problem. It works like that; no sooner do things start going badly, problems seem to accumulate by the hour.
Some people have it in themselves to go on pushing no matter what, trying to bring the metaphorical ‘rock’ of their dreams uphill, time and time again, much like Sisyphus in that Greek parable. Resilience is really an admirable quality. But sometimes, stopping for a second when the going gets tough to reflect on the nature of so much struggle can really be in our best interest.
Taking a moment to look at the bigger picture can sometimes help us realize that our problems have not so much to do with the ‘rock’ we believe we have to bring uphill, but instead, that they can be traced back to one (or a few) limiting beliefs. Our own beliefs. So today, we ask you a simple question: are you the heroic protagonist or the self-sabotaging antihero of your own story? The difference between these two is just a few damaging beliefs away!
First things first: what is a belief? Most of us much are used to categorizing reality into pairs of opposites –things like good or bad, right or wrong, ethical or unethical. The categories we use to give meaning to things and to life itself are, however, not a quality of reality per se but something we use, something we create, to give meaning to what we see, much like putting adjectives on the taste of an ice cream. For some, the ice cream will taste delicious and sweet. For others, acidic and disgusting. It’s all highly personal.
In the same way, it is really possible to argue that reality is neutral, that it has no inflection towards one direction or another, and that it is us the ones deciding on its actual 'taste.' And so, the important question to ask, then, is how do we choose the taste? That’s where our beliefs become the grand protagonists.
Indeed, beliefs are artificially (but strongly) stabilized world-views, patterns of thought or, if you prefer it, 'shortcuts,' that allow us to process information from the world around us in a highly organized and certainty-inflected manner. This is nothing but an elaborate way of saying that beliefs are like mental pictures strongly imprinted with a measure of ‘truth, faith, and trust,’ so that we may consider something to be very likely 'true' or very probably 'a certain way' even in lack of actual evidence to corroborate that impression.
Once a belief is formed, we are primed. We begin to see proof of our belief everywhere we look and become pretty much blind to any evidence that might point us in the opposite direction. These beliefs, powered by the emotions they instill, turn slowly into facts –the facts of our world, of our life– and these, in turn, end up shaping (our) reality and establishing the basis for our actions.
Where beliefs are made
Though it may sound surprising, the main part of a person’s belief-forming education takes place during childhood, up until roughly the age of seven. Until that point, more than a third of our time is spent sleeping and napping and, thus, ebbing between two main states: the dream state and the deep-sleep state. This means that, for a big part of our day, we fluctuate from theta to delta brainwaves, two of the types of waves best known for making the human brain more porous and receptive to new information.
Little naive sponges that we are, before the age of seven our social network is very small and can, in most cases, be narrowed down to our main caregivers, a couple of friends, and our family. Hence, most of the ‘doing’ and ‘thinking’ we pick up and learn to process and imitate at that point in life is actually based on experiences and lessons we learn from seeing our loved ones enacting them with one another and with us. This process of imitation and imprinting starts, in fact, even before birth, while we are still in the uterus. Thus, how our mother feels and what she experiences during pregnancy determines a great deal in regards to our personality and our beliefs than we normally credit.
Recognizing unhelpful beliefs
Now, beliefs are not bad in and off themselves. They actually help us navigate life and cope with the intensity and diversity of sensory input we experience on a daily basis. Clinging to them too harshly, violently, or even fearfully, though, can sometimes stand in the way of the acquisition of new knowledge, of our accessing new perspectives or insights that, instead of threatening our position, might make it even more solid. And this is when beliefs become limiting: when they prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zone, if only to have a brief look at something we will eventually reject upon closer inspection. And, if truth be told, we all have them.
A (self-inflicted) limiting belief can be something we tell ourselves about the world or the way we are, or it can be something we’ve picked up here and there from our interactions with others. Regardless of how it came about, the good news is that our limiting beliefs –which are any type of self-espoused belief that works against us– can be isolated, analyzed, and released. And all we need to do to break free from their hold is to exercise some measure of introspection and self-awareness.
Through the looking glass
Asking ourselves things like ‘what is the common denominator of the struggles in my life?’ or assessing our attitude towards the relationships we have built with others, the patterns in them, the successes we have achieved (or failed to achieve) and our emotions towards them, the valuable things and qualities we possess and those we believe we lack, or our impressions about our own abilities, health, and feelings is a great place to start. The intention behind it is to identify the type of beliefs that most impact our daily experience of life so that we can determine which are the areas we are truly struggling with the most.
Some of us might have a real hard time finding one or two limiting beliefs to begin with. We hide these type of things real deep, sometimes unconsciously. Others may easily be able to find five or more limiting beliefs in just one particular area of their lives! Nevermind the number. The really important step is to take a closer look at whatever is found; to inspect those beliefs –those ideas about us or the way we are, or are not, or will never be, that stand in the way of our own happiness– and analyze what they have in common.
Perhaps not all of them will be connected to one major underlying notion, though the majority of them will most likely. In any case, once we manage to identify the type of beliefs, thoughts, assumptions, and suppositions preventing us from even imagining life done differently, we will be able to recognize how the actual narrow-mindedness or negative bias inherent in those beliefs is not something necessarily stable. Not a fact of life, but actually a fact of our intention –and so, we are back at the 'flavor.' Which means that, this being so, there is really something we can do to change the direction of our belief, if only with a little bit of effort.
Though we'll probably be at loss as to how or where exactly we picked up those assumptions, or might even feel slightly embarrassed after realizing how such an apparently trivial notion has had such a strong effect in our everyday handlings, recognizing the power of our beliefs is a crucial step in the way to a more positively inflected life.
How to overcome limiting beliefs
Ok, so this is where something of a 'simplistic logic' gets you places. Because, all you need to do to overcome a negative belief is to go ahead and reverse it. Inflect it in the positive. Change the bad flavor. But there’s a catch! Because were are not merely speaking of changing something negative into something positive and there's that! Unfortunately, it ain't quite as easy as that.
The truth is that it won’t just suffice for you to tell yourself that somethings is red when you can still perceive it as yellow. For change to happen, you need to believe that change is possible in the first place. So, you truly have to believe that that a yellow-whatever can really actually be red. You get the idea? Indeed, 'faith' and 'trust' are key ingredients in most recipes for success –be it in business, life, or relationships. So, having faith in the fact that something that you are experiencing in a certain way can be not only otherwise or different, but actually better than before is a must.
Think, for instance, of whatever might have been nagging at your self-esteem, your views about the world, or about others for the past few days, weeks or months. For any of that to change, you have to want to let go of it first of all, and then believe that having a different experience of it is actually possible. Once you get to that place where believing is an option and trust is real, all you need to do is replace a limiting belief with a short statement cancelling out the ‘absolute (but negative) certainty’ you previously sponsored. And here, a note to the wise!
As mentioned before, we are at our most receptive when our brainwave frequency is at its lowest. This means that planting these sort of ‘positive beliefs’ like seeds into the heart of our subconscious can really work wonders. This is why tools like hypnosis, Yoga Nidra, or meditation are so effective. These can really help us overcome limiting beliefs in the long-run by taking a newly formulated and positively-inflected belief and landing it directly into our heads at precisely the time we are most open to them.
Granted, we may need to have a go at it more than once before effects are discernible, but changing our beliefs is possible and doable for any self-aware and conscientious adult looking for self-empowerment and affirmation. So, now you know: if you want to change your take on things and stop seeing the world in ways that make you feel desperate or uncomfortable, have a go at it. You can always join one of our Yoga Nidra sessions at The Practice, for example, or invest yourself into a meditative routine preceded by the practice of Sankalpa. Just remember that all it takes is trust; once you believe something is possible, you make it two times more likely to happen!