The path to positive change is often spearheaded by a crisis. When everything feels like it is spinning out of control, you’re more likely to finally pay attention. And while no one wants to endure hardships, those times can be teaching moments that help you determine what’s truly important in life.
By giving you a healthy dose of perspective, even a seemingly gloomy situation may just be your next opportunity for growth and the development of new skills.
The message here: It’s helpful to scrutinize your beliefs every once in a while, in order to see yourself and the world in a new light. You'll find that re-examining what makes you tick is an extraordinary workout for your mind and provides you the focus to become a better person, leader, business owner, parent and friend. We are all creatures of habit, but we can easily get stuck in a rut of negativity that stagnates our spirit.
“Break up" with the beliefs that no longer serve you.
Over a lifetime, you accumulate memories and experiences that can do one of two things. They can be a comfort to you and propel you through life with optimism. But some of them also have the potential to hold you back and prevent you from attaining real happiness.
Have your beliefs helped you acquire a positive view of the world and your place in it? Or, are they rooted in negative thoughts that hold you back from real happiness? If the latter is true for you, you’re not alone.
Your belief system provides a core set of values to live by. These values define how you think and act and how you expect others to respond to you. Essentially, these beliefs emanate from experiences you’ve had throughout life with family, friends, work associates, even complete strangers. Each one of these beliefs conveys a message that takes hold in your mind and permeates your sense of self and your sense of ethics.
It’s not easy to redefine what you believe. But without performing a “housecleaning” at regular intervals throughout life, you may find it difficult to identify your route to genuine happiness. Collecting this information, and amending it as needed, requires commitment and clarity.
This is a process that authenticates your personal “story.” Yet it’s a story that can change on the turn of a dime. Financial setbacks, illness and relationships that break down can all turn everything inside out without warning. When the “bad” rears its ugly head, practicing the art of cognitive reappraisal is your anchor in the storm.
All this process requires is time and the willingness to look at who you are, where you’ve come from and how you wish to move forward. The secret is to believe in your potential and be fearless about discarding the old, limiting beliefs that imprison your mind, while upholding the beliefs that empower you. Your prevailing beliefs or “mental models” are there, waiting in the shadows. Only by examining them, fully understanding them and becoming conscious of them do you have any real chance to change them.
So, exactly how do you implement "this process"?
Related: How to Stop Lying to Yourself
1. Identify your beliefs.
Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right. -- Walter White, Breaking Bad
You may remember the point in the series finale of Breaking Bad when everyone's favorite socipath, Walter White, confronts his wealthy, successful former partners and says, "Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right." In other words, he's figured out what it is he wants to accomplish: to get it right.
No, you're not Walter White (hopefully). But there are many ways to identify your own beliefs, such as working with an executive coach or therapist or, if you are particularly introspective, journaling. The idea is to remain inquisitive and discern how your core beliefs serve you, for good or for ill. Limiting beliefs will reveal themselves in repetitious, painful thoughts such as: “I’m not good enough” or “No matter what I do, I can’t get ahead.”
And that kind of unobserved mind can be a dangerous thing. Because, if you’re oblivious to the thoughts that hold you back, you’ll never be able to shift them. Yet, if you ultimately establish that your beliefs have not been helpful, you can reimagine them to achieve a constructive and comfortable “fit.”
2. Reframe your beliefs.
Start practicing fact-finding behaviors that will help you step into a new frame of mind and assimilate new structures of belief, where you can begin to live according to the adjustments you have made. When you re-evaluate your beliefs, you are in a position to consciously break free of pain and suffering.
In my book Kensho: A Modern Awakening, I interviewed self-inquiry authority Byron Katie about identifying and changing beliefs. “We don’t need to know what causes us to create or attach to our belief systems,” Katie said. “The only important thing is to be aware of what are our stressful thoughts -- the thoughts that cause all our suffering -- and then to write them down and question them. This is how the truth sets us free.”
Finally, a gem from William James, championed as the “Father of American psychology”: James said that the “greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” So, choose your own thoughts well and “break up” with the ones that hold you back from realizing true happiness.