I saw a friend of mine the other day. She’s in an exciting new relationship but has noticed that her work life is taking a turn for the worse. ‘Well, that’s how it goes isn’t it?’ she said, ‘You can’t have everything go well at once.’ ‘Do you believe you can have everything at once?’ I asked her. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t think I do’.
You don’t get what you don’t believe in.
Did you know that? I’ll say it again.
You don’t get what you don’t believe in.
Or, put another way, your beliefs shape your reality.
Let me explain why. Your reality is a product of all the choices you’ve made up to now. Let’s say you want to become a lawyer, so you study the right subjects at school, apply for a law degree, then look for jobs at law firms and – hey presto! – you’re a lawyer. Study pottery and get a job in a museum gift shop and you end up with a whole other career, a whole other life. Would be lawyers make certain choices, would be mothers make other choices, would be yoga teachers, adventurers, astrologers, different choices again.
If you want to drive a sports car, well you better make sportscar-type choices, i.e., a well-paying job, a good finance deal and likely a house with a garage. If you want to find the man – or woman – of your dreams, you’re probably going to make decisions to socialise quite a bit, maybe get on a dating site, etc etc. If you want to become a calmer, more compassionate person, you might be inspired to start a meditation practice, go on a retreat or read some books about Buddhism.
You want something: you take action that delivers it. Simple.
The next logical question is: where does your action come from?
Actions come from thought. All of them. You have a thought: you take an action.
Thought: That guy is way hot
Action: *smile coyly when he looks over*
Thought: My job totally blows
Action: *look for a new job*
Thought: I’m big and fat and ugly
It’s pretty clear that thoughts inspire actions, so let’s go down another layer.
Where do thoughts come from?
Your thoughts come from your beliefs.
At the bottom of every single thing you think is a belief about either yourself, about others, about the world or about the way the world operates.
Your beliefs are like a lens through which you view the world; depending on which tint you’ve chosen, things look different to you than they look to others. Our thoughts are different, so our actions are different, so our reality is different. That’s why we’re all living vastly different lives and not operating like lemmings.
Behind every experience – positive or negative – is a belief of some kind. Maybe you recognise one of these, which fall into the latter camp:
I’m just a loner
No one listens to me
No one believes in me
Men are assholes
Women are bitches
Rich people are greedy
Poor people are lazy
Life is unfair
Life is hard
Life is easy for others
You can’t have it all
Do any of these belong to you? Be honest now.
It’s time to see how a belief you hold manifests into your reality. This is just an example, yet quite a common one. I know this because I used to share this belief and I know other people who most definitely operate under it.
Belief: Success comes from working your ass off
People who believe that to achieve success – fame, money, recognition, happiness, whatever their definition of success is – they have to hustle, push and put in 18-hour days, see will see a world divided into camps of fellow labourers and lazy bums. They’ll judge people on how hard they work, gravitate towards those who work in favour of all else and likely do the same. Relationships, leisure time and health may well become collateral damage in pursuit of goals, and when they fail at something, they’ll assume they didn’t try hard enough and will double down their efforts next time.
Believe something else and you’ll think different thoughts, which will inspire different actions, which will change your reality.
But before I try to convince you that you are in control of your beliefs, let’s think for a second about where they come from. We’re born shiny and new but it’s not long before all sorts of beliefs are programmed into us by our parents, by our friends, by our societies and communities and religions and by the media. For example, a child born into poverty might believe that struggle is a part of life. A bullied teen might believe that they’re unworthy. Someone growing up in a marginalised community might believe that outsiders are dangerous.
Those beliefs are the lenses you see the world through. You filter all your experiences through those lenses, continually looking for evidence that supports your beliefs and discarding evidence that doesn’t. So your beliefs get reinforced. So you pass them onto the people around you and, perhaps eventually, the next generation, which is how beliefs become entrenched in communities and nations.
You operate under a belief > it gets reinforced > you pass it on.
But – and this is a HUGE but – YOU CAN DECIDE TO KEEP A BELIEF OR BIN IT.
Just because you were the unfortunate recipient of a myriad of second-hand, terribly out of fashion beliefs, doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it for life. In fact, as soon as you know you’re in possession of an off one, it’s a good time to invite it into your office for an annual review so you can decide whether to keep it or fire its ass right then and there and replace it with a newer model.
Thing is, how do you recognise a good-for-nothing belief when you see one? ‘Cos they sure are sneaky. It’s pretty easy: you start with your actions.
Every action – if you pay close enough attention – can be tracked back to its roots, back through the layers of thoughts and beliefs it came from (because it often takes more that one thought to inspire and action and there are often deeper core beliefs sitting under itty bitty ones) . I’ll use an example I see a variation of all the time in my work as a health coach. A client texts me something like this:
‘Help! I bought a tray of Creme Eggs because they were on sale and I told myself I’d only eat one and give the rest to the kids but I ate them all while standing up in my kitchen and now I feel like a big fat heffer with no will power!’
There’s your action: bought creme eggs; scoffed the lot.
Here’s the preceding thought: ooh, creme eggs on sale
And another preceding thought: creme eggs taste so nice
And another: creme eggs will make me feel better
And another: I feel kinda sad and I don’t know why
Here’s the belief: it’s not okay to feel sad
And another belief: everyone else is happier than me
And another: there’s something wrong with me
And right at the bottom: I am not enough
I. AM. NOT. ENOUGH.
I cannot tell you how many thoughts and actions have this monstrous concept (I am not enough) at their core. Certain religions (which shall remain unamed) teach that we are born into sin. Schools filter us into sets based on test results. The media parades images of airbrushed ‘perfection’ into our environments and psyches. Social media invites us to compare our jobs, our holidays, our food, our bodies and our leisure time, with those of others. Is it any wonder, really, that we find ourselves lacking? And that we unconsciously twist every situation to prove to ourselves that this big fat lie of a belief must, in fact, be true.
You didn’t get the job = not good enough
(Maybe someone else was more qualified? Thought about that?)
You got dumped. Again = not good enough
(Maybe you deserve someone who wants to hold onto you for all time)
No one bought your paintings at an art show = not good enough
(Maybe that was the wrong audience for you, darling)
Imagine, just for a second, what your experience would be if you could change the handful of core unhelpful beliefs your hold dear.
Going back to the examples above, if the person who believes that hard graft begets success chose instead to believe that a positive attitude begets success, they would act entirely differently. They’d attract other positive people like a magnet. They’d rise up the ranks because people like them, like working with them, like doing business with them. They’d be the best person to have on a team because they make everyone feel better. And they’d see every success as a reinforcement of the power of positivity and become yet more positive.
That kind of thinking is infectious. It spreads, person by person. It full on changes the world.
There were some big ‘ol upheavals in the world last year, many of them born from a place of fear: from beliefs that, as nations, we are vulnerable, that we are being taken advantage of. Imagine a shift in belief from, ‘Our country belongs to us and us alone and we must protect it from outsiders’ to, ‘Our country is a safe haven in which all are welcome’. How would we act then? How would we vote then?
What I’m trying to emphasise here is that beliefs aren’t just important: beliefs are EVERYTHING. You have built an entire life upon your beliefs, and – I hate to break it to you here – some of them are utter bulls**t.
Which brings me onto my next question: How do you change a belief that isn’t serving you? I’m going to turn here to Australian author Melody Fletcher, who wrote a book I like called, ‘Deliberate Receiving’. Here are her steps to changing a belief:
Step 1: Recognise your current belief is based on an incomplete set of data
Step 2: Open your mind to the idea that more data, much of which will NOT support your current perspective, exists
Step 3: Decide which perspective you’d like to adopt (or just how you want that perspective to feel)
Step 4: Look for evidence to support that new, wanted perspective
Step 5: Gather enough of that supporting data so you can accept this new perspective as truth.
Pretty simple right? So simple in fact, that as soon as you go through this process, it’ll become so immediately obvious how stupid and stinky your old beliefs were, and you’ll wonder a) how the hell you came by them, and b) why you held onto them for so long.
Let’s put the (evil step)mother of all beliefs through the process above.
Belief: I am not enough
Step 1: ‘Okay, I admit it, it’s possible that this belief is based on an incomplete set of data’
Step 2: ‘Maybe, just maybe, there is data out there that doesn’t support the belief that I am not enough’
Step 3: ‘I’d like to feel really good about myself and treat myself well, i.e. not scoff creme eggs or work until I’m exhausted’
Step 4: ‘Evidence that I am actually enough…hmmmm. Well, my family seems to love me, as does my partner, and my kids, and my dog. Everyone at work tells me how much they value what I do and how good I make them feel.’
Step 5: ‘I think I’m a good, kind person and always try to help others where I can. I really helped my friend out the other day when she had a meltdown…I was definitely enough then…etc, etc.’
Result: ‘Erm, maybe I am actually enough after all. Maybe I do deserve to be loved and happy and healthy and to have everything I want’.
Operate from a place of enough-ness, from beliefs that are positive rather than negative, and the world is really your oyster.
This process pretty much sums up how health coaching differs from just going on a diet or exercise programme. A diet will make you eat healthier things than creme eggs; a gym membership will help you burn off the calories from creme eggs; health coaching looks at why you eat shit when you’re sad and addresses the sadness, addresses ALL the emotions, so you never need worry about creme eggs again. My 3-month HC programme is right here.
Any shoddy beliefs you want rid of? Take the first step by popping them in the comments below. I’ll give them a nice send off, I promise.