Beliefs make the difference between success and failure. What you believe determines what you will do. Beliefs are the meaning that comes from certain situations. A belief is a feeling of certainty about what something is going to mean to you.
Each of us has a core set of beliefs that originated from different experiences in our lives. Yet, most of us don’t realize what they are or exactly when we decided to believe what we believe. We become remiss when we hold a situation accountable for what we believe. We all would be better served to live from an understanding that it is not the events in our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.
Our basic belief system creates a sense of certainty and it is black and white; I can or I can’t. If we reinforce a belief long enough, rehearsing it in our minds, then it creates a sense of certainty that settles itself into our body’s memory.
A perplexing question that I ask my clients is, “What does that mean about you that X happened?” Usually, clients repeat this question out loud as they consider their answer.
They take a moment and then identify the label that they have given themselves because of an experience. “I’m a success.” “I’m a failure.” “I’m inadequate.” “I’m strong.” “I’m a loser.” “I’m just like my father.” “I’m not good enough.” Once the client is able to distinguish who they believe they are from the experience they have, then we can begin to develop a strength-based approach to their self-definition, altering their dis-empowering belief system along the way.
The challenge with disempowering beliefs is that they begin to limit our quality of life. Not only do we form beliefs without intentionally doing so, but we also form these beliefs based on misinterpretations of what has happened. Once this occurs, then these beliefs become our absolute truth.
When a client comes into a session feeling negatively, it’s important for me to find out if they believe they are in pain or suffering. I ask certain questions to distinguish if what they are saying is because of a single incident or if it is rooted in historical thinking.
If someone believes that they are in pain, they, on some level, know that it is temporary. If someone believes that they are suffering, then they have adopted a pattern of beliefs that result in the feeling that the pain will never end.
According to Dr. Martin Seligman, there are three categories, three specific belief patterns, that a person must practice in order for him to feel completely resource-less. He calls these categories permanence, pervasiveness and personal.
For a person to believe that they are suffering, they must believe that the problem will never go away (permanence), that it affects all aspects of their lives (pervasiveness) and that there is a problem with you as a personality defect, and therefore you have no power to change your life (personal).
To facilitate breakthroughs with my client’s means that I must help them change the beliefs that cause limitation. The only way I can do that is for me to help their brain to associate massive pain with their choice to hold onto the old belief. Then, I help them associate remarkable pleasure to the idea of adopting a new belief, one that empowers them.
Create Doubt to Change a Belief
When I am able to create doubt around a client’s limiting belief, then I can change the belief entirely. Most of us have habitually used a belief or a set of beliefs to defend ourselves from past pain. We carry these beliefs forward and apply them throughout our lives as an additional protective mechanism. It’s as if we believe that at some other point in time, we will experience the same type of pain and must be prepared and protected. The problem with this defense mechanism is that previous beliefs become old, inapplicable and destructive. We have used them so much that we become completely aligned with them, even if our lives have dramatically changed and there are no current or perceived reminiscent threats in our lives.
I question the limiting belief and interrupt my client’s pattern of certainty; shaking up the previous references that they used to justify their tight hold on their limiting belief. It is at this point of uncertainty that I can help my clients open themselves up to adopting new and resourceful beliefs that immediately improve the quality of their lives.