How to Change Beliefs to Form Better Habits (Part 1)
About every month or so, I pick up a new business book from the local public library and dive in. I enjoy reading business books as I’ve found that it helps me with the business side of running a practice so that I can be my best for my clients. Recently, I picked up Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt, a book about how to set and achieve goals in your life.
It caught my eye because I’ve been wanting to find time to cultivate new habits. With our family’s sometimes crazy schedule, I was having trouble making the changes I wanted to make. Every time I try to create a new habit, I stopped after a week or so.
I’m sure that you can relate. We all have changes that we want to make in our lives, and sometimes those changes can be very difficult to make. Michael Hyatt’s book immediately resonated with me because he rightfully says that in order to make changes in our lives, we have to start with what we believe. We must start specifically with what he calls our limiting beliefs.
What Is a “Limiting Belief”?
Taking a hint from cognitive-behavioral theory, Hyatt writes that limiting beliefs generally fall into one of three categories:
- Beliefs about the world
- Beliefs about others
- Beliefs about the self
Especially when we try new things, it’s our beliefs about ourselves that can really get in the way. For instance, one of the things I wanted to do more of was reading books that interested me and would strengthen my therapeutic knowledge and skills. However, at the end of the day, I felt tired and unmotivated to read when I had some time. “I don’t feel like doing that right now,” I’d think. “I’m too exhausted.”
My limiting belief? I don’t have the energy to accomplish my goals. And that’s just one example from my own life (we’ll return to this in part 2). It’s easy to spot our conscious limiting beliefs if we’re looking out for them. Here are some other common beliefs that Hyatt mentions (pp. 55):
- I’m not good with money
- I always fail eventually
- I’m not very disciplined
- I’m terrible with technology
- I don’t have enough experience
- I don’t have the right experience
But limiting beliefs are both conscious and unconscious; the more conscious a belief is, the more aware we are of how it shapes our behavior, and the more we can do to act differently. That is, greater awareness of our beliefs can create more agency and freedom to live as we would want.
That’s why I believe that therapy is a powerful way to raise one’s awareness of especially unconscious beliefs that influence one’s life. Changing our relationships with our beliefs can change how we are able to live our lives.
Our Beliefs Shape Our Reality
That’s because our beliefs have the power to shape and influence our thinking and behavior. As Hyatt says, “Our beliefs play a massive part in how we approach life. We tend to experience what we expect” (p. 28). Our beliefs shape what we think is possible and they influence our perceptions and behavior, often without our realizing it.
For example, I work with a lot of people that struggle with the habit of watching pornography. When the thought of watching pornography first crosses their minds, they are torn: They want to do it, but they remember that it’s usually been damaging to them, the happiness it brings them is fleeting and they feel terrible afterward, and so on. And even though they’re conflicted, they give in. Why?
Usually, their limiting beliefs about themselves keep them stuck:
- “No one else struggles with this like I do.”
- “I’ll always screw up.”
- “I can’t resist.”
- “I’m alone in this.”
- “I’m not in control.”
- “I’m not good enough.”
Like those who struggle with pornography, we all have beliefs that profoundly shape and influence not just our habits and behaviors, but all of the ways that we feels emotions and experience the world.
How to Change Beliefs
The good news is that we can do something about these beliefs. While some beliefs are unconscious, deeply engrained within us, and often highly resistant to change, even these beliefs can, once made conscious, be subject to self-reflection. Such self-reflection and awareness can open up new possibilities and choices.
We’ll talk more about how you can identify and change your limiting beliefs in part 2. Stay tuned!