How to Change Beliefs to Form Better Habits (Part 2)
Changing our habits can be challenging, and in part 1, we saw why. Whether it’s starting a new habit or ditching an old one, any changes we try make will quickly send us to a meet-n’-greet with the beliefs that are tied up with that habit.
Maybe you have trouble regularly checking your finances because we believe you’re not with money and there’s a lot of fear there for you. Maybe you’re afraid to start something new because you believe that you’ll fail. Maybe it’s been really tough to kick your pornography habit because you feel like you’re not good enough no matter what you do, and at least pornography makes you forget that for a while.
Whatever the case, becoming aware of how our beliefs get in the way of making changes to our lives is the first step. But what’s next? Let’s return to Michael Hyatt’s book Your Best Year Ever for a little help with how to change beliefs to create a better life.
Before we dive in, I wanted to briefly share with you that I know how hard it is to change habits, especially habits that develop into addictions. For a long time, I struggled with alcohol because I was of showing up fully for life, believing that if I did, I’d fail. Alcohol kept me safe until I was ready to say goodbye to it.
Our habits tend to help keep us comfortable and safe, which is why they can be so damn hard to change. So what’s the first step?
Recognize the Belief
Once you know what your limiting beliefs are, Hyatt rightly says that you need to recognize the belief as it’s happening. As I often tell clients, this may mean giving some thought to the feelings, thoughts, and even bodily sensations that go with the belief. What does this mean?
Let’s say you have the belief “I’m not good enough.” What does this belief feel like? Shame? Inadequacy? Embarrassment? Anxiety? A bit of all of the above? And what thoughts might go along with this belief? How does it “show up” for you? Maybe you have:
- catastrophizing thoughts: whatever you do will end in fireballs, crying puppies, and widespread panic (“This is going to totally blow up and it’s going to be my fault”)
- universalizing thoughts: about everyone else and you (“No one else struggles with this like I do” or “Everyone can do this well but me”)
- personalizing thoughts: making statements or actions about you when they might not be (“When she said that, it felt like she was angry with me”)
Being aware of how your thoughts, feelings, and your body are signaling you that you’re experiencing a limiting beliefs is so important. We can’t do anything about a belief without being aware of it first. If it helps, Hyatt suggests writing the belief down. “By writing it down you externalize it. Now you’re free to evaluate it” (p. 56).
Reflect on the Belief
Chances are, if you’re recognizing a belief and evaluating it, it’s probably not an empowering or constructive belief. It’s more likely a reflection of messages that you got about yourself and how to be in relationships along the way from your family growing up.
In other words, it’s painful and shitty and you want to do something about how the pain is affecting your life, like my belief and how that was contributing to my alcohol use. When you honestly review the belief, what do you think about it? How do you want to revise or change it?
One form of cognitive behavioral therapy calls this step disputing the limiting belief. I like that word as it communicates what’s really going on here. When you recognize the belief and review it, you’re effectively saying, “Hold on, do I want to give that belief that much power in my life? What if that belief isn’t true? What else could be true for me here?” Cue the music for revising your beliefs.
Revise the Belief
Revising the old belief means identifying a new emotional truth that opens up new possibilities. Sometimes, as Hyatt says, we can simply reject the old belief, think of a new one, and live into it.
At other times, this isn’t always easy. It may mean that we need to rethink our approach to the evidence we have for our beliefs and to listen to others we trust about other possibilities that might be true. For instance, do you believe that you’re not good enough? We all need to be understood in our most painful feelings like that, but what would happen if you listened to others who believed in you? Who believed you could do it?
Changing beliefs is risky. Believing something new. . . . Well, it’s not easy. If you’re like me, changing your beliefs brings up fear. It’s pretty scary to move beyond what’s known and comfortable, even when what’s known is painful. In a way, our emotional pain is like a wearing a dirty diaper: “It’s warm and smelly, but it’s mine!”
One of my mentors, though, told me at one point some very helpful advice: Feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s not easy, but you might be surprised about what you discover you can believe about yourself.