Beliefs: Positive, Negative or Both?

Clip Art Shower image
I tend to do a lot of deep thinking in the shower, and yesterday I found myself mulling over the way our beliefs can shape not just our decisions and behaviours, but who we are as individuals too.

As we grow up, we pick up certain beliefs or ideas about the world that stick with us into adult life – and even if we are aware of them, we rarely question them, simply taking them at face value.

I was thinking about my belief ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ and how disadvantaged someone would be if they never believed that with a bit of focused effort and determination there is almost always a way around, through, over, under or out of an obstacle. Almost immediately though, my brain chimed in that sometimes this belief is damn frustrating too! Why is that? Well, if I believe that there is always a solution for everything, then if I am trying and failing it must mean that I simply haven’t found the ‘right’ solution yet.

The problem with that is we are never in control of everything (and rarely in control of most things) so there are occasions when we either need to:

  • adjust our path
  • make a decision about whether something is still important enough to pursue
  • change our expectations about when or how we achieve something
  • or stop being precious about the way in which we achieve it.

Yet the flip-side or corollary of ‘Where there is a will, there’s a way’ is an unrealistic sense of responsibility and pressure to make things happen. Funny that – since I’ve always identified myself as my own worst critic!

Maybe there’s a flip-side to all our beliefs then… How about: ‘No pain, no gain’? This was a mantra of pride for me when I was a teen, and I felt it was very character-building when I pushed myself through something that was uncomfortable or unpleasant or both – all in the name of health or achievement. It is only much more recently that I realised this has meant I rejected the thought that progress and success can be easy and enjoyable! If something was too easy, then I couldn’t have done it properly or something must be missing. Hmm.

OK, surely there’s not a hidden side to the belief that ‘No matter how bad things are for me, there’s someone else in the world right now who is much worse off’? Whilst it didn’t totally prevent ‘poor me’ moments as I was growing up, this belief certainly helped put things in perspective when life seemed to mirror the motto on a t-shirt I’d bought that said “I’m always in the shit, only the depth varies!” How could there possibly be a negative side to such a belief? Well: in my own experience it meant that I sometimes accepted bad situations as normal or typical, basically dis-empowering myself from trying to change them; or, I rebelled in a non-constructive way because deep down I knew I needed to challenge it but couldn’t quite reconcile that with being appreciative of what I had that others lacked.

I still retain these beliefs – it wouldn’t be helpful to just ‘throw them out’, even if such a thing were possible. We can challenge our own blind acceptance of them though, by following these steps:

1) Identify a belief you hold that you want to explore.

e.g. “No pain, no gain”.

2) Ask yourself “What does it mean to me?

e.g. It means that I need to make an effort with all I do; that I need to push myself to do something I might not feel like doing, because I know it is worth it in the long run (and repeating it as a mantra can help!); it means prioritising future reward or benefit over immediate desire; it is character-building something to be proud of.

3) Find its flip-side or corollary. You might need to ask yourself this question a few times: “If I believe this, then…what else does this mean?”

e.g. If I believe “No pain, no gain” then this means that if something doesn’t hurt I mustn’t have achieved anything; if I believe this, then if something is easy and enjoyable I mustn’t have completed it fully; so therefore I’ve missed something or not done my best.

4) Ask yourself: “How has this flip-side been influencing my actions or decisions throughout my life?”

e.g. This means I feel dissatisfied and self-critical whenever I do something that is easy or enjoyable! So I’m always looking for what I missed, failing to celebrate (or recognise) my achievements, and suffer an unquenchable thirst for perfectionism!

5) Choose whether you are happy with these additional consequences. If you aren’t, then you can choose to make more active and conscious decisions to change those habits that don’t serve you. Ask yourself “What is the first thing I can do to reverse this consequence?”

e.g. start acknowledging every little thing I do*, find a physical gesture that I could use to congratulate myself (back-patting works really well for me!), start noticing what works that is easy (I have to keep a list of these, and review them each week to make sure I’m doing more of them).

Share one of your beliefs by adding a comment to this post, and either start exploring possible flip-sides that might secretly be influencing you on a daily basis, or simply post it and allow others to help you – as we all have our own interpretations and ideas!



* I needed real help with this one, so set myself a major challenge of congratulating myself for EVERYTHING I did for 24hrs. This included: waking up in the morning, eating, going to the loo, washing my hands, answering the phone – everything!