Right now, you are talking to yourself. All day, every day, you talk to yourself about the world around you––narrating, interpreting, judging. More importantly, you talk to yourself about you.
Depending upon your beliefs about yourself and your environment, your self-talk can help you achieve emotional well-being and personal and professional successes, or it can make you miserable and seriously limit your potential to form healthy relationships and find satisfaction in your life.
As a kid, you soaked up your environment and made meaning out the things you saw, heard, and were told. If every time you got angry your mother sent you to your room without dinner, you learned over time to bury your anger. If your father only paid attention to you when you brought home trophies, winning became the only thing that mattered to you.
At one time, your beliefs protected you and helped you navigate your life. But as an adult, believing you can’t express your anger or that winning is all that matters – doesn’t help you anymore. It limits you.
To understand how your unconscious beliefs impact your life, think of them like they’re part of a mathematical equation.
The American psychologist Albert Ellis (1913-2007) proposed a very simple formula to explain the very complicated ways in which we react to our environments: A + B = C.
A stands for “Activating Event”: You have a group project due in two days and all of your team members have gone home early. Your wonderful first date never called you for a second one.
B stands for “Belief”: People are always taking advantage of my hard work. There is something fundamentally wrong with me; I am unlovable.
C stands for “Consequence”: You finish the project on your own and then seethe so much resentment toward your coworkers afterward that they don’t invite you to theirnetworking lunches. Instead of taking the initiative to call and ask them out yourself, you add their name to a long list of people who rejected you.
Now that you know the extreme degree to which your beliefs about yourself drive your behavior, you can see why changing them is so important. To do this, you need to uncover and process the faulty thinking behind them––releasing negative self-talk and replacing it with new beliefs that support your well-being.
To change your beliefs about yourself, you must track your emotions to the thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve you. You can find a terrific exercise on exactly how to do this in my earlier blog: How Your Fear May Be Limiting You.(link is external)
As the saying goes, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If you can become aware of your own history, you can choose to not repeat old, limiting behaviors. Then you can view a situation with fresh eyes––a beginner’s mind, which allows you to make new choices that can improve your life.
To identify your unconscious belief, next time you’re upset or angry try to tune in to your self-talk using mindfulness. Sit quietly with the emotion and really allow yourself to experience it.
Where do you feel it in your body? What thought does it trigger?
Listen for things like:
• I can’t be happy until everything is perfect, and I always fail at making things perfect.
• My life feels like it’s spinning out of control; I need to be prepared for the worst.
• I know that if the circumstances of my life would change, it would fix how I feel inside.
Once you have identified the belief that is triggering your emotion …
Ask yourself these questions:
• What is its origin?
• Does it still support me?
• Does it hold me back?
• Does it cause me to operate from a position of fear?
• Can I replace it with a more productive belief?
Let’s say, for example, you’ve just heard about an opening at a company you’ve always wanted to work for. You tell yourself, I’m not smart enough to apply for my dream job. Now, go through the list of questions and answer each one. After ruminating on it for a while, you remember the teacher in high school who treated you like you were dumb. You recognize that the belief you’re not smart enough has kept you from pursuing your goals and limited your potential to advance in your career.
Now, turn the old, negative belief into a new, positive one: A lot of the requirements of the job suit my work experience.
Your beliefs about yourself are like an invisible, underlying script from which you unknowingly act out your life.
The faulty thinking that originated during your childhood have limited you for long enough. You have the power to change your unconscious beliefs, and you must.