We can’t help our thoughts, they just come along, one after the other. Constantly ebbing and flowing as we go about our daily lives. Most of them come and go without much reflection. But some of them get stuck, causing us to develop beliefs about someone or something that may not be true. This ends up causing us stress or pain. It limits us.
Beliefs are the lens through which we see the world. They are stories we tell ourselves. They are formed based on our experiences as we go about life. Some of them come from our families of origin because we were taught by them to see the world in a particular way. Others are formed along the way.
Since I have started life coaching, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about thoughts and limiting beliefs. I help my clients pinpoint their stressful thoughts and examine their limiting beliefs. Because I find this work fascinating as well as extremely powerful, I have been really trying to pay attention to my own thoughts and beliefs too.
For example, I really dislike shopping at a certain big box store. I believe the experience is always going to be horrible. From the moment I pull into the parking lot my judgments and expectations start. I expect the parking lot to be packed. People will be walking super slow and holding up traffic, carts will be in the way etc.
Yep, people here don’t know what to do in the parking lot. They are doing it wrong.
Then I get inside and the aisles are crowded because there are always “specials” cluttering the pathway.
They really should keep these aisles more open, it would make it easier.
Eventually I make my way to the checkout line.
Of course they don’t have enough lanes open, typical of this place, now I will have to wait forever.
Finally, it’s almost my turn. All the items for the person if front of me have been scanned and bagged. Then I see her digging around in her purse…for her checkbook.
Ugh, why is she just now getting out her checkbook? She could have done that while he was scanning and bagging. She should have already filled in the check except for the dollar amount. She should have been prepared!
The whole shopping trip is a stressful experience. It doesn’t have to be. I expected it to be based on my previous experiences there. I have a limiting belief that this Big Box store is a nightmare to shop at from beginning to end. I rarely go there but sometimes I have to. Millions of other people shop at said store every day, they love it there. So why does it get under my skin so badly?
I have created a belief (Big Box store is always a nightmare, the people don't know what they are doing), based on my past experiences. To me, this belief is absolutely true and that causes me stress. A belief is a feeling of certainty about what something means.
So what can we do about it?
Once we start to question our beliefs we no longer feel absolutely certain about them. This starts to open up our minds to a different reality.
If I can give up my belief about this store, my trip would be stress free. It would allow me a more enjoyable experience. I might shop there more, probably saving money.
A helpful way to question limiting beliefs is by using The Work of Byron Katie, where you write it down, ask four questions and turn it around.
Here is my example:
Big Box is a nightmare, the people don't know what they are doing
- Is it true? Yes
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? No
- How do you react when you believe that thought? Judgmental, stressed, unhappy, reluctant
- Who would you be without that thought? A more calm, peaceful, stress-free person
Here’s are a few examples of ways to turn each thought around along with a supporting example:
People here don’t know what to do in a parking lot, they are doing it wrong
I don’t know what to do in a parking lot, I am doing it wrong (at least this particular lot, things work differently here)
People here DO know what to do in a parking lot, they are doing it right (they aren’t stressed, this is how things roll here)
They really should keep these aisles open, it would make it easier
They really shouldn’t keep these aisles open, it wouldn’t make it easier (the sale items are conveniently located right where I am walking)
I will have to wait forever
I will not have to wait forever (forever is a really long time!)
Forever will have to wait for me (when I’m done shopping, my forever will be there waiting, this is what I’m doing now in the present moment)
She should have been prepared
I should have been prepared (I know this often happens, I should prepare for it, expect it, and allow for it)
She should not have been prepared (Why does she have to live by my rules? This is how she does it)
By taking a stressful situation and noticing my thoughts about it, I was able to turn them around and see the truth of the matter. This big box store is the way it is, that is the reality. I can cause myself stress about it or I can love what is and have a peaceful experience when I go there because I freed up my belief that big box is a nightmare and people don't know what they are doing. I can now view it from a different lens. I don't know what I'm doing when I go there.
If you are interested in learning more about limiting beliefs, I would suggest picking up “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie. If you would like to identify and work on your own self-limiting beliefs contact me for a free consultation or find a Life Coach or facilitator experienced in The Work.