The Five Steps to Changing Your Life
Everyone has limiting beliefs. These erroneous ideas about yourself, your relationships, the world, or life itself create your thought patterns, direct your choices and actions, and shape your life.
I’m guessing this isn’t news to you.
You probably already know that the painful repeating patterns you see in your life—knee-jerk reactions to certain people, working too hard, eating too much, feeling guilty over setting boundaries or ignoring them, never finding the money to do that thing you keep saying you’re going to do, etc.—stem from faulty belief systems. We pick these faulty beliefs up unconsciously from the time we’re young. Sometimes our parents teach them explicitly. Sometimes we gather them from society or our education or our own 5-year-old interpretations of our life experiences.
I vividly recall a family drive when a belief of mine was jostled out of place. I was about four. My dad, while driving, stretched both his arms up over his head. My jaw hit the floor. I yelled, “How is the car still moving!?” My parents were surprised and confused, so I yelled again, “How is the car moving if Daddy’s hands aren’t on the wheel?”
Every time the car had ever moved, my dad had at least one hand on the wheel. In my 4-year-old brain, I made an assumption: your hands on the wheel make the car go.
My dad laughed, explained the gas and brake pedals, and when we arrived at our destination brought me up to the front seat to see them. This faulty belief about the car was easy to fix. But how successful do you think I would be at driving a car today if I’d never learned the truth? It’s silly to consider! And yet this is exactly what happens with so many things we learn in childhood. We can’t get where we want to go because we’re operating on mistaken beliefs that aren’t grounded in truth.
The crazy part is that we work really hard to MAKE our faulty beliefs true.
For example, if you believe, “Money is hard to earn and easy to lose,” you’ll rarely have any. If you believe, “The world is a scary place,” you’ll always be scared. If you believe, “There’s never enough time,” you … are right.
So… just change your beliefs, right? That fixes everything, right? The short answer is YES! But (you knew there was a “but” coming…) there are two things that commonly get in the way.
First, most of us have no idea what our beliefs even are. They were handed down to us in our gullible childhood or created and accepted at the same time we were trying to figure out basic physics. (What happens if I jump out of a tree? Oh… pain. Pain happens.)
The first step is to uncover those beliefs you didn’t even know you had. Here are some suggestions:
Assess Your Life.
Look at the things you don’t like or understand about your life. For example:
- What makes you act the way you do?
- Incongruent emotions. Why don’t you feel the way you would expect to?
- Challenges you never seem to be able to overcome. Where do they come from?
Expose your own beliefs by learning how others see the world. You may agree or disagree. You may choose to hang on all the more tenaciously to your own beliefs. But hopefully you will be more aware, mindful, and purposeful about them.
- Talk to people who are different than you. Listen respectfully and try to understand.
- Read a wide variety of books and authors. (Or whatever medium you enjoy: video, podcasts, etc.)
- Travel. (Hard right now, but nothing expands your perspective quite the same way. Maybe make it a goal for the future?)
Ask yourself questions and write down the answers. There is power is seeing your thoughts on the page (even if you can’t read your own handwriting!). Start with these questions. What beliefs do they reveal to you?
- What do I believe is true about … Myself? My body? Money? Time? Love? Work? Success? The world? Come up with as many categories as you can think of. And then ask… what if my beliefs weren’t true?
- When do I use the words “always” and “never”? They are often tied to limiting beliefs.
- What affirmations do I resist?
- What would a caring friend or family member think or say about me? Where does it diverge from my own thoughts about myself?
- What makes me feel angry and/or powerless?
A trusted friend may be able to informally coach you, or you can sign up for sessions with a professional. A coach will ask hard questions, listen without judgment, read between the lines, reflect back to you what you are saying (verbally and nonverbally), and challenge your assumptions.
Once you figure out what those pesky beliefs actually are, you’ve got a few more steps to go before you see real change. Most people figure that acknowledging a new belief—the truth—will be enough. For example, perhaps you spent your whole life operating from the belief, “I’m worthless.” You discover this and tell yourself, “I’m not worthless!”
GOOD. YES. You have to do that. But your thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg. Here are the four remaining steps to changing your life:
You start with your head. First, yes, you have to change your thoughts. You know you’ve changed your thoughts when your words align with your new beliefs. If you can actually say out loud, “I am worthy,” congratulations! You’ve changed your thoughts.
From there, you move to the heart. After your thoughts, you change your emotions. You know you’ve accomplished this when you feel worthy. It’s a disappointing truth: You can SAY, “I am worthy,” and believe it in your head on an intellectual level… and still not feel it or believe it deep down. That’s the next step.
Then, you have to go to the gut level. Here’s where you actually ingest that belief so that it becomes a part of you, a part of your fabric. You change your instincts. The proof is in your gut reactions and your habitual behavior.
The final level of change is when you know the new belief in your bones. It has become the structure of your very life. You know you’ve gotten to this point when the new belief becomes a part of your identity.
If you were handed down an erroneous belief (like, “I’m worthless,” or “I’m not good at ________,” or “I can’t _______”) and for most of your life you “knew” it in your bones… it will take more than accepting the truth in your head to change your life. You’ve gotta move it right on down through your whole body. It’s more work. But it’s worth it. And it leads to lasting change.
It doesn’t matter where your beliefs came from. If you figure that out, fine. You don’t need to know where they came from to change them. You do, however, need to know what they are. Find out what underlying beliefs are steering your life. And if they aren’t serving you, change them. Change them to the point that you know the truth in your head, in your heart, in your gut, and in your bones.