How to change your “beliefs” about the stressors in your life.
It is so gratifying to see the increasing number of articles and blogs about stress management that are redirecting people back to their minds and beliefs to solve the endless suffering from stress. The actual work of changing these beliefs is elusive, like sand running through our fingers. We start out on the right track but soon get lost in a fog of uncertainty. Maybe that is why most articles-blogs just tell us to do it, but leave the methodology up to us. This post is dedicated to “how” you change your interpretations of the stressors in your life and in doing so eliminate the causes (false beliefs) and their effects (the stress that these beliefs create.)
Observation – Beliefs
When we reach the point where we realize that we have associated an incorrect meaning or judgment with a situation, place, person or interaction (a stressor,) we have reached a milestone in reducing the beliefs that cause us stress. In essence, we have admitted that we have made an error in judgment, created a habit around it, and would now like to exchange this belief-habit with one that is not stressful. At this point we have made the mental declaration that we want to change, but the habitual nature of the belief still remains intact. We will need to come up against this habitual response with a new mental posture of acceptance and forgiveness rather than one of judgment, remorse and guilt. (I will explain more on this mental posture later in the post.)
Once again let me remind you that this is a process. So no one knows how many instances it will take to replace the belief, but I guarantee it will get easier as you practice. I will tell you now that you won’t get it on the first try, unfortunately. This is because you will come up against some resistance to giving up the habitual response. Don’t fret, this is normal and it happens to all of us.
A “how to” case study
For clarity, I am going to set up a fictitious case study and use it to demonstrate how you would go about approaching this practice. Let me set the stage as follows:
“Karen is a 35-year-old software engineer who works for a prominent
IT company as a systems software programmer. She is successful and
getting great reviews from her manager. Karen is a perfectionist and
workaholic, and is experiencing a great deal of stress at work and in her
private life. Karen’s major complaint is that she has too much work at
the cost of her private life.”
After working with Karen for a couple of weeks, she came to a an epiphany. She realizes that she is not a victim of her job. She finally realized that it was her decision to be a workaholic and that the company is not making her work 50 hours a week. She has discovered that she is not addicted to her work, but rather, she is addicted to what it represents in her mind (the interpretation.) When I asked her what that was she said in a low voice, “I work like a maniac because it makes me feel okay, lovable and worthy.” She laughed and cried as this clarity washed over her and she sensed from a place deep inside that this choice was no longer serving her highest good. This was the beginning of the end for that belief, but it would take some additional field work for Karen to make it indelible.
Observation – Interaction – Objection
In this phase of Karen’s work she is to remind herself every time she feels overwhelmed with work that “I choose this situation” (observation.) Once she was aware of this fact. I asked her to interact with the feelings, emotions and reasoning of this new observation. She reported that she was feeling incomplete, not good enough and, yes, unlovable. I asked her to just feel it and not reject it. I asked her to ask herself “Is this really true?” and just try to accept the emotion the best she can without judging it.
Observation – Interaction – Choice
In the next phase of her work, I asked Karen not only to observe and feel but to choose a new interpretation. The decision was natural and inevitable, for as Karen discovered the fun and lovable side of herself she was also deciding that her work was a means to enjoy and express. For example, one afternoon at work Karen was going strong when she realized it was 5:30 PM. She was tired and when the old voice said, “stay and work some more,” she declared to herself “No, I’m done for the day. I have an evening planned for myself.” Work could no longer define her for she was now defining her work’s purpose in her life. The confidence that Karen received from her choice will foster similar choices in the future, which will ultimately be the rebirth of a new interpretation of work. This is an empowering practice. How wonderful it is to have a choice!
Adopting a new mental posture with yourself
There will be times when this process works and times when it doesn’t. It will seem easy at times and other times more difficult. In fact there will be times when you will forget to do the work entirely. At first, Karen couldn’t allow herself to believe that she was “choosing” the situations that cause her to be stressed. At other times Karen was excessively harsh with herself when realizing that she either forgot to practice or wasn’t successful that day.
When we can clearly observe our beliefs, without judgments, we are able to understand that beliefs are nothing to hide or be ashamed of. It is merely an error in thinking that can be corrected. We do not lack the ability to change or correct any error in thinking if we can see it without blame, remorse or guilt. This is a new perspective that we must adopt for ourself and the beliefs that we are transforming.
As you can see from this semi-fictitious example, it comes close to the truth for many of us. The work is done inside our mind byworking with our thoughts and feelings. Everyday there are numerous opportunities for us to practice and perfect this unlearning process. It takes time and effort, but is very rewarding. Over the weeks and months we make small quantitative changes that ultimately lead to major qualitative experiences of less stress and more peace in our lives.
The choice is ours, and we can accept it now or pass on it. The beauty is that we can never lose this precious gift, we can only postpone its completion. Are you ready to take the challenge? I hope so.