Each of us are hindered by our beliefs. This is not the issue. The issue is that like the elephants, we lack the awareness to realize which beliefs are hindering us the most. Changing your beliefs is a process of rewiring your mind and pruning away the behaviors that don’t serve you. Just like a bad habit, you must consciously replace the bad belief with a good one. This isn’t easy and it requires some dark days.
Social anxiety is one big irrational self-fulfilling prophecy. You do not need to live with it and although it takes time, patience and effort… you CAN overcome it.” -Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D
Your perception of the world influences your behavior, and your behavior influences the outcome.
You are the creator of your story. The unconscious story running Aiden’s dating life causes him to immediately assume the worst about one bad interaction, putting him at risk for depression. As a result, he puts himself into a downward spiral of self-defeating behavior that leads him to continually receive bad feedback.
He assumes that he is undeserving of women because he had a bad experience in the past. So he gives up on dating and begins a long, lonely life, which confirms his low opinion of himself.
Aiden might benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy. It would help him learn to recognize and change his negative assumptions about himself. 1
The goal of changing any belief is to change the personal story. Mark and Tony both had similar experiences. Mark realized the experience for what it was. Tony, instead of seeing himself as a shameful mess unworthy of women, chose to use it as feedback. Tony used the opportunity to work on his self-esteem, go to the gym, become more opinionated, and truly invest in himself.
He began to seek internal validation, and eventually his hard work paid off with an awesome long-term girlfriend. This gave him more confidence in his ability to be a stud, which increased his efforts to continue to improve himself. Now, seven years later, he is the CEO of the Bank, and works fifty hours a week while making time for his family and friends. He even takes comedy classes for fun.
Tony developed a self-enhancing cycle of thinking. It reinforced his belief in the value of hard work, leading to further success in multiple areas of his life
To change a person’s story is in effect to change both the person and their future.
Changing the story in your head is not an easy task. I’ll provide you two solutions that I have found incredibly helpful in changing the story in my head; journal writing, and communication with others. They can not only be used to improve your dating life, but to also improve your career, and your passions. They allow us to regulate our emotions and make sense of the world.
Route One: Therapy
Seeking professional help in any kind of transformational process can really speed it up. Narrative psychologists McAdams and Adler write “Therapy of most kinds is easily understood in narratives terms: our stories about ourselves reflect our personal struggles and therapy involves working with these stories in order to review and edit them.” 2
A therapist, in my experience, functions as a mirror. They are someone who can reflect your stories back to you and help you see connections that you might otherwise miss. Therapists empower their clients to re-author their stories in ways more conducive to their personal being.
If you choose to work with a therapist, realize it may be a very hard process to pull out bad experiences. But you’ll be provided a safe space to talk about difficult experiences that you have avoided in the past. The therapist provides an opportunity for making sense of them, and integrating them into your evolving sense of self. Picking a therapist is like picking a girlfriend. Choose Wisely.
Below is a step-by-step guide to identifying some of your own limiting beliefs so you can consciously rewire them.
Step 1: Identify an area of your life you’d like to excel in. In the case of Aiden, I will use his passion of becoming a comedian.
Step 2: Become a defendant against the other side of your belief. All of us believe at first that we are right, but now you’re aware, just as I am, that we are sometimes wrong. Let’s put our belief on the stand and question everything about it. Assume that everything you know is wrong. This requires facing uncertainty and humility. It’s hard to stomach, but it’s necessary.
Aiden has the following beliefs: his jokes are not laughable; he needs to buy expensive props if he is ever going to attract a large audience; he lacks the time to practice his skits.
To challenge his belief, it’s crucial to seek evidence to the contrary. It’s important to build the case against his confirmation bias and recognize what supports his belief, so he can start to consciously look for what goes against it. This is called story-prompting, a technique where evidence teaches you that, like most things, people struggle at first and then improve. 3
This is really easy if you believe stereotypes about specific populations of people – like the idea that women don’t date guys who are not financially successful. If you look around, you’ll find couples where the woman is more financially successful than the man, or find that the man is just average in a financial sense. You can even find women dating men shorter than them. Hell. I know a few of each group, so go start looking for them.
Once you’ve collected the evidence, it’s time to become what McAdams calls a revisionist historian. A person who uses selective, creative and adaptive powers of the storyteller to create an evolving sense of identity.
Step 2.1: Story editing. In Timothy Wilson’s book Redirect,4 he offers this writing exercise, called story editing, designed to redirect our narratives about ourselves and the social world in a way that leads to lasting behavioral changes.
Writing Exercise: Find a quiet place to write. Recall the biggest situation that conditioned you to accept the belief you need to change. Move it away from your mind, and watch the situation unfold at a distance as an observer. Try to see yourself in the event and understand your feelings.
Wilson claims that this writing exercise works best when people are able to gain some emotional distance from the event. The space enables you to reframe the event and to find a new meaning in it.
Wilson calls this the “step back and ask why” approach. This particular technique can blunt an event’s traumatic impact and help avoid similar situations in the future.
This will develop an absolute sense of certainty, and help convince you to accomplish virtually anything. It’s like buying a new car. Once you decide on the Mustang you want, your mind becomes hypersensitive to seeing it everywhere else in the world, and suddenly you’re seeing Mustangs everywhere. The truth is, the abnormalities are always out there. You’re just choosing to not notice them.
Step 2.2: Best Possible Self Exercise-After you’ve recreated the story of your past; it’s time to create the story of your future. I want you to think about your life in the future, imagine everything has gone as perfectly as possible, and you have reached success in all of your goals. Now write about what you imagined. Write about how you got there. This exercise is intended to help you create a more optimistic story about your future, which can help you cope better with obstacles as they come up.
I write to define myself – an act of self-creation – part of [the] process of becoming. – Susan Sontag
For Aiden, this will help him revisit the time in his past when his girlfriend neglected his jokes and told him he wasn’t funny. The experience made him feel inadequate. He will then use his collected evidence to rewrite the meaning of his traumatic experience, and begin to take himself from a self-defeating cycle into his best possible self – a self-enhancing cycle. Once he has changed the story in his head, he can then…
Step 3: Be the exception – If you’ve built enough evidence to put your belief on trial, then you realize there are exceptions to your limiting belief. Yes, it may be abnormal, but women still date men less financially successful than they are. It may not be expected, but a guy without a college education can become a CEO.
The point is – become the exception. Ask yourself what this would take? In the case of women dating shorter men, it probably means putting yourself in more situations to meet women than the next guy, and not letting you get discouraged. That’s not too difficult. Especially since your future is already written out. It’s all about persevering.
For Aiden and his passions for comedy, it would be challenging for him to sign-up for a class and give his skit to his classmates without the props and practice he feels so attached to.
Wilson calls this approach the Do Good, Be Good. Its about going against your beliefs by changing your behavior first. This idea goes back to Aristotle – people acquire virtues “by first having them put into action… we become practice of just actions, self-control and courageous by performing the acts of courage.”
The Do Good, Be Good strategy encourages people to create new interpretations by changing their behavior. When someone acts kindly towards others, they begin to see themselves as having a kind disposition. The more they view themselves as kind, the more likely they are to help others – thereby strengthening their new narrative.
Step 4: Take full responsibility for failures. The most crucial step to making lasting changes is to stay away from your old belief patterns. If women reject you for not being tall enough, don’t blame it on your height. Blame it on things you can control.
You can control your ability to connect with them, your style, and your level of neediness when meeting them. Be a Tony and enhance yourself.
When Tony performed a skit for a new comedy club in between his classes – no one laughed. He wanted to blame it on his lack of props or talent, but instead he focused on what he can do better beforehand. He focused on ways to display his passion and funneled his nervousness on stage to practice more, even in front of his friends before going up again.
Aiden on the other hand – in his self-defeating cycle – would have removed responsibility and blamed it on his lack of props, unconsciously tying himself to a rope. Preventing him from ever reaching self-actualization.
Which path do you choose?
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Greenberger & Padesky (1995); Alford & Beck (1997); and social psychology approach: Erickson (1998) ↩
- Swift, Bonnie. “Change Your Story Change Yourself.” The Stanford Storytelling Project. ↩
- Book: Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change By Timothy Wilson (2011) ↩
- See Footnote 3 ↩