where the wild things are – hidden beliefs exposed – part one

 

Hidden beliefs, core values and underlying assumptions are not quite so hidden from others as they are from ourselves. But to uncover them for us to see clearly, we need to look more deeply into where they hide.

Where did that come from?

Have you ever found yourself suddenly quite angry/ sad/ devastated/ ecstatic/ irritated/ fearful and much more so than the situation might typically call for?

Or found yourself taking someone’s comment or action personally and wondered why you were so upset about it?

What about experiencing the repetition of similar physical symptoms or obstacles at work or in relationships?

These are signals that hidden beliefs are secretly lingering in the deep, dark woods nearby.  But what exactly are these beliefs that are informing your thoughts, words and actions?  And are they beliefs that you still want to be informing your decisions?

Good questions.

 

a colourful friend

 

How the mind works

What we truly believe lives quite happily in our subconscious where it co-exists with all the information we have been tucking away there since we were toddlers.  The subconscious mind has the ability to receive and hold information that the conscious mind cannot.  The information it holds all gets labelled as literal and true.  So the filing cabinets of our belief system of literal truths sit there gathering dust while impacting our thoughts, word and actions without our expressed knowledge or consent.

 

Do you know what is in your filing cabinets?

If you haven’t visited your belief system filing cabinets for awhile now, how do you know what your beliefs are regarding:

  • Death & Life after Death
  • Love & Hate
  • Work & Leisure
  • Morality & Ethics
  • Happiness & Success
  • Physical Well-Being and Disease
  • Gender & Roles
  • Luck & Fate

 

How the hidden belief stays hidden

When we unwittingly react to situations, the helpful information about what we believe stays in the subconscious. When we choose to respond, we can bring the information to the conscious mind for processing.

On any given day, the following scenario takes place hundreds of times.

Situation
Thought
Feeling
Action
Result

 

A example of a brief interaction:

Situation     —    as you walk down the street, you are asked for spare change
Thought     —    “sure!” or “are you kidding me; get a job!” or “should I or shouldn’t I?”
Feeling       —    self-righteousness, judgement or resentment, fear or peace
Action         —    give, don’t give, or walk on
Result        —    a brief interaction with another human being for 15 – 30 seconds

 

What is not clear in this break-down of reaction to the request for money is the underlying beliefs that informed the thought and the eventual decision. Underlying beliefs about poverty, homelessness, work ethic, trust, money, your obligation and what others expect of you are wild things wandering in the forest of your subconscious mind and just waiting for an event where they can jump out to support a strong reaction.

If beliefs in your subconscious were placed there decades ago and are no longer useful then it is time notice our reactions and to transform them to responses.

 

Reaction to Response

In the above equation,

Situation
Thought
Feeling
Action
Result

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER IS OUR THOUGHTS

We can minimize exposure to some unwanted situations but we cannot predict or control every situation that we may face.  We can have feelings that may occasionally be overwhelming but feelings are there to be felt so eliminating them is not ultimately helpful and, in fact, they can be very useful towards a greater sense of self-awareness.  We can choose our actions but unless we know why we are acting (or reacting) the way we are, our choices are limited to those actions supporting our underlying, hidden beliefs.

 

To replace a reaction with response, we must consciously choose to pause before, during or after the “thought”.  Even if we make it all the way to action before we realize we are in a full-blown reaction, the pause gives the chance to go back to the thought that triggered the reaction.

Pauses can be as short as three deep breaths, counting to ten or as much as stepping away from the situation to take a moment.

 

SAM_2981

And what is hiding behind the thought that started the reactionary domino-effect to an unwanted action or result, is where all the wonderfully wild and transforming work is to be done.

Next time here, we’ll peek behind the thoughts and dig into common distorted thinking patterns that trigger unhelpful reactions to situations that could use a thoughtful response instead.  We will eventually get to a process to work through to unpack the hidden beliefs behind distorted thoughts and strong reactions.

To prepare for digging deeper:

 

1. Practice noticing

Your words
Your body’s signals
Your thoughts
Your reactions

 

2. Practice the power of the pause

In line at the grocery store
In traffic
In difficult conversations
In situations that regularly get a strong reaction from you
In silence

 

3. Practice big belief evaluation

Consider your views of some of life’s larger issues
Consider when those beliefs were anchored

See you next time for more digging and exposing of hidden beliefs!

 

behind the drama curtain

 

The pace was summer slow on this particular day when my sister and I wandered through the grocery store near her home.

nature's bounty

 

Once we agreed that we had all we came for, my sister indicated that she was going to go through the self-check lane with her items. Without even taking a breath, I scrunched up my nose and told her that I was going to go through the express lane where a tired-looking cashier was distractedly checking out a customer in front of me. “The self-check option is too stressful”. My sister lifted her eyebrows, twisted her face incredulously at me and said,

Seriously! How do you make it through the day?”

I am peculiarly sensitive to stress and work hard to avoid it even though I absolutely know that some stress is completely natural and even beneficial for me.

But what was interesting to me was how reactionary I was to this insignificant event and so unaware of the process behind the scenes.  It led me to consider how indicative my quick and unprocessed reaction was of how I handle more compelling situations that hold more meaning.

In this case, I had a whole story-line worked out behind the curtain of my mini-drama. The story starts with how hard my life had been recently, as all my stories do.

When I eventually stopped, took a breath and looked deeper, I discovered a voice behind the choice. The voice informed me that I was burned out from work, that I had had a tiring drive through too much traffic and construction, that I was in an unfamiliar grocery store and that a negative self-check incident from my past would forever be repeated so it was best to just avoid it for the rest of my life.

All of that silent and not-nearly rational chaos came out in a clear declaration from me that I was making a conscious decision about a simple check-out lane.  This minor incident is neither here nor there but what happens during more serious events and difficult situations?

What beliefs lie behind the big and small choices we make? What beliefs inform each of our thoughts, words, emotions and actions? And how do those unexamined beliefs lead to further complications in our lives, if left unexamined?

What is really happening behind these common experiences?

  • Numbness
  • Bravado
  • Resistance
  • Self-sabotage
  • Chronic irritability
  • Temper flares ups
  • Irrational fears and phobia
  • Physical symptoms
  • Stuck in a rut
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Panic

Thoughts, words, emotions and actions that stem from the above are like your car’s indicator lights. The lights come on to get our attention and to let us know that there is a deeper issue to be addressed. Ignoring the indicator lights or focusing only on them are not useful, long-term solutions. The light remains lit and keeps blinking while the underlying problem continues, undiagnosed and untreated. The logical solution is to lift the hood, shine a light on the inside and put what you find in there to the test.

Once we examine the beliefs behind the choices we make, we can be more certain that we are living consciously, with more awareness and a greater level of resilience to life’s stresses.

On Sunday, August 10th, I’ll be facilitating a Building Personal Resilience workshop at Queen Street Yoga in Kitchener, Ontario to explore how the beliefs behind your drama curtain may be impacting your life choices and experiences . You will leave with practical strategies that you can implement even before you leave the workshop.  Join me, if you can!

the beauty of berries

 

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words. create. reality?

 

I am a twin.

Well, I guess it is more accurate to say that I was born with a twin. My womb-mate, although technically fraternal, seems identical to me in so many ways yet indescribably different at the same time. Some days it feels as if she’s from a different egg altogether!  Weird.

Twins

Being twins, there’s a slight chance that we were treated more similarly, more alike than just siblings, especially since we were only sold as a set. Two of everything for years on end. Side by side for the pureed peas, high-chair feedings and dressed in matching outfits in every class photo until middle school.

Birthday parties were double the fun, for our guests. But my twin sister and I began to share knowing, resigned glances as the party-ready guests arrived each bearing their single-package gifts knowing that we were about to receive a lot of board games and other items to be shared between us. My twin and I were close, but did not relish spending hours together playing Battleship and Connect Four.

And although, our mother was thoughtfully aware enough to not compare us to each other, the labels we created in our individual self-talk perception journals were very clear. My personal black and white journal from way back then read something like this.

Me: I am the smart, introverted, persevering and sarcastic one.
She: She is the pretty, creative, social and sarcastic one.

I told you there were some similarities. The twin and I have a long-standing joke between us where we will end up sitting side-by-each in a nursing home where the experienced nurses will whisper warnings to the newbies to “stay away from those two, they bite!”

The fifth-grade “I am” statements I had scripted all had some foundation in whatever form truth takes when you’re that young. My twin indeed knew how to successfully socialize and seemed to always have plans with friends. Me, not so much. I preferred to be alone rather than hanging out with friends, chose the library stacks to the sports field and often reading a book over talking with a group of girls who were talking about a group of boys. And her creativity was expressed fluently through art, playing piano by ear or even the way she dressed with a genuine style and flair. Again, me not so much. My untapped creativity was trapped beneath a impenetrable mix of perfectionism and procrastination.

I guess I could say it’s natural to design our own labels but what is the long-term impact? What invisible doors of opportunity in our lives appeared only as walls because the risk involved would only be taken by someone with a different “I am” descriptor than the one we had for ourselves?

Recently, I started listening to my current, daily list of “I am”s and the resounding bass line of repeated phrases is interesting.  And kind of sad.

I am tired.
I am too busy to do any more.
I am too busy to get all of this work done.
I am definitely much too busy for a social life.
I am overwhelmed.
I am done.

Now there’s a snapshot of an exhausted life by design. Morbid much?  Designed to run on the steam of the consistently uttered, out-of-breath “I am”s.

But, in a given moment, am I actually tired? Or am I Danette who may at the moment be feeling the weight of a long day expressing itself as lethargy, the need for a relaxing and nourishing meal and simply a brief break from social interaction and multiple deadlines?

As soon as I say “I am tired”, my body is all too quick to agree. My posture imperceptibly crumples, with shoulders rounding forward and breath getting more shallow by the moment. Just enough though for the mind to get on board. “Yes, I am definitely tired. Exhausted even. I need a break. I work too hard.” Clearly, it must be true because I thought it.

Yet, even contemplating inverting those “I am” statements and converting them into less weighty ones might lead me perilously close to the edge of the forest where the secret life of the ‘be positive’ fairies live and dance with the woodland imps and magic fire-flies. Yikes.

Wouldn’t that just be switching one concrete for another? What about not labeling ourselves at all? But then what would we say when we are compulsively chronicling our lives in every conversation. Yes, yes, yes, I am (truly) acutely aware of the irony of that statement coming from an avid Compulsive Chronicler in blog form. Doesn’t mean I can’t question.

True confession time. I invert. And I am a converter. I recently grabbed my most common doomsday “I am”s and turned them on their heads to come up with something less lethargic, with more ease and a little less damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t.

The experiment is to use intentional word tools to see if I can rewire some of the negative, patterned, unconscious reactions. I may be just blowing sunshine up my own kilt but I’ve felt the weight of bearing these old “I am’s” and would like to see if more light-infused statements will be enough to begin some initial re-programming. I’ll keep you posted. If I start posting as a positive-thinking-will-solve-all-your-problems guru, you have permission to tell me to get my head out of my arse!  I won’t be offended. It would’ve been something my dad would’ve said so I’d respond well to it.

I do know though that things can change because when I look back on my twin-based, matching outfit litany of “I am’s”, I’ve noticed that they have oddly morphed into truthful descriptors for both me and my twin sister even if the expressions of them may appear different in varying situations. We are separately, uniquely all of them.

Not to leave all cynicism in the dust of this power of positive thinking party, I’ve still got money on the fact that the twinster and I will be an acerbic pair of old grannies, sitting in wheelchairs with knitted blankets folded on our laps,complaining about getting another board game for our 90th birthdays.

Twins

sunday hand

When I was in primary grade school, I had an art teacher who was delightfully adamant about order and process. Before each student was allowed to dip into their genius, their inner Van Gogh, or the three paint pots suspended on the easel, it was imperative that they designate one of their hands as the “Sunday” hand.

The concept of wearing your “Sunday” best would have been widely recognizable to the students at a time when the majority us still attended a place of worship with our parents and would have understood the idea Sunday being a different day set apart from the rest of the work week.  As we put on our paint-stained art smocks to protect our school clothes, we knew just what she meant.

Painting time

In the context of art class, the “Sunday” hand was absolutely, under no circumstance, to make even incidental contact with any paint, charcoal , chalk or oh-so-tempting Aylmer’s white glue. It was the hand that stayed clean enough to prevent even the most artistic messes from spreading when the inevitable non-art related activities were necessary between acts of creation. Keeping the sanctity of sanctified hand in tact must have been a real challenge for this age group who struggled with even the most basic levels of consistent self-regulation. Imagine the utter chaos on Papier Mache Day!

After mentioning this memory to a few people and being met with blank stares of no recognition, I realized that the “Sunday” hand concept was not quite as universal as I had first thought. I assumed it was right up there with the standard primary grade thinking that the teachers lived at the school or the tales of the jolly, red-suited guy who went on his annual, world-wide chimney crawl in a sleigh.

As a pre-pubescent perfectionist with tightly pulled pig-tails, I adored the “Sunday” hand rule. It resonated deeply with my desire for efficiency and order. Not exactly the hallmarks of genuine artist expression but, at that time, predictability definitely trumped art. So imagine my pleasure at having no ashy smudges anywhere, no fingerprints on a painting-in-progress and much less mess to clean up when the recess bell rang.

But beyond that, beyond this example of one teacher’s method of minimizing mess in her art class, I just assumed my childhood reality of the “Sunday” hand was the greater reality understood by small children everywhere. Instead, it was like seeing a word, new to you, in print for the first time and realizing it is spelled differently than you had always imagined it would be.

Does it make a difference if my teacher was responsible for coining the phrase “Sunday” hand and was the only educator in the entire universe to have implemented it? Not really. Does it matter that my childhood perception of the concept of it was not a worldwide, culturally recognizable idea? Nope.

What caught me off guard was that this simple, not-at-all-crucial childhood memory and, more importantly, my perception of it had been laying dormant in the very back of a dusty neurological filing cabinet, in the file folder labelled “Absolute Truth” by my 7 year-old self.  Not until four decades later was the assumption even remembered and considered, let alone challenged.

Other than instinctively keeping one hand relatively clean while cooking or painting a room in my home, holding on to the unchallenged assumption from this memory has done no psychological damage, left emotional scars, nor left a trail of relational destruction in my wake. But are there others?

Are there other more potent notions or beliefs created in those concrete-thinking developmental stages of my life that need to be re-filed under a different heading? Notions that need to be questioned?  Hidden beliefs that could be subtly impacting actions and eliciting reactions without awareness of the belief even existing?  It’s the quiet ones (it always is) upon which my brick-wall patterns are built so it might be beneficial to recognize them and challenge their validity.

What long-forgotten beliefs, formed in childhood, useful then but no so much now, are still quietly informing my current perceptions about my value, my life’s purpose and work and my relationships?

It’s time to dust off that cabinet and do some filing.