re-wiring thought patterns – hidden beliefs exposed – part four

Once upon a time, it was believed that our brains were wired by our early experiences as young children and then hard-wired by the time we reached early adulthood.  We bought into this with our exclamations of

I can’t help it, that’s the way I was born.

I’ve always been this way.”

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Neuroscience research has now discovered that our brains are much more adaptive than that.  Based on new experiences, the brain can create new neural pathways and revise current, outdated ones that are no longer useful. The discovery has come from the study of the brain’s plasticity or neuroplasticity.

 

Six-Million-Dollar-Man-six-million-dollar-man-659509_346_259

 

This not some “We can rebuild him. We have the technology” cyborg science like the Six Million Dollar Man show from the 70’s.  And it is not magic.  And it’s most certainly not the power of positive thinking that allows our brains to change and adapt.

With the discovery of the brain’s adaptability and a commitment to self-awareness, you can actually re-wire a thought pattern that is no longer useful for you into one that is more beneficial. New experiences can be elegantly integrated while old patterns are woven out of commission.

 

Re-wiring Process

1. SET THE INTENTION

Get crystal clear on your intention to re-set an unhealthy thought pattern. Clarity is key. Cloudy intentions lead to cloudy results.

2. MAKE TIME TO PAUSE

Meditation.  Take intentional tech-fasts.  Take deep breath breaks. Courageously notice unhelpful thought patterns.

3. PROCESS FOR RE-WIRING

Name the thought
Name distorted thought pattern(s) from part two of this series
Consider how and when it became anchored
Name the underlying belief
Sit with the emotions that are tied to the belief
Write out the worst-case scenario if belief didn’t change
Challenge the belief with reason, evidence and support
Consider what the new belief would need to be
Visualize new belief and write out the best-case scenario
Verbalize – repeat the new belief to rewire it into your belief system

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Does this seem like too much work?

 

 

It is work.

Unremarkable hard work.

But consider the impact of NOT doing this work.

Unexamined thoughts mean unconscious beliefs are running the show.

 

 

Sample process:

Start small.  Take a less significant pattern to put through the process.

Thought: “I must finish this book I started reading even though I’m not enjoying it.” 

Distorted Thought: Is an “all or nothing”distorted thought pattern feeding this thought? Do I have a ‘black and white’ rule about this?  Dig deeper.

Underlying Belief: Is there an underlying belief that good, strong, responsible people finish what they start?  Is there a belief that finishing something is proof of my worth?

Anchor:  Is there a childhood root in not being able to move onto something new until the first thing is finished?  Was I taught that?

Emotions:  Is there any shame attached to being “mature enough” to finish what I started?  Was there significant adult pressure in childhood to finish things?

Worst-Case Scenario: What’s the worst-case scenario if I am compelled to finish everything I start without reasonable consideration of its current benefit to me?

Challenge the Belief: Now, as an adult, is it reasonable for me to finish reading this book?  Do I have a valid reason to finish or it is simply because it is the way I was wired as a child?  It was absolutely helpful for me to learn responsibility as a child but now, as an already responsible adult, can I choose to start and finish things for a valid reason for me now?

New Belief:   As soon as I notice myself acting out of compulsion to finish something, I will re-evaluate the “why” of doing so. If it based on old, no longer useful pattern then I will begin the re-wiring by choosing a new response that I will verbalize.

Visualize:  I see myself making choices for me now, not for the much younger me who first created this thought pattern.

Verbalize:  “I am free to choose and am responsible for my choice.  There is no “must” or compulsion to do so”.

 

Making Evaluation a Habit 

1.  Start small.  Big things happen when you start with little things.

2.  Keep a record.  Recording the process creates a new anchor in the present.

3.  Start today.  It is easier to change a pattern today than it will be next year.

4.  Be reasonable.  Patterns have taken a lifetime to make and take time to re-wire.

5.  Be grateful.  Life is full of abundance and hope.  Notice the positive!

 

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words in action — hidden beliefs exposed — part three

 

Richard Rodgers of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song-writing duo was the creative force behind the sentiments in the Sound of Music classic, Something Good, a song that was not in the original stage version but was written additionally for the 1965 film.

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

soemthing good

It doesn’t take a mind reader to see wisps of underlying beliefs and assumptions rising like a gentle fog from the lyrics of this refrain. The words suggest that “good things happen to good people” or at least a person who does enough good things will be rewarded. What does that mean when bad things happen? And what do the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ really mean?

The good-comes-from-good worldview is interesting but becomes a real mind-twisting, emotional roller-coaster when events are not in line with that particular belief.

Your unscripted words are the proving ground

for what you truly believe.

Beliefs that may be deep and dormant come to life in the following phrases:

“Don’t do that! What will the neighbours think?”

“This job will be the death of me!”

“She makes me so mad. I could just scream!”

“I give and I give and I give. He owes me big time!”

“I can’t believe she didn’t invite me. I must have done something to upset her.”

“This is so hard. If this relationship is really right then it should be easier than this.”

“Flat tire? Just my luck!”

“Don’t get too excited about this good news. The other shoe will drop eventually.”

 

 

 

black eyed susans
While it is easier to discern the beliefs of others through words like these, it is more challenging for us to hear our own words, let alone to understand what they reveal. This is especially true since most of us speak more than we listen. How could be possible be aware of every word we say?

 

To Thine Own Self Be Known

Get to know your personal filters through which all your experiences flow. How have your life events, personality, temperament, significant influences and preferences created those particular filters? How do your filters inform your worldview?

 

Notice and Note

Begin to notice your word choices especially those that are repeated or those attached to significant level of emotion. Keeping some method of recording what you notice handy will be helpful to notice just how often you reveal your hidden beliefs and underlying assumptions through your words.

For the truly brave and bold among you, give someone close to you permission to point out when your words reveal a distorted thinking pattern from part two of this series.

 

 Consider the Source

When you begin to notice pattern of distorted thinking revealed in your words, consider from where this pattern may have originated. Sift through family patterns, significant events and your personal temperament that may have firmly rooted this thought pattern into your belief system.

 

Next time, we will take one particular thought pattern through a process of review and revision to see how we can re-wire our brains to develop new, more useful thought patterns grounded on beneficial beliefs.  Discover one of your patterns to put through the process.

Be well, be aware and stay tuned!

 

 

distorted thoughts and twisted truths – hidden beliefs exposed — part two

 

Now that you have considered some of your beliefs around the larger issues of life and discovered the power of a pause for noticing thoughts from  part one of this series, it is time to look deeper into the twists and turns of a thought process.

You may recall the following breakdown of the hundreds of encounters we have on a daily basis:

Situation
Thought
Feeling
Action
Result

Knowing at which point, how and how often to pause in this process can be a challenging. We have so many thoughts in a day and cannot possibly stop at each one to consider the underlying assumptions lurking behind.

 

But some of our thoughts hold more weight than others. The work is to focus on the ones that move very quickly from a simple, fleeting thought to a full-length movies of epic proportions.  Sit.  Start small.  Look for patterns.

sidewalk cafe

 

Effective Hiding Spots for Funky Thoughts

The following areas are indicators of where twisted truths and distorted thoughts like to hang out and make up stories. Noticing when you are experiencing repetition or intensity in any of these areas is a good start.

 

1. Attachments, Obsessions and Addictions

Beyond some typical addictive activities used for numbness from some real or perceived
discomfort (substance abuse, eating too much or too little, excessive screen time,
compulsive sexual behaviour ), what would make your grasp tighten a little if it was pulled away from you?  The glass or two of wine each evening to take the edge off? A shortened deadline so your finished product could not be perfected? Being right at any cost? Notice.

 

2. Aversions and Avoidances

What do you ignore or avoid at all costs? Confrontation? Self-reflection? Taking
responsibility for your own actions and their consequences? Displeasing someone?
Collaboration? New experiences?  Old, boring experiences? Being alone? Notice.

 

3. Physical Symptoms
What is your body saying to you? Communication from your body could be in the form of pain, pleasure, numbness or a sense of not having any awareness of your body at all. Or it could be through repeated minor conditions, illnesses or even long-term, chronic diseases. What is your body saying in health, dis-ease, in motion and at rest? Notice.

 

4. Overwhelming Emotions
When it seems as if the emotions will swallow you up, what is hiding in that moment? When you find yourself swimming in an ocean of fear or terror, rage, jealousy, boredom, ecstasy or euphoria, obsessive desire, isolation and loneliness or despair, Notice.

 

5. Relationships Obstacles
No relationship is perfect. But what could be learned from looking at those messy sticking points, the raw-nerve moments, the chronic misunderstandings or the inelegant dance moves of two partners out-of-step? At home?  At work?  With friends?  Family?  Notice.

 

6. Feeling Hurt, Stuck or Incompetent
What lurks behind the reaction “what she did really hurt my feelings, how could she do that to me”? What is the “should” belief lingering behind believing that our present situation finds us stuck in a rut or trapped in our own life? What belief is getting its mail forwarded to the hiding spot behind your reaction of feeling incompetent or unqualified?  Notice.

 

Hidden Thought Patterns Revealed in Distortion

We are so competent at distorting thinking that we don’t even recognize we’re doing it. Once you start noticing where your distorted thoughts regularly hide, here are some common cognitive distortions from PsychCentral.com that you might discover there.

 

Filtering: Filtering out the positive and only seeing the positive

Polarized Thinking:  Seeing situations as black & white, with an all or nothing attitude

Over-generalization:  Creating a general outlook based on one incident

Jumping to Conclusions:  Assuming an outcome even without proof

Catastrophizing: Expecting that a disaster will be the outcome

Personalization: Taking the words and actions of others personally

Control Fallacies: Believing you are a victim of fate or that you life is externally controlled

Fallacies of Fairness: Assuming that everything in life is ultimately supposed to be fair

Blaming: Holding others responsible for our pain and discomfort

Shoulds: Having clear rules about how we and all other should behave

Emotional Reasoning: Believing that what we feel is the concrete truth

Fallacy of Change: Believing that people will change if pressured enough to do so

Global Labelling: Using emotionally-laden language to make a global judgement

Always Being Right: Thinking that being wrong is an unthinkable situation

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: Keeping score of giving in hopes of getting back in return

 

That’s a boat-load of noticing to do!

sunday walk sights1

 

Self-care Homework

1.  Continue to practice the pause from part one of this series to help you with the noticing.

2.  Keep a small notebook handy to record what you notice will help you focus on the one or two thought patterns that are causing you the most concern and prevent getting bogged down with trying to deal with too many patterns at once.

 

Writing down what you notice will also help for the next blog post when we discover how the words we use reveal which distorted thoughts we default to most often. Then we will consider the impact of allowing these thought patterns to go unchecked.  

Still ahead, we will work through a process to re-wire our brains by flipping the distorted thoughts on their heads and creating a new result to the troublesome situation.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll see you back here next time!

 

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.

 

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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!

 

check your bags

 

For almost two decades, students, parents and teachers at my school have annually collected thousands of cans and dried goods for a local Christmas food hamper program with hopes of making a real difference in our community. Student leaders orchestrate the event while teachers work with students to set class and personal contribution goals.

Food Drive

 

It is incredibly inspiring to witness the generosity of students and parents as they arrive early, well before the school day starts, to drop off boxes or bags of food items.

And, it is nothing to see a student reach in, passed their pencil case, binder and calculus textbook, deep into their backpack, to pull out many cans to add to the mountain of food already collected.

Fast forward to the month of May, long after another record-breaking year of items collected for food hampers, a parent and I were discussing ways to support her child in the areas of attention, organization and task completion. This mother was baffled at her child’s on-going organizational struggles. To underscore her concern, she explained how she had just recently found a can of tuna in her child’s backpack. That can of tuna was intended to be donated, along with all the others way back in December.

Fortunately, despite her well-founded concern, this mother could see the genuine humour in this situation and understood that students with significant attentional concerns often find themselves overlooking key information that the rest of us take for granted.

 

Seriously now, if you were carrying extra weight in your backpack for months and months, you would notice.

Right?

bag check time

 

You presumably take the time to occasionally go through your backpack, briefcase, purse or laptop bag to check out the usefulness of the contents especially if it is something that you carry with you daily.

With each item you pull out of the bag, you may ask, “Does this serve me or not?”  In the case of the young student, is this can of tuna going to, in any way, help me with my math or history or geography or is it just making a heavy bag even heavier?

What are you carrying in your bags?

Stay tuned to this blog for a series on common hidden beliefs that you and I may be inadvertently carrying around with us and how to determine whether it is serving us or sabotaging us.

Let’s go through our bags together and see if we can lighten things up!