Are Your Beliefs Holding You Back?

03/19/2015 10:10 am ET | Updated May 19, 2015
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In India, when training baby elephants, their handlers begin by sturdily chaining one hind leg of the animal to a tree. The young elephant becomes accustomed to the chain and soon, doesn't even try to break free. The trainer continually reduces the size of the chain until finally, all that's required to constrain the animal is a thin string. It's not the string that restrains him. It's his belief.

Like the elephant, your beliefs can keep you from realizing your full potential, cause low self-esteem, and lead to anxiety and depression

As a child, your mind is directly and indirectly programmed with beliefs and attitudes about yourself, others, the world, and the "right" way to act and do by family, religion, school, and your own life experiences -- both good and bad. This subconscious material becomes the basis for a your inner dialogue, behavior, and life choices.

As adults, people often go about blindly living their lives guided by these unspoken laws without ever bringing them into the light of day and questioning their appropriateness. They just believe the outdated information to be true because "it's the way it's always been."

But do these beliefs ring true for them anymore?

Your subconscious belief systems color every relationship, every job, and literally every experience you have because you interpret and interact with the world through the filter of your core beliefs. By becoming aware of them, you can choose which ones you want to buy into, which ones you want to ditch, and substitute new thoughts that help you to take control of your life and happiness.

You know that little voice inside of your head that keeps a running commentary on everything you do, expresses fear and doubt, and guides your decisions? That inner critic is made up primarily of these subconscious core beliefs, and you just might be surprised at how harsh your inner voice is when you really stop to notice it.

Mine used to be a real witch. Years ago, she constantly told me that I wasn't a good enough wife, mother, friend, daughter -- you name it; that I couldn't possibly make it on my own; that the world was a scary place; that I wasn't smart enough or strong enough, blah, blah, blah.... My critical self talk and negative perceptions of the world caused me to live in fear, anxiety, and despair which led to depression.

After years of self work, I sent my inner critic on an extended vacation and welcomed an inner friend. I shut the witch up and changed my underlying beliefs to be supportive and encouraging of my success and happiness. Through mindfulness practices, you can become aware of the subconscious beliefs comprising your self-talk to make it your ally rather than enemy.

To constructively change your subconscious beliefs, you have to become conscious of your thought patterns, especially the recurring ones that govern your mood, behavior, and decisions and decide if you want to continue to support that belief or not. If not, challenge the thought. Once you're aware of perceptions that no longer serve you, you can choose different constructs that are positive, encouraging, make you happier, and keep you moving in the direction of your goals.

Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. When you think critical, angry, sad, thoughts, your brain emits negative chemicals that cause stress, unhappiness, and actually weaken your immune system. When you think positive, hopeful, kind thoughts, your body reacts by calming your nervous system, elevating your mood, and strengthening your immune system.

Science is showing that positive thinking alters your brain and body chemistry beneficially and broadens your sense of possibility, opens your mind, and builds new skills.

I found The Work by Byron Katie to be extremely helpful in altering my perspective. The Work is a process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts making up your core beliefs. The Work consists of fours questions you ask yourself about any thought or belief:.

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

After you have investigated your statement with the four questions, you turn around the concept you're questioning which allows you to try on new perspectives and consciously choose your current beliefs. For example, the thought "She should show me more respect" turns around to "I should show myself more respect." Then, come up with at least three specific examples of how you don't respect yourself.

Another turnaround is "I don't respect her." Relax, close your eyes, and with an open mind, try to think of examples where this statement could be true. Be very gentle, but honest with yourself. A third turnaround is "She does respect me." Again, think of evidence to support that thought.

After you have turned around your original statement, substitute a new thought and begin the process of change. For example, "I am willing to show her more respect" and "I will treat myself with more respect."

By working with and changing your core beliefs, you can put them to work for you to become happier, healthier, and more successful in all areas of your life.