HOW DO WE GO ABOUT IDENTIFYING OUR BELIEF SYSTEMS?
'Change your beliefs and you’ll change your thoughts. Change your thoughts and you’ll change your habits. Change your habits and your life opens to unlimited possibility.'
- Gail Lynne Goodwin
Overthinking is a very common problem these days affecting people from different economic and educational backgrounds. It affects students, working professionals, veterans, senior citizens and in some cases children too. One of the major triggers to some of the most common mental health disorders stems from our own thoughts & beliefs. These thoughts and beliefs determine how we feel most of the time. They are the reason why we feel happy when we achieve something significant. For example: When our boss gives us that promotion we had been working day and night for, we feel extremely happy because we have been rewarded for our work, behind which there could be the belief we hold that 'I want to and am going to be successful in my career', 'I should be appreciated for my work' or maybe 'I want to the achieve a promotion in so and so time period' etc.
These beliefs can be things we say to ourselves all the time, it could be the things we desire or our emotional reactions to the environment. For example: 'I was shocked & deeply hurt to hear about his/her loss', 'I’m very angry about how they mocked my work', these feelings reflect our inner values & beliefs, what is important and unimportant to us. While we can’t control the actions of others, we can largely change how we react to it. How we talk to ourselves largely determines how we feel and how we behave.
While most of the beliefs which we make up for ourselves, are formed consciously or through proclivities, they may ultimately help us in a specific situation or a phase of life. Whereas, some of our beliefs are formed through our environment, society and find a way to exist through one’s subconscious. These are the ideals imposed by society, we can see them everywhere around us, and mostly in advertisements, movies, books, music etc. craftily portraying what an ideal man or woman looks like, what’s the ideal car, what’s in trend and socially acceptable or even what we should be doing with our life etc. These ideals or standards can’t be classified as good or bad but are rather subjective. They become a problem only when they start causing distress to a person. The beliefs we develop determine basically everything, from the way we feel about ourselves, others, the world, even how we talk and how we think. While some of these beliefs can help us to become better versions of ourselves, some can be particularly self-limiting causing anxiety, stress, depression etc.
A belief of being overly ambitious can be beneficial for a lazy person as it provides direction and motivation but could be detrimental for an enthusiastic workaholic who’s working overtime. It’s crucial to understand that beliefs are subjective and cannot be classified as strictly good or bad. Moderation is key.
Here are some ways to identify our belief systems:
The first step to identifying belief systems is to become aware about them. This is where meditation can help. Meditation helps us to become aware about our thought patterns, beliefs, and emotional triggers. When we sit down to meditate for the first few minutes we are bombarded with various thoughts when we’re trying to focus. Mindful meditation teaches one to observe these thoughts without getting attached or overwhelmed by them. One does not have to keep record of these thoughts but rather just observe them and let them pass. It also helps us to become more aware of how we act, react and behave during the day. It helps us become aware of what we’re thinking, how we’re thinking and how we’re feeling as a result of that.
For those people who do not meditate, a few minutes spent in quiet introspection everyday can also give great results.
Another way to identify our beliefs is through writing in a journal. Journaling can help to increase self-awareness. The key is to start writing down whatever is going on in our mind, to write down what we’re thinking or feeling at the moment. This causes us to look within ourselves, without judgement, and write down with a flow. It can also help improve our writing skills. After we’re done journaling, we can take a moment to read what we’ve written down, and identify words that express specific beliefs. We need to highlight these sentences, as they are the signs of what we believe in and how that makes us feel. Sometimes these sentences will reflect how we feel and not necessarily our direct/obvious beliefs. We can take some time to introspect and investigate what we were feeling and why we were feeling so. Behind this blanket of thoughts and feelings lie our beliefs.
Once we have recognized these beliefs and thoughts, it is essential to notice under what circumstances they arise and why they arise. These beliefs can directly or indirectly affect our actions and our mental health. The beliefs that arise when we’re feeling distressed are the ones that affect our mental health in the long run.
Now that we are aware of our beliefs we also have the option to choose our beliefs. We can either discard them or keep them according to what seems apt. Recognizing our beliefs is the first step to Self-Development. The next article of this series will focus on how to change self-limiting beliefs.