How to challenge your core beliefs.

"This is who I am and have always done things this way". "I don't think I can ever do public speaking or sales because I'm introverted". You are not who you think you are! Here's why...

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What are core beliefs?

According to Positive Psychology, core beliefs are our most deeply held assumptions about ourselves, the world and others. For example: some people believe they are not good at Math, "Tech is not my thing", "I'm from a family of intellects", and so on.

As you can see from the examples above, core beliefs can be both negative and positive so they shape our reality accordingly. The misconception is, most of us believe they are innate meaning we're born with them and can never be changed no matter how hard we try. However, they are formed by our experiences and circumstances from childhood leading up to our adult life.

Let's see a scenario

I have always been very quiet and found it difficult learning to speak new languages. Due to this, I kept telling myself over the years that I was not a language person and that I couldn't learn languages fast especially having to learn new ones at an older age. This stemmed from an experience from my childhood when we had to move to Accra where they spoke only English in school, not that my previous school didn't speak English but we did not take it seriously. I remember my experience in Accra was challenging learning to communicate with Teachers and students.

This core belief became much more ingrained when I moved to Belgium and after so many years I still haven't mastered the Dutch language. So my automatic negative thought has been that "I am not a language person and can never be good in learning to speak new languages". The reaction to this is feeling a sense of inadequacy and shying away from meeting new Belgian people with the fear that I will be exposed.

To put it simply,

Experience: I couldn't speak English well in primary school.

Core belief: "I'm not good at languages."

Incident later in life: I got laughed at for speaking bad English.

Automatic negative thought: "I'm not good enough to learn and speak any new language. Language is not my thing."

Reaction: Inadequate, insecure, inferiority complex.

The truth is our minds work with what we feed it and the problem with core beliefs is, they become deeply ingrained that you believe them to be true about you. However, you must remember they are assumptions, not facts! They are so strong because we affirm, justify and never truly question them.

Like our scenario and my experience, if I'm convinced I'll never do well in languages, then I'll never put in the effort to do better.

How can you challenge your core beliefs/limiting self-beliefs?

1. Identify unpleasant emotions and label them.

Some days ago, I was watching a series online and this young Doctor saw a Therapist to help her deal with her emotions. Yes, she was a brilliant Doctor but she couldn't identify how she felt about the unpleasant situations happening in her life. It turned out she had been conditioned to believe that sadness never solves anything so there's no use crying over spilled milk.

I used to convince myself that I could get by in Belgium without speaking much English and have seen in many instances that I have lost certain opportunities due to this. Meanwhile, the real issue was inadequacy and my long-held belief that I couldn't learn new languages.

We hold onto such beliefs that we refuse to label them as negative and defend them strongly. To truly experience a change, you need to be able to identify how you feel about your unpleasant situations and put a name on them.

2. Identify the thought behind the emotion.

Some people believe they need to struggle so much in life to be able to enjoy the riches of life. It's more like those who made it in life quite smoothly didn't earn it. That thought might come from a long line of family members who struggled to make it and automatically you are conditioned to do same.

Likewise in our scenario about the Doctor, her mum made her believe that to be a strong person you must not experience sadness; you have to dust yourself up and move on.

For example, you could ask yourself this question: "What thought is making me feel this way?" Your answer could come from the experiences you have had in the past pertaining to that belief.

3. Identify the pattern.

Unconsciously, we find excuses anytime we are faced with our negative beliefs; it becomes a pattern.

I find myself consistently looking for opportunities that will only favor my belief that I can't speak or learn new languages. I almost always catch myself saying Dutch is difficult which reenforces my belief that I can never master it.

Consequently, in my attempt to improve on this, I fall back into my safe zone. If you believe you are not good in Math, do you always give up in an attempt to study?

4. Make a conclusion.

Now that we have identified the emotions and labelled them, identified the thoughts behind these emotions and the patterns, we need to form a conclusion about our beliefs.

This in my opinion is the awareness stage and the first step to effecting change in your thinking. You are likely to be very hard on yourself so assume one of your friends came to you with this problem. You would probably be kind and encouraging. So what will you tell your friend?

For example: "I recognize that my inability to learn and speak new languages is from an experience in the past and my introversion. This has made me believe that, language is not for me and for repeating the pattern over the years, I have concluded that I can never master it. With this knowledge, I will make conscious little efforts to improve and become better at it each day."

The good news is that, core beliefs aren't facts; they can be changed. If you catch yourself dwelling on the negatives:

  • Recognize them.

  • Acknowledge the automatic thoughts.

  • Remind yourself why you're on this journey.

What are your thoughts on core beliefs? Share them in the comments.