So, what if I told you that the decisions you make today are based on the belief structure you had at age 7?
Would that surprise you?
Research has consistently shown that most our core values and beliefs as adults were formed during our most impressionable childhood years. As kids, we created our identities by observing the social interaction around us; emulating parents, other family members, friends, at school and the greater community, even when those ‘teachers’ weren’t always on their best or most responsible behaviors.
Of course, we also apply lessons we’ve learned since that point, but the reality is that the foundation of our personality was laid at an extremely vulnerable and innocent time of our life.
We hadn’t developed the skills to filter the actions of others or information we were receiving. You know the saying…garbage in, garbage out? Those lessons could have been taught with sincere love and good intention…or not.
Regardless, they have been continually engrained into our psyche, year after year, resulting in us ultimately concluding they’re facts. But, rarely do we slow down long enough to question their validity.
So, I ask you this. When was the last time you took a solid look at your 7-year-old belief structure?
Are you willing to stay open and consider that there could be some cracks in that early foundation that might be impeding your ability to move on from things that don’t serve you anymore?
We absolutely create our own ‘realities’ with our thoughts, beliefs, intentions and actions. If you are frustrated with the direction your life has taken, it’s time to go back to basics and find the source behind it, because it’s very possible that beliefs you’ve considered as fact for decades are the very source for the personality challenges you’ve been struggling to change. Things like low self-esteem, lack of trust and fear-based behaviors all block us from making healthy choices and living happier lives.
But, where do you start? Try this little exercise.
1) Begin by listing the top 5 things you’re most frustrated with in your life today that you’d like to change. What do you feel most blocked or challenged by?
2) Under each item, list the top 3 beliefs you have that you feel created the situation in the first place.
3) Now dig deep and think back to the origin of each of these beliefs and write it down.
4) Very old belief systems tend to have a ton of layers, so for every layer of belief you uncover, continue to ask yourself the ‘Who, what or why?’ behind each belief?’. Do this until you run out of layers.
It can be sourced from a person that taught it to you (the Who), an event you experienced that created it (the What) or an assumption that was created at some point in time that justified it and allowed you to accept it (the Why).
5) Once you feel you have gotten down to the core experience or person that generated the belief, go back through the list and ask yourself this next question. “Is this belief actually true or was this a self-serving belief created by others to serve their own agenda?”
I know it’ll be difficult, but leave all the emotional attachment to the person or event at the door. Just answer it from your heart.
To give some context to this exercise, I’ll walk you through an example.
Let’s say a person named Sally has struggled for years with the crippling insecurity that she doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in life. Everything she’s done to change it has ended in failure, she’s afraid to try new things and she doesn’t know where to go from here.
She has tried positive thinking exercises, but keeps falling back into an emotional caldron of despair, frustration, anger and fear. (Sound familiar?)
She tries this exercise and, after digging through the layers, she finds that the original source for this belief came from messaging she received in her childhood from her Mom.
Her Mom, Anne, was a warm and loving person who loved her daughter very much. She constantly worried about her getting hurt both emotionally and physically. To keep her safe, she fed Sally a constant message diet that the world was a hurtful, scary place and that Sally wasn’t capable of handling what the world dished out.
During the exercise, after Sally kept asking the ‘why’ behind each layer of belief, she came to realize that her mother had received the same messaging from Sally’s grandmother, June, who had experienced a lot of trauma in her life.
In instances where her Mother had stepped outside her comfort level and failed, the belief that she wasn’t capable was re-enforced with June’s frustrated shaming messaging of ‘See, I told you’d get hurt! You should have listened to me!’.
Over time, Anne’s belief that she wasn’t capable became engrained as fact whenever her expectations were reinforced by a failed attempt. Eventually, she just gave up trying new things because she had accepted the ‘your different’ message that she didn’t have the chops to thrive like other more capable people did.
Unfortunately, Anne then passed this messaging/experience down to her daughter Sally, who had, up to this point, duplicated and unintentionally reinforced her mother’s expectations.
But, was it 100% true? The answer is no. Expecting to go into an experience and fail is just a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that can, at any point, be re-framed into a more positive experience. This was Sally’s chance to change the lens she used to process opportunities and create a different expectation.
What if Sally’s Mom had told her a different kind of message in her childhood? What if that belief was ‘re-framed’ into something like this? “I know it can be scary to try new things, but just do your best! Whatever happens is just a great learning opportunity! Enjoy yourself! I know you’ll do great!”.
The experience is shifted to a new expectation; the expectation of potential success and personal growth that she isn’t going to be judged on or be fearful of.
So, which outdated beliefs are you harboring that never truly reflected your true self?
How can you re-frame your current life experiences with a more positive expectation instead of buying into old messaging that was more about the person giving it than the person receiving it?
Can you give yourself permission to let go of a former ‘teacher’s’ misguided effort to protect with love and forgiveness? I’ll talk more about how perspective can make us or break us in my next post! See you then!