How to Challenge Your Beliefs

I’ve been writing about the power of our beliefs these past few weeks. I want to continue this theme by introducing “The Belief Model” which illustrates how our beliefs determine our behavior and eventually our results. You’ll notice that the model is the key moment model only with a little different twist. It’s based on the idea that we interpret any given situation from the filter of our core beliefs about what is true and not true. These beliefs directly influence our inner experience (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations) which influence our behavior and eventually our results of the outcomes of our lives.

The Belief Model

I recall an experience in college that illustrates the power of the model. I was at a debate tournament down in Phoenix, Arizona that included teams from all over the western United States. My partner and I had won something like five rounds over the past day and a half or so and were now going on to the tournament quarter-finals. I remember reading the placements posted on the wall. “Oh boy,” I thought. “How did we ever advance so far?” Then I read the name of the team we’d be facing next and said to my partner, Joanne, “Oh brother. No way. These guys are really good. We’re gonna get creamed.” I looked at her ashen countenance. “Yeah and in front of a huge audience,” she replied, staring at the wall.

Unbeknownst to either of us, Mr. Warren, our coach, was standing nearby. “Come here, you two. I want to talk to you.” Embarrassed, we followed him to a small sitting area. We respected Mr. Warren. He’d been coaching debate and forensics at our small college for some 35 to 40 years and had a great reputation. Looking each of us in the eyes, he began, “You need to know what I think. You deserve to be here and you deserve to be in the quarter finals. You’ve worked hard. You can face off against anyone.” Then he smiled. “Got it?” We nodded and he left.

And a belief shifted. I was no longer telling myself, “No way. I don’t deserve to be here.” I let Mr. Warren’s words sink in. “Why not? We’ve had as much time to prepare as the next guys. We have a good case. We CAN go toe-to-toe with anyone.”

My feelings changed from doubt to confidence. My behavior changed from stewing to pulling out my catalogue of evidence and quotes and preparing. And we won. It started with our thinking. We shifted our belief about what was possible and, thereby, created the outcome we desired.

Ironically, the final round was against another team from our college.  (I wonder what Mr. Warren told them.) We lost that round, although we got a nice trophy and our picture in the newspaper. And the team that beat us went on to get first place in the Jr. College National Debate Championship that year.

I’m not one who believes that anything and everything is possible. (I would never have made it into the NBA. My talents are elsewhere.) But I do know that it begins in the mind. Whatever is worthwhile that I’ve accomplished in my lifetime was first conceived and believed in my mind.

There are two forms of beliefs–those that empower us and those that limit us.  People who are happy have a set of beliefs that are positive and empowering:

“I can do this…”
“Everything in my life happens for a purpose”
“There is no such thing as failure”
“It’s good to be me”
“People are basically good”
“Events are just events”
“Life is a miracle”

These are beliefs of people who live from the serenity paradigm.

People who are unhappy and burdened are trapped by beliefs (often unconscious) which are negative and self defeating:

“I’m not worth much”
“You can’t trust anyone”
“Bad always happens”
“No one really supports me”

The good news is that it’s possible to become aware of and change our beliefs as we recognize that they are not the “truth” and that we are their source. So I’m going to give you an exercise to challenge and reframe a belief that gets in your way.

Complete, in writing, several responses to the following sentence stem. (Go ahead and take out a sheet of paper and do this).

A belief which I have held that has limited my effectiveness… (Brainstorm several)

Now choose one of these beliefs, one you’re willing to reframe, and complete the following exercise:

1.       Describe the consequences. How has this belief limited you or caused you unhappiness?


2.       Describe to the best of your ability how this belief was learned.


3.       Challenge the belief. See how it is based on irrational thinking.


4.       Come up with a more rational belief, a belief that would empower rather than limit you, not a fantasy but something that you can truly believe.


5.        Search for evidence that confirms this new belief. Build your case.


6.       Write this new belief and put it where you can see it several times each day.


7.       Put yourself in a positive frame of mind and repeat this belief over and over again. (Do this often for the next several days.)


8.       If you like, ask significant others (who are supportive of you) say these words to you.


Be deliberate. Your beliefs define you and you can take responsibility for your belief and, thereby, define them. It takes work but is also some of the most important work you can do.

Would you like to read more? Have a look at our blog post Get at the root of your negative behaviors.


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