Today’s exercise builds on the one in my post, “An exercise in knowing your beliefs; so you can change them,” so please do that one first. It’s easier for most people, more general, and develops skills that you can use for this post’s exercise. Still, you can do this on its own if you want.
It also looks similar to, but is subtly different from, yesterday’s exercise, “An exercise to help you understand others, reduce arguments, and become more aware of yourself.” As similar as it looks, it’s as different as two stretches or weight-lifting exercises that work different parts of the body.
It’s still similar in its simplicity
- It only takes a few minutes a day
- It costs nothing
- You don’t have to tell people you’re doing it
- It reveals a lot of how you view the world
- It helps you become less attached to things and ideas you don’t like
1. Carry a notebook or some paper with you every day for a week.
2. When you to notice a belief that mainstream society or an organization you’re in holds, write that belief.
To clarify: this exercise looks at the beliefs of mainstream society or an organization you’re in. Yesterday’s looked at the beliefs of other people.
That’s it. It costs nothing and takes a few minutes a day. At the end you’ll have a list of many beliefs that permeate your world.
Some beliefs you’ll see once in that week. Others you’ll see daily. Some more than daily. Some will annoy you. Others will calm you. The point is to record them without guilt, blame, or any judgment — just to record them.
The exercise isn’t to sit still and trying to write out a bunch at once, though you can. Try noting them as they come up in regular life to show you your beliefs of a cross-section of your world. That way you don’t just get a list of the beliefs in your environment, valuable as that list is, you also develop the skill of identifying others’ beliefs in the moment. If you’ve gotten into arguments you later regretted and later wished you could retract things you said, you know the value of identifying disagreements in the moment.
Like behavioral exercises, you don’t just do this one for the outcome, you also do it to improve your skills.
Here a some beliefs I saw in mainstream society and groups around me. I’m not saying you’ll see the same ones, nor that I endorse or condemn them, just that I see people behaving consistently with them. Again, the point of the exercise is to increase awareness, not to judge, nor to try to change anyone.
- Get a good job, house, and car and you’ll be happy.
- Buying things makes you happy.
- Protecting the environment costs jobs.
- Your manager is supposed to make your job interesting.
What to expect
You’ll get different results than these examples.
You’ll probably notice only a few in the first couple days, then more each day as you develop the skill (faster if you’ve done the earlier exercises). If you find yourself overwhelmed with recognizing beliefs, you probably have the skill down. You don’t have to write every belief you notice, but keep writing the whole week to get a fuller cross-section of the beliefs of society and the organizations around you, only writing a few per day if you want to save time.
You may notice that your awareness and understanding of society and the groups you interact with most changes. I predict you’ll understand them more and find your relationships with them improves. Along the way you may feel some self-righteousness.
Let me know how your experience goes.
Clarification from a reader’s comment
EDIT: A reader wrote in with a comment on this exercise and I thought my response could help others.
I just finished the exercise you suggested for a second time yesterday. The first time I found it interesting to see how my views and the views I associate with society having differ. That being said, I didn’t find many/any actionable ways to use the information collected. As a result, I decided to give it a couple weeks and try again. Yet again, I found it interesting this time more about the views that I shared with society and where they fit together and where they didn’t. Still the same problem occurred, there weren’t many actionable items. I don’t know if this is because I have already spent time observing myself and changing my beliefs when they don’t match where I want to go, or why this is happening, but the result has manifested itself twice now each over the course of the week long exercise.
This exercise is designed to increase awareness about beliefs and to help get people seeing that different people have different beliefs. A lot of people have trouble differentiating between their beliefs, which are in their heads, and what the beliefs are about, which are outside. Seeing that others’ beliefs differ from their own helps depersonalize them and make them easier to change.
This exercise forms the foundation for the next exercise I usually give clients, which is to find beliefs that lead them to emotions and behavior they don’t like and to change those beliefs. Many people think they can’t change their beliefs, but they can. Like any skill it takes practice. It’s a big part of “fake it till you make it,” which I find works.
An intermediate exercise I’ve found helpful is for a week to identify and write beliefs you have at times you don’t like how you feel. I wrote it up in this post — http://joshuaspodek.com/exercise-help-make-aware-need. These beliefs are harder to identify and record, since most people prefer not to face up to them or feel discouraged to write them, so it builds on the past exercise. At the same time, you’ll feel motivated to change them. I neither recommend nor discourage trying to change them. The important thing is to identify them and record them without judgment.
Then the next exercise—changing beliefs—becomes natural.
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