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, the recent 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 and yourself
- 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 find yourself stressed, angry, or feeling emotions you don’t like, keep aware of your thoughts, and write your beliefs during that time, especially the ones contributing to that feeling.
To clarify: this exercise looks at your beliefs in stressful, difficult, or unwanted situations. The other earlier exercise I posted 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 some beliefs that contribute to feelings you don’t like.
Occasionally you’ll go a week with no stressful situations. If so, keep carrying the paper until you find yourself in such a situation. 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 them out. It’s to develop the skill of identifying beliefs whose effects you don’t like while they are influencing you. Try noting them in difficult situations and making yourself aware of them. That way you don’t just get a list of beliefs, valuable as that list is, you also develop the skill of identifying your counterproductive 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 beliefs 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’ve noticed in myself when I feel emotions I don’t like or during arguments. I’m not saying you’ll see the same ones, nor that I endorse or condemn them. Again, the point of the exercise is to increase awareness, not to judge, nor to try to change your beliefs—not that you shouldn’t change them, just that this exercise focuses on one thing. I believe action without awareness can move you in a counterproductive direction.
- I’m right, they’re wrong.
- I’m listening to them but they aren’t listening to me.
- I understand what they’re saying but they don’t understand me. If I tell them enough, they’ll understand me.
- [When depressed] This feeling is real. All those people who say they’re happy only think they’re happy, but they’re not.
- There’s no point in trying.
What to expect
You’ll get different results than these examples.
You’ll probably notice only a few in the first stressful situations, then more as you develop the skill (faster if you’ve done the earlier exercises). 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 contributing to emotions you don’t like.
You may notice that your awareness and understanding of yourself under stress or feeling emotions you don’t like changes. I predict you’ll understand yourself more and find your ability to manage yourself in such times improves, as well as your relationships
Let me know how your experience goes.