An exercise in knowing your beliefs; so you can change them

March 30, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Models, Tips

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

We all know the story about the three guys doing the same physical work at quarry yet feeling different — one felt miserable because he felt like he was just chopping stone, the next kind of enjoyed his work because he felt he was practicing a worthy profession, and the third who loved what he did because he was helping build the most beautiful cathedral the world had ever seen.

How do you become the cathedral guy? As long as you’re doing the same work, wouldn’t you rather enjoy life? I’m sure studies have found cathedral guys don’t just enjoy their work more but also get more done and enjoy the rest of life more too.

Still, many people stick to living like the first guy, defiantly claiming to be realists who see things as they really are, not realizing they’ve chosen to live in misery. But nobody prefers being the first guy. He doesn’t get as much done, hates his life, and probably resents the guys loving life.

How do you make yourself the building-a-cathedral guy?

So how do you transform yourself to become the cathedral guy?

I’ll tell you one thing — you don’t just wait for it to happen. He isn’t believing anything you can’t. So you start by believing you can learn the skills to change your beliefs.

You do it by learning to create new beliefs, to be flexible about what beliefs you hold, and to crowd out counterproductive beliefs (counterproductive to your goals, presumably of getting the job done and living a great life).

Start with awareness (today’s exercise)

My first step for improving any part of life is awareness. Today’s exercise will make you aware of your current beliefs.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Carry a notebook with you every day for a week.

2. When something in your environment triggers you to notice a belief, write that belief in your notebook.

That’s it. It costs nothing and takes a few minutes a day. At the end you’ll have a list of most of your daily and weekly beliefs.

Some beliefs you’ll have once in that week. Others you’ll have 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.

Benefits of this exercise

First, you’ll clarify the world you live in — not just the physical world you sense directly, nor the world you consciously think you live in, but the world you actually believe in.

What’s the difference between these worlds?

If the exercise asked you to write what you observed with your senses, you might write something like “My boss walked into the room.”

When you write your beliefs, you might instead write, “My boss sucks. I hate working for other people. Bosses make you do things you don’t want to.”

Very different worlds!

The world you sense exists, but you only interact with it superficially. You spend your mental effort on the world of your beliefs. And you can change your beliefs.

Without awareness, change is hard. Most people don’t realize how much their beliefs affect their perception of their worlds, and therefore they don’t know how much their beliefs influence their emotions, motivations, and behaviors.

As a result they make themselves unnecessarily miserable and miss opportunities to improve their lives.

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69 responses on “An exercise in knowing your beliefs; so you can change them

  1. After completing the exercise all I can say is wow. I had not realized that my beliefs have not caught up with my current self. Over the last few years I have undergone a large amount of change, but apparently some of my beliefs are still that of my former self.

    I also uncovered some of my limiting beliefs that may have been holding me back in business and life. I also found others that had the potential to influence my happiness and flow in life.

    It’s like having another layer of the curtain pulled back and being able to see more of the picture clearly. There is still a ton of stuff out there that is influencing me that I cant see, but being able to see some of the hidden beliefs is huge. I have always been a strong believer that ones beliefs cause their habits which cause their actions, which cause how people react to them, which in turn has the potential to reinforce their beliefs.

    Josh, thank you for suggesting this exercise.

    • David, you’re welcome and thank you for your feedback. I hope it leads others to try the exercise too. It costs nothing and takes little time. The challenge in motivating oneself to do it is that only by doing it do you find the value. It’s difficult to convey that value otherwise. That’s a pro and con of experiential learning.

      If others do it, please post your experiences too.

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