Exercise 1. Discover your emotional beliefs.
Step 1. Find a strong belief you have about yourself or about how things should be. For example:
– I’m not worthy
– Cruelty to animals is wrong/is necessary
– There is/is not human induced climate change
– there really is/isn’t a conspiracy.
Step 2. Answer the following questions.
Q1. What would change your mind? What evidence would you require?
Q2. If someone challenges that belief, do you try to prove the person wrong?
Q3. Do you become more irritated the more your belief is challenged?
Q4. When someone questions your point of view do you tend to go off on a tangent? Do you avoid the question? Answer a different question?
Q5. Do you search for information to support your view, and ignore information that contradicts it?
Q6. Does your intuition tell you that you are right? Do you ‘just know’ that it’s true?
Step 3. If your answer to the first question was ‘nothing could change your mind’, there’s a good chance it’s an emotional belief. That doesn’t mean your belief is wrong, but at least you now know it’s an emotional belief.
How did you go in the other questions? If you do immediately look for evidence to prove why the other person is wrong, or if you do become irritated, or avoid the question, or only look for evidence to support your view, or if you ‘just know that you’re right, then again, it’s probably an emotional belief.
Step 4. If it is an emotional belief, is it undermining you? Is it making you look like a goose? Is it preventing you from maturing? Is it wasting your time and money? Does your belief dishearten you? Would you be better off without this belief?
If so, try the next exercise.
Exercise 2. Ways to weaken your emotional beliefs.
Emotional beliefs are almost impossible to eradicate, but we can diminish their influence upon us.
1. Keep being aware of them. Label them. ‘Ah. That’s my familiar emotional belief kicking in.’
2. Make a list of all the ways that belief is undermining you.
For example, Sam has vowed to never marry because he believes women only want a man for his money. Sam might write:
‘By believing that women are only interested in my money,
1. I might not realise when a woman I like thinks I’m special.
2. I will continue to miss out on the pleasure of trusting someone.
3. I will continue to miss out on the pleasure of being trusted.
4. I will look like a goose, because it’s obvious many women are not interested in a guy’s money.
5. I will miss out on the pleasure of feeling close and intimate with someone.
6. I will miss out on the pleasure of knowing that someone is enjoying my company.
7. I will continue to have a tunnel-visioned, myopic, superficial understanding of love.
8. I will miss out on the possibility of making a close friend.
9. I will continue to foster bitterness and resentment within me.
10. I will doom myself to remain lonely.’
3. Bid the disabling belief, ‘Goodbye’. In his book The Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris gives a few ideas on what do do when an emotional belief pops up and tries to interfere. He suggests we tell ourselves: ‘Here’s that thought about me being bad. Hello thought. Goodbye.’
‘Here comes the “I’m the victim” story. Hello story. Goodbye.’
‘Hi thought, see you later’ and let that thought drift away.
After telling the thought ‘Goodbye’ we can then make the right decision, even though it might feel like the wrong decision. It’s the right decision even if the belief turned out to be true.
Question: When I say ‘Goodbye’ to my thoughts they keep coming back.
They will. Keep saying goodbye. Meanwhile, make the right decision, despite how wrong it feels.
4. Challenge the thoughts behind our emotional belief. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) involves disputing core beliefs in a particular way. Apparently it often works. My concern is that if we don’t apply that strategy properly, and simply try to prove to ourselves that we are not ugly, or not stupid, a voice inside us might insist that we are. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says, ‘Good, enlightened advice and eloquent sermons do not register for more than a few moments when they go against our wiring.’
If you do try CBT, do it with a psychologist.
5. Choose to not feed them.If there is a film, conversation, magazine article, or anything else that might reinforce your emotional belief, avoid it. Be the gatekeeper of what you feed your mind.