Imagine that you are driving down a country road. Suddenly, the road comes to a 'T'—a three-way intersection that requires you to turn left or right.
You look up and notice the most puzzling road sign. The sign reads:
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You cannot turn left or you will be in grave danger. You must not turn right or risk serious injury. You cannot stay where you are!You must not go back! Do something quick!
How would you feel?
Confused, stuck, paralyzed, fearful, frustrated?
You feel this way because it is extremely important that you get out of this situation, yet there are no viable options. Thankfully, you'll never encounter a traffic sign like this. Roads are intended to take you safely to your destination. Your mind, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. These kinds of bizarre traffic signs appear in your psyche all the time.
Worse, you do not even need to notice them consciously in order to respond emotionally to these conflicting directions. The end result is feeling panic and extreme frustration without knowing why.
There is good news, though. You can discover and amend the road signage of your psyche, and this post will show you how to do just that.
Subconscious directions are often based on beliefs or assumptions. These assumptions, once understood, can be challenged. When they are properly sorted out, you can free yourself and proceed to your desired destination. The trick is to uncover the hidden misdirection. Here is an example of how that can work:
Late one evening, my wife and I were just settling in to watch a movie. Suddenly, our daughter, Morgan, appeared.
"Hannah is freaking out," she reported. Morgan and Hannah are twins who recently turned 13.
Hmm. No rest for the weary parent. When I arrived, Hannah was sitting on her bed, clutching a pillow.
"What's going on, Hannah?" I asked.
"Nothing! Well, just—nothing. I don't know, Dad!"
The movie was paused downstairs, waiting to suck me into the exciting world of James Bond.
Yet, there I sat on the floor near Hannah. It can be tempting for parents to selfishly tell children to just get over it, which rarely works. That would be like telling the hapless driver in the above scenario to just hit the gas. Kids would get over it if they had that option. Hannah didn't like feeling so stuck, but honestly had no choice. So, I waited without saying a word.
She eventually confessed, "I need to clean my room or I won't be able to sleep."
"Oh. That's simple. Clean it."
"No, you don't get it, Dad! It's late, and it will take forever, and I have school tomorrow. I have to go to bed now."
I looked around the room—huge mess.
"Oh. Well, just go to bed and don't worry about it," I offered. "You can clean your room tomorrow."
"Dad! I already told you I cannot sleep in a messy room! It will bug the crap out of me all night."
Hannah was more than merely agitated now. She was also miffed at me for being so stupid, and I could feel James Bond slipping away slowly.
Please, kid, just pull yourself together and quit being such a drama queen. If you only knew what real stress is!
I resisted the lecture with all my might, took a deep breath and settled in for the long haul.
"Ok, Hannah. It seems like you are currently believing two separate things. And these two beliefs are clashing in your mind and making you panic."
"Yeah. On the one hand, you believe you have to clean your room, right? This is, like, super important in order for you to even sleep," I said.
I continued, "On the other hand, you believe you can't clean your room because you are exhausted, and it will take all night. Either way, you're toast. You'll never get to sleep."
Hannah thought about it. "Yep, that's it. There isn't a solution and I'm freaking out."
"You got it!" I said triumphantly. "Your mind has set a trap for you, and now you're stuck in it."
And this is how the mind works. There isn't a nifty mechanism in there that carefully sifts through all your assumptions, weighs options, casts out any conflicts, aligns everything with your values and magically presents a stress-free, viable choice that leads directly to inner peace. Sorry.
Actually, that mechanism would be your conscious mind (it has to be trained, ready and aware, though).
The problem is, we find it very difficult to stay present and think things through while all these conflicting beliefs are causing emotional wreckage. This is why talking to another person is so helpful.
"So, what do I do?" Hannah pressed.
"Well, you have these two separate beliefs and they don't work well together. As long as you hold on to both of them, you have no options. In order to get through the night, you're going to have to give up one of them. I don't know which one you prefer to let go, but that is what you'll need to do to escape the trap."
At this point I fully expected Hannah to claim that it would be impossible to give up either belief, but she didn't. She decided to give herself a break and stop thinking she couldn't sleep in a messy room for one night—whew.
Each of the following examples is a belief trap:
I must leave this relationship or I will never be happy.
I’ll never be able to support myself on my own.
I have to lose weight.
I can’t do what I must do to lose weight.
I have to succeed in life.
I am not good enough to succeed.
One of the beliefs in each scenario must be modified or let go in order to move forward.
What do you do when you "can’t" give up a belief?
Some beliefs run deep. You'll need to dig much deeper in order to uproot them. This is where a simple and amazing process from positive psychology may be helpful.
It's called the A-B-C-D-E process. I recently used it to overcome the belief that I couldn't write a book. For 20 years, I had a goal to do more than write short articles, but put together my best ideas into a signature work that would help people even more.
And for 20 years I remained overwhelmed at the idea. I told myself, "I can't do it. It's just not in me. I'll spend months on it, then never finish. It will be a huge waste of time and nobody would buy it anyway. It's too difficult to become an established author."
Not the most helpful thing to chant to myself over and over, I know. Once I learned the A-B-C-D-E process, however, something clicked within me. I realized I had been looking at book writing all wrong.
Below is an outline of what the process looks like, with my particular example included.
You can insert your own limiting belief when you do this for yourself.
Write down the following words vertically:
Then, work through the limiting belief with the following 5 steps:
1. State the Adversity
I want to write a book, but in 20 years have never been able to get it done. I am very discouraged, but still cannot let go of this goal.
2. Identify the Limiting Belief
For me, it was: I can’t do it. It will be a huge waste of time because I’ll never finish such a long, overwhelming project.
3. Be Aware of the Consequences:
Because of this belief I…
• Don't even try to write a book
• Am closed-minded about the whole thing
• Have never opened myself up to creative ways to get it done
• Have never asked how I could make the process fun and productive
• Have never connected with other authors to learn how they did it
• Have not paid attention to the latest trends in independent publishing
• Make dozens of assumptions about publishers and marketing – and all of these assumptions lead me to reject the idea of writing a book
• Never considered options that suit my writing style, such as producing a short, to-the-point book and selling it inexpensively
• Never make time in my schedule to work on the project
• Always feel bad about myself when considering the idea
4. Dispute the Belief
I came to the realization that I was picturing myself writing Moby Dick! I had a very old-school idea in mind – that I would be slaving over my keyboard for months or years, trying to produce a legendary masterpiece.
The publishing world has changed dramatically. I can write a short and sweet e-book, and do it relatively quickly. I can sell it inexpensively. It will serve as an introduction to the core ideas that I am passionate about. I CAN do that!
In fact, writing a short book is just a few steps beyond writing some of the longer articles that I produce regularly.
5. Energize Yourself
With this small chunk project in mind, I am now excited to get going!
The results of disputing and giving up my old belief and all of the assumptions that went with it were amazing. I finished my first draft in just three days. Then, I sent it to key editors – colleagues of mine who were more than willing to review it and make suggestions. In 30 days, it was done!
Best of all, with a newly opened mind, I came up with a very creative way to deliver the message that makes this particular book unique.
And I have the A-B-C-D-E process to thank for it.
By carefully analyzing any limiting belief with the A-B-C-D-E method, you can loosen its grip on you. You’ll probably realize, as I did, that the consequences of holding on to the belief are truly limiting. They cut off your imagination and kill your creativity, blinding you to the real opportunities that you could take advantage of, regardless of your personal style or actual limitations.
By disputing the belief—just by entering that frame of mind, you’ll realize that you had been fooling yourself, unnecessarily hanging onto a narrow view of the world.
Then, it is important to take steps in the new and exciting direction that will inevitably emerge.
Remember, when you get stuck, much of the time your mind has set a trap for you. Can you identify the trap and free yourself?
Yes, you can!
Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self Sabotage. You’ve never read a book like this one before. Click here to learn more.
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