What lessons do you remember from your childhood?
As children, we receive hundreds of messages each and every day. These messages can be about our safety (“Don’t touch the hot stove.”), our relationships (“We don’t push our friends.”), or even about how we should behave in the world (“No one likes a tattle tale!”).
As these lessons pile up, our little brains work tirelessly to log and store the most common and impactful for future reference. These lessons, reinforced over time, become the set of core beliefs that will form our perspective and behaviour well into future.
Core beliefs act like rules to guide our behaviour and can be considered as a “playbook” or manual for life. When we encounter a new situation, we subconsciously access this playbook to help us decide how to understand and respond to the situation at hand without having to learn from scratch. For example, when we are in the kitchen, we do not have to be told to be careful around a hot stove. Chances are we learned that lesson once a long time ago! In this way, our core beliefs provide a “how to” guide that can be both helpful and efficient as we make our way through life.
As children, the lessons that help shape who we become come primarily from our caregivers and community. As families and communities differ in many ways, so too can the lessons/beliefs vary from family to family and from community to community. Core beliefs are heavily influenced by the influence of cultural and societal norms, family dynamics, and many other factors including environment.
Core Beliefs: Good or Bad?
Core beliefs are helpful when they support positive progress. That is, a “good” core belief is one that helps us cultivate positive relationships, supports a sense of self-worth/self-esteem, helps us effectively resolve conflict, and moves us in the direction of our goals.
But core beliefs are a lot like shoes, they start to cause problems when they no longer fit!
Not all core beliefs are helpful, and some can be downright problematic! Just like we can receive helpful messages such as, “Don’t touch a hot stove.”, as a child, we can also receive unhelpful negative ones such as, “You can’t do anything right.”, or “Everything is your fault.”. When children consistently receive these messages over time (directly or indirectly) they are more likely to develop negative core beliefs about themselves and their place in the world. Children who see themselves in a negative light grow up to be adults that do the same. They are often quick to criticize or judge themselves harshly, have trouble connecting with others or in relationships, struggle with anxiety/depression, or even become angry or defensive easily.
Identifying Your Core Beliefs
I mentioned earlier, our core beliefs determine how we see and understand ourselves and the world. Despite their influence, we may often be unaware of their presence.
Take a moment and consider the following:
- What are some of the lessons/beliefs you learned in your childhood that still guide you today? For example:
- What did you learn about work, money, or relationships?
- What people/events impacted how you saw yourself?
- Who or what were some of your biggest influences? What did you learn from them about yourself, others, and the world?
- List the lessons/beliefs that influenced you in a positive way.
- List the lessons/beliefs that influenced you in a negative way.
This activity is a quick and simple way to explore some of the hidden (or maybe not so hidden) beliefs that affect your health and happiness. Once you have an idea of your core beliefs you can begin to assess their impact and whether or not they need to be modified (or as I call it “upgraded”).
Upgrading Core Beliefs
If you have an old belief that is holding you back, there is no need to panic! It is totally natural to find beliefs that we have outgrown over time or that no longer fit our circumstances. Upgrading our beliefs begins with a recognition that our beliefs must change as we do and if one no longer fits (like the shoes you wore in elementary) then it needs to be replaced.
Upgrading a core belief is a simple process but that does not mean it is easy. Core beliefs have deep roots that have lasted for years and (for some of us 😉) even decades! Sometimes it can be difficult for our brains to accept a new way of seeing things. To take hold, a new belief needs time and the same consistent repetition.
Here are 4 steps to upgrading a core belief:
Step 1. Complete activity above.
Step 2. Identify core belief to be upgraded.
Step 3. Write down a replacement belief.
Step 4. Place your replacement belief in plain view and repeat daily, especially when the old belief has been activated.
Here’s an example to help:
- After listing her core beliefs, Patty recognizes she has a core belief that says, “Nothing I do will ever be good enough.”
- Recalling the stress and shame this belief has caused over the years, Patty decides it is time for an upgrade!
- As a replacement, Patty settles on: “If I feel I have tried my best, then whatever I do is good enough for me!”
- Patty writes her new belief on a sticky note and places it on her bathroom mirror where she can repeat it to herself each morning until it starts to stick.
Find Your Fit
Our core beliefs play a significant role in how we see ourselves and the world. While they can provide us with a sense of purpose, alignment, and satisfaction, they can also be the source of much discord, struggle, and conflict. By expanding our awareness and being curious about the beliefs that influence our everyday lives, we have a much better chance at getting rid of any that might keep us from the health and happiness we deserve.
This week, take some time to think about the beliefs that guide your day to day and where they come from. If you happen to find a belief (or many) that no longer fits, choose a replacement, and give yourself a little upgrade! 😉 One more tool in your Mental Health Toolbox!
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Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy