Our beliefs govern many things. Actually for everything we do. Both at the level of thought and behavior. For example, there can be many answers to the question:‘Is running healthy?’. Some may have a conviction that, yes, running is certainly healthy. Others may answer that running is healthy as long as one is in nature and not inhaling car exhaust. Others, again, may answer no – running is too hard on the knees. The interesting thing is not who is right. The interesting thing is that all the statements are based on beliefs, and it is through our beliefs that we navigate the world. It is our beliefs that form the basis for the choices we make and the things we do. If we have a belief that running is not very healthy, it is unlikely that we will drop by the sports store and invest in a pair of running shoes.
Another more existential question could be: “What is the good life?” If this question is asked to 100 people, we will likely get 100 different answers. We have different beliefs about what constitutes a good life. For some, it’s important to have many children and focus heavily on family. Some prioritize traveling a lot. Some people choose to work many hours, while others choose to work fewer hours. All of this is governed by our beliefs about how we want to use our lives.
All of this is about behavior, choices, and priorities, which we are typically aware of. In any case, we typically have an answer ready if we are asked. But it is also our beliefs that control our thought processes, and our thought processes are the driving force behind our mental health and well-being. We are not always aware of these beliefs, and we are not in the habit of talking about them.
I recently had a woman in coaching, and here I am precisely working with the beliefs that govern the thought processes. She had symptoms of stress and anxiety following a threat she had experienced 2 years ago. After this threat, she experienced that she had changed her behavior. After this threat, she had experienced that she had changed her behavior. She had become much more irritable, had a shorter fuse, was more introverted, had less energy, and was not present for her loved ones. She was tired of it! Since the attack, she had been to several psychologists and psychiatrists, and nothing had helped. She was still filled with worries related to this traumatic experience.
A little further into our first conversation, she tells me that she has to worry to avoid a similar situation happening again. She had a belief that worrying could prevent her from experiencing a threat again in her life. This belief is what drives her thoughts to revolve around worries. We calculated that she had spent 4500 hours worrying in the past 2 years. 4500 hours! That’s 187.5 days. It is more than half a year! My next question to her was whether all these hours of worrying had solved anything for her? Whether the worries had had a positive effect on her? At this point, there was complete silence and then she answered that worrying had not made any difference except draining her energy. 4500 hours is spent … and it has not made a positive difference …
This woman has a job where she potentially can experience threats. That is a condition. That is a part of the job. If she wants to eliminate the possibility of such threats, she would have to find another job, which she didn’t want to do. Worrying about the possibility of it happening doesn’t remove the risk. When she realized that she had been controlled by a belief that worries were necessary, and that this belief only made her worse and worse, she became curious about what she could do differently. She became curious about how she could control her thought processes and focus in a different direction.
One important distinction is to divide the world into problems and conditions. Problems can be solved. Conditions cannot be changed. We must accept them and shift our attention away from them when they fill us with inappropriate thoughts and feelings. For example, it is a condition that we all will die, but if we constantly focus on it and fear when it will happen, we fill ourselves up with thoughts and emotions that make us feel bad.
Working with beliefs about our own thought processes is relevant in relation to stress, anxiety, depression, and many other mental imbalances. Research shows that working on this level of belief is extremely effective and gentle if we want to ensure a high degree of well-being in life in both the short and long term. We cannot change what has happened, and we cannot, through the power of thought, prevent challenging things from happening in the future. We can change our approach to these thoughts, so that we don’t fill ourselves up with thoughts and emotions that lead to malaise.
In MINDStrain, we work with precisely this.