Ways to Work with Irrational Beliefs

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Morsels of Change question to ponder:

Who Would I Be Without This Belief?

Sometimes I stumble upon an assumption or belief that I’ve been unconsciously carrying around, and I think, “What the hell? Why do I believe that? That’s not even true!”

But even knowing it’s not true, I’m not able to let go of the belief.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a belief like that — something which your logical, rational mind doesn’t accept, but which you do believe on some other (emotional? intuitive? cellular? reptilian brain?) level.

This Morsel of Change has some of my best tips for working with such beliefs.

I invite you to think about an irrational belief you hold, and to try on the exercises below as you read this.

Ways to Work With Irrational Beliefs

1. Explore how the belief was formed.

a) Journal about where you first learned this belief:

  • Who taught you this?
  • Whose experience or role modelling led you to this belief?
  • When you first encountered this belief, did you question it and explore it, or did you “swallow it whole” without examining it?
    (Gestalt psychology refers to this “swallowing whole” as introjection — beliefs that we take in without chewing them over and digesting them. In Gestalt, part of becoming a functional being is to regurgitate such beliefs in order to examine them for ourselves before deciding whether or not we want these beliefs to be part of us.)
  • What emotional state were you in when you first learned this belief? Were you vulnerable? Were you a child dependent on others?
  • How did your environment encourage you to take on this belief? What would have been the consequences if you hadn’t taken on this belief?

b) Journal about what has changed since then:

  • What about your current environment is different from the environment where you first learned this belief?
  • What about your emotional state is different from when you first learned this belief?
  • In your current environmental and emotional state, does this belief still serve you? Is it helping you, or harming you?
  • In your new environment, what are the consequences if you continue to hold this belief?
  • In your new environment, what are the consequences if you let go of this belief?

2. Questioning your thoughts.

Byron Katie’s work is the most accessible way I know to examine and question thoughts.
She invites us to ask four questions of our belief:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

Finally, the Byron Katie work gets us to find “turn-arounds” and to find examples of the truth in each of these turn-arounds.

For example, if my belief was “She doesn’t care about me”, then the turn-arounds might be:

a) “She does care about me” (and then I would have to find three examples of how she cares about me).

b) “I don’t care about her” (I’ve turned around the subject and object) (and then I would have to find three examples of this new statement being true).

c) “I don’t care about me” (I’ve turned it around to find out if I’m projecting my own belief onto “her”) (and again, find three examples of when this has been true).

3. Give the belief a character and get creative.

Imagine the belief is “No one cares about me.” Imagine the character inside your head who says to you: “No one cares about you.”

  • What does this character look like?
  • What are some of his/her favourite things to say?
  • If he/she had a career, what would it be?
  • What does this character do after hours? Who is this character friends with?

Give your character a name (perhaps “Big Bully” works for this example) and get creative: draw a picture of him/her, make a paper bag puppet of him/her.

Next time you hear that belief in your head, you can say, “Oh, it’s Big Bully”. You can take two minutes to pull out your paper bag puppet and put on a little play in which Big Bully is the star.

And then you can say: “Okay, Big Bully, I’ve heard you, but now I remember that you’re just one piece of me, you’re not ALL of me. And I’m going to go back to listening to some of my other thoughts now.”


Morsels of Change question to ponder:

Who would I be without this belief?