Last week we introduced an in-depth exercise to discover how you developed your beliefs about what was scarce and abundant for you as a child. These insights are critical to developing a higher level of well-being because what you learned was scarce or “hard to get” as a child is exactly what still triggers you as an adult. (If you would like to go back to any of the prior articles in this series you can find them here in our blog.)
As children, we formed beliefs based on how we explained our experiences to ourselves. These interpretations were made with a five-year old brain (as an example) that had a limited perspective of the world. We had very little information to go on and we did the best we could with the information we had at the time. Interestingly, no matter how naive the beliefs of our childhood may have been, once they are formed, we tend not to question them ever again unless prompted.
Last week’s exercise provided you with an initial sense of what you did and didn’t trust about safety, belonging and power as a child. For example, you might have worried about being rejected by your parents if you didn’t perform or do the right things. In that case your sense of belonging probably feels “scarce” in situations when you aren’t obviously performing well – especially in groups where it matters to you that others respect and like you. When people don’t notice your contributions, you might feel triggered because it literally feels like a threat to your survival. This might show up in meetings, for example, when others question you about your ideas and you get defensive and embarrassed instead of welcoming their ideas and feedback. Even if you know at an intellectual or logical level that you “shouldn’t” get defensive, the surge of emotions comes unbidden – because these are programmed into your brain and operating subconsciously to protect you from threats.
We use self-discovery exercises that help us remember what we didn’t trust in the past, and notice what triggers us in the present to identify the survival beliefs we developed as a child. The good news is that many of these beliefs may no longer be true, even though we still believe them.
The most important part of our accelerated growth process is to help you identify and rethink these survival beliefs you formed as a child. This is done through a series of activities that include experiential exercises, conscious observations, and guiding yourself through a re-learning process that changes your beliefs to line up with what is true for you now as an adult in the world you live in currently.
To get a taste for this process, choose ONE behavior pattern that you have today that you would like to change. Once you’ve identified your pattern, ask yourself the following questions:
- When you engage in this behavior pattern what are you hoping it will get you? (even if it seems completely immature or illogical)
- Take your answer from number one above and think of it in terms of safety, belonging, or empowerment. Were you trying to get more of something from one of these categories, and if so what was it?
- Look at your answer to number 2. When you were a child, did you generally not trust that it was easy to get this?
- Although it may seem like you never got enough of this when you were young, it’s powerful to identify the exceptions. When were the few times that you did get it?
- How does your answer to number 4 relate to the behavior pattern you want to change?
Although the questions above may seem hard to get your brain around, most people find that the behavior pattern they are trying to change makes a lot of sense when seen as a strategy to meet an important need that they have historically experienced as scarce. Your answers show how the behavior pattern you want to change, no matter how negative, is still serving you at a subconscious level.
The key to your mental well-being is to learn all over again how to get this important need met, keeping in mind that many things have changed since you were a child, including your dependency on others when it comes to getting your needs met. When you were a small child, those who raised you represented the whole world. Chances are, the types of people you live and work with now are different.
As a child, we have a limited perspective of the world and we tend to believe that we are the cause of all the situations and behavior that harms us. As adults, we have the ability to imagine ourselves in the shoes of others and analyze the cause of our own negative behavior to more deeply understand that situations and other people’s negative behavior rarely have anything at all to do with us. If you had to figure out now, as an adult, how to get your needs met, what beliefs might you form that would be quite different from how you learned things as a child?
To build mental resilience and experience less stress, frustration, anxiety, distraction, and depletion, you’ll need to rethink the beliefs that cause these stress reactions in the first place. Going through the exercises in this series can give you a good start with some insights, but it also might be confusing without the context and support that comes from being in a class or with a coach. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like additional support through this process!