Do You Believe Change is Possible?
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Change is hard. Or is it? Breaking out of old habitual patterns often feels really hard. Despite our conscious intent and often bona fide efforts to make new habits or adapt ‘healthier’ behaviors, we often find ourselves right back where we started, feeling more defeated than before. We rehearse to ourselves how hard change is, which, according to the late Louise Hay, reinforces a belief that ‘change is hard’, therefore it is.
Her seminal book You Can Heal Your Life was one of the first self-help books that spawned a movement in the 80’s. I came across this dusty dinosaur in my mother’s library over the holiday break, and my curiosity won over my critique of the tacky book cover. I have long heard about Louise Hay, as she built a publishing empire (e.g., Hay House) and stood as a self-help guru often quoted by authors I’ve read over the years (e.g., Dr. Wayne Dyer), but I had never actually read her work. When I glibly opened the book to scan through, I was promptly swept away by the hopefulness and resonance in her teachings.
Despite the somewhat nauseating Jack Tandy-style cheesiness (e.g., exercises involving talking to yourself in a mirror) and lack of any scientific rigor (e.g., a lengthy 20+ page list of physical ailments that she argues will be cured by daily affirmations), nonetheless, Louise does point to timeless wisdom and powerful teachings about which I cannot disagree. She hammers home the commonly espoused notion that we become what we believe, and it’s in the unconscious limiting beliefs that we must change in order to live a limitless life.
This notion is not new and long preceded the 80s. Perhaps you’re familiar with Gandhi’s famous quote:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
So, what exactly is a belief? According to Dictionary.com, a belief is “an opinion or conviction”. Something in which we bestow as “confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof”. In essence, it means confidence in something, faith, and trust.
The idea that we believe things about which we are not aware might be new for some, but Psychology’s history has long been founded in the notion of the unconscious mind. Iconic pioneers like Freud and Carl Jung helped us understand the existence – and power of – the unconscious mind. In essence, how there is a sizable degree of material that is out of our awareness, but which impacts our experiences in our daily life.
A useful diagram that I’ve often referred to in my work with clients is Joseph Campbell’s diagram.
The top part represents what is in our awareness, while below the line is the space of the unconscious. The stuff we are not even aware is there – yet it’s impacting us and influencing our experiences through our uninvestigated beliefs.
What lies below the line is often the stuff we’ve come to believe without question. Things we’ve learned and internalized over the years through our social conditioning, schooling, pop culture, or experiences that have been unprocessed. Meaning, if we experience a painful break up, for example, and did not fully grieve, heal and accept the experience, we may bring that pain into the future, burdened by unconscious beliefs like “love hurts”, “I’m not good enough”, or “no one will love me” (i.e. if we interpreted the loss as a personal rejection), etc. The unconscious is the deep dark forest that carries all kinds of thoughts and beliefs that when brought into the light can show themselves to be largely untrue – yet yielding great power in our lives.
One of the first beliefs to ‘check’ if you’re wanting to make changes in your life is whether or not you believe that change is possible.
No barrier is more devastating to any growth or movement than the belief that one cannot change – that one is completely helpless to improve their life or experience. Resistance to change might arise in fearful thoughts, doubting thoughts, and so on, and it’s helpful to become aware of the content of these thoughts and to dig in and examine with clear seeing.
Consider if you believe change is possible. Because if you don’t, I would agree with Ms. Hay, it’s most likely not.
Where I disagree with Ms. Hay is her view that change can be easy if you believe it’s easy, because experience tells us that change takes practice. It takes more than repetitive affirmations looking in a mirror.
We know from recent innovations in neuroscience, the brain is plastic and changeable (Yay!) and that ‘neurons that fire together wire together’, which means that our efforts to practice new thoughts guided by our wise intentions and supported in behaviour can make neuroanatomical changes. Meaning, we can change our brains! We can unlearn negative and unhelpful patterns and create new ones – ones that nurture kindness, gratitude and happiness. Check out Rick Hansen if you want to learn more about this – he’s an expert in the field.
Do you believe change is possible? If not, then that’s your first next step.
Here are 3 ways to uncover and investigate your Beliefs about change:
1. Pause – Connect to Presence
When we find ourselves caught in a pattern that is undesirable or disconnected from alignment with our Self, then it’s helpful to just STOP - take a breath – what Tara Brach refers to as “A Sacred Pause”. Observing the breath as you inhale and exhale can quickly return you to greater presence in your body, as the breath is always in the present moment. And in this brief and prompt pause, you can check in with yourself. Notice from this moment of awareness, the next moment is alive with opportunity, right there. When our attention is full in the present moment, we are most connected with Loving Awareness, which is the home of the True Self, the part that is unconditioned – alive, awake, aware.
In a moment of Mindfulness, we observe the sometimes-incessant chatter of thoughts, and as we sit in stillness, we come to also see the space – the gap between the thoughts. In this gap lies capacity for choice. We see the thoughts as they are, and in our state of Presence, connected with Awareness in the present moment. Sometimes this is all we need to really see the thoughts and beliefs we are carrying. Once we bring them into the light of Awareness, they naturally dissolve. If you’d like guidance in coming to Presence, you may wish to listen to my 1-minute or 5-minutes meditations.
Another great way to access our hidden beliefs is through writing. Start with writing down the question, “Do I believe change is possible?” or as a statement (E.g., “Change is hard”). Then, write down whatever arises without censoring any thoughts that come. Let the pen move without worrying about spelling, grammar or structure. Just write – free flow. You may choose to set a timer for 10 minutes or longer. See what comes out and follow step 3.
3. Ask Yourself – “Is it true?”
The Work of Byron Katie expertly shines a light on how to investigate our thoughts and beliefs and how to transform them as a gateway to true freedom. She teaches 4 Questions that include various ‘turn-arounds’ to dissolve untruths that lie in our minds unexamined. “Is it true?” is one simple and powerful question that has the potential to transform one from living in illusion to seeing with greater clarity what is true or what we can’t know for sure. Hope for freedom is gleaned in her statement that:
“taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them.”
As a therapist, I help people investigate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviour as well as the murkier hidden beliefs that might be underlying these experiences. In fact, the process of therapy is really a lengthy investigation of our unconscious – checking our hidden grooves that might be keeping us stuck or out of line with our values and wishes for ourselves. It’s a process I value incredibly and think it necessary if we wish to come home to ourselves.
But we don’t need a therapist to check our own beliefs. The exercise of investigating what we are believing is a pathway to exponential growth and transformation. Nothing encapsulates this notion better than one of my favorite quotes of all time by Mr. Walt Whitman:
“Re-examine all that you’ve been told. Dismiss that which insults your soul”.