The power of our beliefs

Near the end of the previous school year, I got in touch with one of my daughter’s teachers about how she was doing in class. Despite some amazing teachers and creative strategies to support her, she was having increasing difficulty with math and it was clearly taking a toll on her confidence. My daughter was getting to the point where she’d avoid doing her homework, already convinced she wouldn’t be able to do it without even trying.

After a few back and forths, her teacher suggested taking her to the doctor to get her evaluated. “For what?” I asked. I knew exactly what – my background in healthcare, being a daughter of a mom who worked with kids with learning difficulties and the experiences of my friends precluded me from feigning ignorance. I knew that my daughter likely was dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder. So my question to the teacher was entirely meant to challenge, to push back, and to make what she was suggesting not so.

While I couldn’t see it at the time, what her teacher had given us was a real gift. My daughter’s eventual diagnosis of ADD and our decision to try out medication has been a good one for her. She returned home after her first day saying it had helped her focus on the math lesson – “even though it was really boring.”

What happened over the next couple of weeks made me realize just how ingrained our belief systems can be. My daughter’s attention deficit had been replaced by something else: a confidence deficit. She’d gotten so accustomed to believing she wouldn’t be able to do her homework that just taking medication wasn’t enough – she needed to shift her belief system that she could figure it out.

That sounds pretty big for a 10 year old. Just like it’s big for any of us who want to do the same. The challenge is belief systems are so ingrained that they can be tough to get past – but before we can change those that no longer serve us, we have to nail them down. In many of our conversations with young adults we find that they’re carrying belief systems from friends, family or other influencers – and they’re caught between living up to those inherited beliefs and being true to what matters to them.

In some cases our belief system serves us well. And in many cases, especially when struggling with career decisions or a poor fit in the current job, they’re worth taking a look at. Here’s a hint: when you talk about your beliefs, they are very possibly preceded by the word “should.”

In her book Mastery Under Pressure my colleague Tina Greenbaum describes how to do this. Her guidance (excerpted from her book):

  • Step 1. Take out a pad of paper and on each page, title it with one of the following:
    • Work
    • Family
    • Romantic relationships
    • Friends
    • Physical health
    • Spiritual
  • Step 2. Over the course of the week, every time you think of a “should” in any of these areas, write it down on the appropriate page.
  • Step 3. Look over your list and mark next to each one, “Whose belief is it?”
  • Step 4. After you’ve identified the origin of the belief…ask yourself, “Do I want this belief for myself at this time of my life?” And put a yes or no next to it.
  • Step 5. On those statements that you clearly want, say slowly and consciously, “I choose this belief that…”

As my daughter works on rebuilding her confidence, it means she’ll have to re-engage on some “pretty boring math.” For the rest of us, checking your beliefs is at least worth a look – you might be pretty intrigued by what you find.

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