Negative beliefs act like a filter. They change the way you experience people and events, and over time, they chip away at your sense of self.
The good news is, once you recognize negative beliefs in yourself, they begin to lose their power over you.
And like a ray of sunlight peeking through dark clouds, your inner capacity for joy will begin peeking through, brightening up your life once again.
Here are the most common negative beliefs that can limit your potential for happiness:
1. “People are either good or bad”
If you tend to see the world as either black or white, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
No one is always good (or bad). Inside every person, including you and me, are good thoughts and bad thoughts, things we are proud of having done and things we wish we could change. Someone may be a great father but a poor husband.
Another person may act out of love at home but feel bitter when she is at work. Many of us wouldn’t harm a living thing consciously, but enjoy eating meat. Contradictions are a part of life.
Here’s the solution:
Next time someone disappoints you, or you face a part of yourself that is not perfect, remind yourself that perfection is a dangerous illusion.
Then, try to consciously recall something about the person or situation that you love. For example, if your spouse annoys the heck out of you by being messy at home, accept the anger, but also recall a specific time in the recent past when he made you happy. It could be something big, like supporting you when no one else did, or even something small, like getting you morning coffee in bed.
When you can see yourself and others as flawed but still beautiful and worthy, you will love and forgive more easily.
2. “Anyone different/unknown is weird”
To a conservative, being liberal is weird. To a vegetarian, all meat eaters seem weird. Rich folks look at poor neighborhoods with fear and mis-trust; and vice versa.
When we don’t know or understand something, it scares us.
When you have this reaction to something or someone, challenge yourself to learn more about it.
For example. let’s say your religion is very important to you and your daughter is dating someone of a different faith.
Rather than jump to the conclusion that you will never be able to “get” him, challenge yourself to be curious. Ask open, gentle questions about his faith and his upbringing. You don’t have to agree, but you can still try to understand.
Whenever ignorance is replaced by understanding, there is hope and possibility for joy.
3. “Believing in myself requires me to block out other opinions”
We are often told to “Stand tall”, “Believe in yourself” and “Drown out the voices that disagree.” While it’s important to stand behind your beliefs, it’s also essential to know how to react to differing opinions.
Truly successful people welcome other people’s opinions, even if they contradict their own.
Because they understand that each person has a unique perspective. And that there is often more than one right answer to a problem.
So how do you deal with this limiting belief?
Whenever I’m tempted to think my opinion is THE right one, I recall the story of the four blind men:
Four men were arguing about religion and God, each insisting that their God was the “real” one. Unable to convince one another, they went to Buddha.
Buddha brought the four blind men to an elephant and asked them to tell him what they “see”. One man was near the trunk and thus said it is a cylinder, the next was near the stomach and so insisted it was a wall, the third was near the leg and felt sure it was a pillar and the fourth man got the tail and was adamant it was a rope.
Buddha asked “So who is right?”
Every problem or situation has many sides to it. While yours may be true for you, other opinions can also be true.
Perspective changes everything.
4. “I have to feel whatever my thoughts tell me to”
Thoughts are extremely powerful and we’ve all felt their power at one time or another. But unhappy people are constantly overwhelmed by their thoughts and believe that if they have a sad thought, they have to feel sad.
Genuinely happy people know that thoughts are temporary, like clouds in the sky, and they often come and go randomly.
Just because you have an angry thought, you don’t have to end up feeling angry. You can choose what to do with that thought. You can either let it pass and focus on other thoughts, or you can obsess over it, making it stronger and more powerful.
Try this out: Next time you have an unhappy thought, just acknowledge it and bring your attention to your body and the present moment.
For example, if you are at a meeting, focus on the feeling of the chair against your back or your shoes on the floor. If you are drinking something, fill your awareness with the sense of taste and smell. Then, bring your mind back to what you want to learn or take away from the meeting. As you do this, the angry thoughts will linger for a while, and then float away, to be replaced by other thoughts.
“I have to act out whatever I’m feeling.”
This is part 2 of the “thoughts-feelings-actions” loop.
For example: If you feel the urge to skip your morning work out, it doesn’t mean you need to act on that feeling. You may choose to consciously skip it, because maybe it’s a saturday morning and you decide to snuggle with your kids instead. But you can also choose to work out, in spite of what you feel.
Feelings too are temporary, like thoughts. The feelings you pay attention to will stay and expand, whereas the ones you choose to let go of, will float away.
5. “Control is a part of love”
True love is freeing and unconditional. It does not seek to control, intimidate or change.
When you try to control your loved ones, you will slowly but surely lose them. Real love is about open listening, positive regard, and encouraging autonomy, while being available to protect and support. It’s a delicate balance. And people who know how to do it well are rewarded with loyalty and trust.
Unhappy people try to control others. They worry that without the control, the other person will leave them.
Learn to love others freely. But before you can love others, you have to love yourself. If this is a struggle for you, I highly recommend reading this article for some powerful ways to begin the journey.
6. “More is better”
Many of us have almost unlimited choices in many areas of our life, from politics and education to fashion, so why then are we unhappier than ever before?
I spent much of my 20‘s chasing after things and achievements. Yes, they gave me some happiness, but it was always be temporary. When the happiness wore off, I chased after something else, hoping this new thing would finally lead to lasting happiness. It took me a few years to really understand that I could not buy my way to true joy.
Happiness is internal, a way of thinking.
So, what’s the solution to “more is better”?
If you think that you can achieve happiness by acquiring more or having more choices, please do yourself a favor and watch this short TED talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz.
It will blow your mind.