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Find & Replace Limiting Beliefs, Part 1: Search Techniques

Find & Replace Limiting Beliefs, Part 1: Search Techniques


    Are you guilty of failing at your goals time and time again, only to ask “what’s wrong with the world?” and keep on trying to succeed with the same strategies and tactics?

    It may be time for an introspective examination of yourself. When success is hard to find, it’s not always the world that’s playing hide and seek. Sometimes, the problem is within our noggins, and we’re preventing ourselves from getting where we want to go. We are defined by the way we see the world.

    Another way of stating “the way we see the world” is “assumptions about reality” or worldview. Our worldview will consist of a combination of beliefs that are limiting and beliefs that are enabling—though always skewed to one end of the spectrum or the other.

    In true Lifehack spirit, we’re going to look at this using computer analogies. After all, the term “life hacks” comes from applying programming techniques to life. In this article we’ll be looking at search techniques—finding limiting beliefs—and in the next one, we’ll be looking at replacing them. Find & Replace—just like in Word!

    Questioning Your Assumptions About Reality

    We can only act in accordance with the boundaries of reality that we—or others—have set for ourselves.

    We cannot exceed those boundaries without first changing them. It’s a literal impossibility, or they aren’t really beliefs; if we can exceed them, we don’t really believe in them. Beliefs are a framework that thought and action cannot exist outside of without first expanding, changing or removing certain beliefs.

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    To make it harder to identify which beliefs are limiting you in some way, it’s not only those we currently hold that can affect our behavior and thinking—it’s also the beliefs we’ve held in the past, especially those that you were brought up with as a child. Even if your perception of reality has flipped to the opposite end of the spectrum, the effects of those earlier beliefs can stick with you for a lifetime.

    For instance, as Tim Ferriss mentions in The 4-Hour Workweek, your limiting belief may be that more time and effort spent equals greater productivity (or ‘hard work is good work’), hence making you hopelessly unproductive.

    What we are talking about here is examining and altering components of our worldview in order to effect a paradigm shift.

    Finding Limiting Beliefs

    Limiting beliefs are simply assumptions about reality that are not true. In order for our actions to have the greatest positive effect, we need to have beliefs that are as close to the reality as possible—deceiving ourselves will take us further from the goal. So, a limiting belief, when it comes down to it, is a belief that isn’t true.

    Since human perception and reality are fundamentally two different things, we will always have limiting beliefs. It is impossible to ever eliminate all of them. But, through observation, openness to new information, and trial, we can at least begin the process of closing the gap between reality and our perception of it.

    1. Observation

    Observe the world to see what works and what doesn’t work. Look at things different ways—for example, try being cynical or try being naive when you observe—you’ll see different things, and it’s likely that some of your limiting beliefs derive from being overly cynical or overly naive and trusting. There are many other viewpoints you can try.

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    What is observation? I always assumed that people would automatically know what I mean when I tell them to observe. In personal development, it is necessary to “observe” without having a specific target in mind. It’s a required state of mind to find both new ideas and bad habits. The other day I was talking about this concept of limiting beliefs and observation with a friend who said, “What do I observe?” and since then it has been obvious to me that it’s not an entirely intuitive practice.

    “Observe always that everything is the result of a change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and to make new ones like them.” – Marcus Aurelius

    Aurelius was most definitely correct, but that only points us in the right direction—it gives us some idea of why we should observe reality instead of just taking the word of a friend, philosopher, minister or news anchor.

    The truth is that there’s no magic bullet that’ll automatically get you to mindfully observe your surroundings. It takes practice. Instead of living day-to-day in a passive “shutters-on” mode, you need to cultivate an active awareness of mind. Take note of your surroundings and be aware of them, instead of just existing in them. It’s not difficult to teach yourself this, in terms of the skill and knowledge required to do it, but it does take time and discipline before you’ll habitually stay in that mindful zone.

    What you’re doing is not only training yourself to observe everything throughout your day, but to spot disconnects more readily. Our default mode is to ignore disconnects in reality or accept them, thanks to beliefs that are out of line with objective reality. So, by cultivating this constant mindfulness and observation of everything we encounter, we’re overriding that default mode and telling our brain not to ignore those disconnects, but bring them to our attention. This allows us to determine where our ideas need tweaking.

    You’ll still be seeing reality through the lens of your current beliefs, but a lens can only distort an image, not present a totally different one (unless you’re really psychologically sick!), so with practice you’ll be able to determine (through pattern recognition) how your assumptions and ideas are distorting the perception of reality.

    In other words, you’re observing the world not to see more of it, but to see how your worldview ‘lens’ takes different concepts and distorts them in similar ways. By spotting the similarities in your perceptions of totally different things you’ll know that they’re artificial impositions on reality kicking in, and not objective truth itself. This gives you a better idea of what internal beliefs must change.

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    When you successfully do this for the first time, it’s a pretty enlightening moment—like seeing something with absolute clarity for the first time; like taking your sunglasses off and finally seeing all the color and depth of your environment.

    2. Openness to New Information

    Openness to new information is very important to seeking your own limiting beliefs and replacing them. If you’re open, you’ll allow yourself to see the way someone else does or sees things. Using the experience and beliefs of others to test your own is a massive shortcut to the process of finding and replacing limiting beliefs.

    This works best when others have fought their battles hard to find the optimal belief in an area, and you no longer have to because you’ve been open to their ideas. If you want to quit smoking, read about how other people have successfully removed harmful habits from their life and apply the beliefs that enabled them. The belief that it’s impossible to quit is usually the one that keeps people addicted.

    Essentially, being open to new ideas is a belief in itself, but this is one of the enabling beliefs. While some belief systems, especially the institutionalized ones, are very closed to new ideas—and hence, I might add, suffering for it—it is of absolute importance that you be open to new ideas if you ever want to improve and develop yourself. If close-mindedness is a part of your belief system, then change it immediately, or stagnate forever. If you don’t change that, there’s no point to be wasting time reading stuff like this—go be productive!

    Most people think they are open to new ideas, if “being open” means: when you find a good idea, be open to using it yourself. But this is not where the concept of openness stops; it hasn’t even begun. Being open is hardly about the ideas you think are good to begin with. It’s about the ones that you don’t like.

    Like the idea that if you never watched, listened to or read the news again, your life wouldn’t fall apart and you wouldn’t miss out on anything you need to know.

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    Cultivate a curiosity in both ideas that seem comfortable and wonderful, and ideas that seem uncomfortable and scary. The latter are the ones that will help you the most.

    And remember that being open doesn’t mean accepting all new ideas; once you’ve objectively entertained an idea, you can always reject it. Accepting every idea the world throws at you is a practice known as stupidity.

    3. Trialling New Information (or, Trial & Error)

    You can observe and be open, but you’ll never really find your own limiting beliefs until you actually try some new ones on for size.

    When you’ve found some areas of your belief system that you think need touching up, implement the proposed improvements and see if you’re doing better with or without them. You need to do this for at least seven to 30 days; the longer the better. If you “try it on” for a few hours or a day or two, you’ll never really know if the idea was good—all you’ll really discover is that it was uncomfortable to try something you weren’t used to. It takes time to get over the comfort hump, so take that into account.

    Set that time limit before you begin. Never, ever set it after. Stick to it.

    While you might not make it past the comfort hump of your trial, it’s also possible the opposite will happen: you’ll enjoy the fact of change itself, the act of doing (or thinking) something different for once, and you’ll mistake the source of that positive feeling as being the new beliefs. It could be a step backward, but because you finally got to find out how it feels to think differently and look at something in a new light, you’re oblivious to it.

    If you have any doubts at the end of your trial period, you should stop for a few days and go back to your usual operating mode and evaluate the difference from an objective distance. They keyword here is objective. It’s really important, especially when it comes to beliefs and perception of reality, that you find some level of objectivity (even though you’ll still be seeing the world from a skewed point of view, I know, I know). In this case objectivity is derived from detaching your emotions from your analysis.

    Next time: you’ve found your limiting belief of the day and want to exchange it for a new one. We’ll look at how to make this daunting goal a reality.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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