“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.” – Elvis Presley
Your beliefs and values define everything about you, right now. So, the sum total of your beliefs and values equals who you are and are not today. In other words they support your identity.
Luckily, you are a human being, not a marble statue sitting in a museum gathering dust. Life will constantly be bringing you challenges and opportunities that will enable you to change and update your identity. When you grasp the chance to modify your identity, your beliefs and values will change simultaneously. Equally, if you change or modify a belief, then there will be a shift in your identity too.
I’m going to explain how your beliefs and values are intrinsically linked to your identity in the simplest way I know. Consider a table that has four legs and a top, you can see that it looks like a table and when you sit at it with your dinner plate resting on the surface, and it does the job of a table, then you have a table. If you take away one or all of the legs you cease to have a table, likewise, if you only have the four legs, you don’t have a table. The table gains it’s identity by virtue of being whole. Even if you have all of the pieces in your flat pack when it’s delivered, it’s not a table until all of the parts are assembled as a whole, that you can truly see it as a piece of furniture and have it take on it’s full identity.
How can a piece of furniture explain beliefs, values and identity? Well, imagine that each component is a strong belief, one leg may represent, ‘I am a teacher’, another may represent ‘I am knowledgeable’, the table top may represent ‘I am a mother’ and the design of that top will be composed of all the beliefs and values that, for you, define ‘a mother’.
Every belief we hold gives further definition to our identity, and who we believe we are or are not will dictate our actions and behaviours. Furthermore, it will govern our interactions with others and ultimately give us our aspirations and perceived limitations.
This analogy can be used to look at psychological problems from a different perspective. For example, anorexia or body dysmorphia, the person has all the resources they need to be a fit and healthy individual who eats appropriately and has an accurate body image but they are unwilling or unable to acknowledge their true identity, hence a struggle begins. It is as if the flat pack came without assembly instructions, all of the components are there, but we just don’t know how to put them together correctly. We do our best, but chances are, we will end up with a table that wobbles all over the place.
Did you ever try sitting in a café, having a drink with friends, at a wobbly table? Everybody knows the table is wobbly except the table!
Now, the funny thing is, just as you can look at a table and know if it’s safe to sit at or has a leg missing, I can look at you and figure out if you ‘have a screw loose’ and if you have, that can leave you a little “wobbly” in a certain area of your life.
It always strikes me as unusual that people walk about from day to day never really knowing for sure what they genuinely believe. You wouldn’t embark on a long car journey without checking that you have a few essentials like four wheels and a tank of petrol with you, would you? And yet when did you last check what you believe about who you are and what parts of your life may need improving?
I demonstrated this with Christine Fieldhouse, a journalist from a national newspaper. I had met Christine in the past when she had written articles about my work. She had recently written a book about her childhood, Why Do Monsters Come Out At Night?: A Mother’s True Story of Two Very Different Childhoods, and she sent me a copy. From reading her story, I picked up that she had a few beliefs that could do with an upgrade. I invited her to pick some areas in her life that she would like to improve, these were: work, relationships, self-image, parenting and money.
Then I asked her to write down as many things as possible that she believed about the areas that she had chosen. Being a fantastic writer, Christine made quite an extensive and detailed list.
I went on to explain to Christine how we all have unconscious beliefs and values that we adhere to, often without knowing, and it is these limiting beliefs that I help a client to upgrade. Your mind will always accept an upgrade, no matter how old you are.
Your limiting beliefs will impact on the quality of your relationship with yourself, your mum, your dad, brothers, sisters, children, co-workers, your house, where you live, the clothes that you wear, the style of shoes that you have on, the types of friends you keep, what you read, if you don’t read, the television you watch, radio you listen to, if you smile a lot or you’re a miserable pain in the backside. By adjusting your limiting beliefs your whole world can change, dramatically and quickly! You don’t have to wait until next spring to tidy up your mind, you can do it now, by writing them all down, at the end of the lesson I will explain how you can work through your list and upgrade those beliefs that are no longer supporting you.
This is how Christine recorded our session, it was used as a main feature in the Daily Express and as you can imagine, brought a flood of new clients looking to challenge their beliefs and step into a more fitting identity:
“First, Matt asked me to note down all the things my parents taught me about work so I rack my brain for memories from 40 years ago. My late mum Margaret was my main influence and she had very strict rules. She told me to always do the very best I could; to work as hard as I could and if I say I’m going do something, to do it, no matter what.
For every belief, we went through a process of writing down the rule, then saying it out loud to bring it into the present and my conscious mind. As I did I could hear my mum’s Yorkshire accent clearly and relived how I felt as a child when I heard those words. Sometimes I felt a determination to do my best and a desire to rise to the challenge but on other occasions I was overwhelmed at what I had to achieve.
Images appeared in my mind to show how I’d stored these rules in my mind over the years. I pictured a woman flogging a child to make her work hard and an old-fashioned schoolmarm speaking sternly, dressed in black and white. Neither happened to me – my mum was a wonderfully kind woman – but the associations of strictness were vivid.
Once my internal rules were unlocked and my feelings out in the open, Matt started “re-programming” me. Together we altered each belief to bring it up to date and in keeping with the person I am now, not the six-year-old I was. As soon as I read out a new rule, I knew instinctively if it was for me. An old belief such as “always do the best you can” became “I can only do the best I can when I can and that’s OK”.
Looking at friendships, I revealed how my mum insisted I should never tell friends any personal secrets. Working with Matt, I turned this into “I can tell my true friends what I want when I want.”
When we looked at my attitude to intelligence, the beliefs of my late father Harry came flooding back to me. According to him, I was clever but I would always need to work hard; I had no common sense and men wouldn’t think I was very bright.
All of these statements evoked memories of sadness, desperation and a fear of intelligent men. As we worked through them I realised why I’m happier dealing with women and how I’m much more confident when I’m doing talks about my writing to women-only groups.
Meanwhile, my attitude to being a mother threw up some very old-fashioned legacies, including a belief that women who have children don’t have much money. My mum told me this when I was a child – it was probably true in the Sixties when few mothers worked – and I’d held onto this belief and applied it when I became a mum. After playing around with the statement we rewrote it to become: “I have a child and I can make money when I want,” which made me feel much more in control.
After leaving the session I felt in transit between the old and the new me. I figured I might believe the new rules for a day or so, and then I’d probably slip back to the old ones. Matt didn’t agree: “Take a computer that’s been updated from Windows 95 to XP. If it’s upgraded, it remains upgraded. The mind is like that too,” he said.
Since then I’ve stood up for myself more, probably because I no longer see myself as a little girl trying to do her very best to please everyone.
By changing just a few core beliefs I’ve finally moved from the Sixties to the 21st century. Now I’m working on the next generation by drip-feeding Jack with my new, modern set of rules. Sometimes I slip in a sneaky one to ensure I’m looked after in later years. Well, sons should treat their elderly mothers to luxurious holidays shouldn’t they?”
So, there you have Christine’s story, now what about yours?
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Your Beliefs and Values Will Support Your “I Am…” Statement
The problem that living with a limiting belief creates is that your “I Am…” statements will limit your potential for growth in whatever area of your life it has manifested in. When your parents or guardians gave you rules to live by, some of them were only meant for the playground and to keep you safe whilst you were growing up. “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Don’t wander away from the house” were great rules when you were aged 4 or 5, but now, you are 42 years old and have never gone out into the world because it’s scary! Your life is being sabotaged by a redundant rule that you’ve forgotten about and haven’t yet upgraded. Well now you can.
I heard Jamie Oliver’s dad installing a beautiful belief/family rule when he and Jamie were talking about marriage, his dad said “The Olivers are like swans, they marry for life.” What a wonderful family rule to have. That will no doubt create a whole set of beliefs and values inside Jamie’s mind.
For many, our beliefs and values build up a wall so high our “I Am statements” become a veritable prison. Remember Iris, from our Rule # 6 of the Saboteur Within: Emotional Pains Can Create Physical Change?
She experienced pain in her knees that was so intense she could barely walk up the stairs. And yet she did, despite the pain; even when she had to balance a tray on her knees so that she could care for her sick, ailing husband.
Iris had an identity; she had a strong “I Am…” statement. It said, “I Am… a wife.” That conviction was so strong, reinforced by equally strong values and beliefs, (honor and obey aren’t part of the marriage ceremony as often nowadays but when Iris was young they certainly were) regardless of how she felt personally, or how much she wanted to change or pursue her own interests of reading and relaxing, her “I Am…” identity forced her to deny her own needs; honor and obey her husband, until she couldn’t take it any longer.
What happened then? Her emotional pain created physical pain. The only way her conscious mind could combat The Saboteur Within, or her unconscious mind, was to literally shut her body down with pain so intense she couldn’t walk up the stairs anymore.
She didn’t feel any pain when she was relaxing with her Catherine Cookson books, and yet the minute the thumping from her husband’s cane sounded on the bedroom floor above her head, the pain flared up with intensity and immediacy.
Parting Words About Who You Are… And Who You Are Meant to Be
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.” – Lao Tzu
The thing is; it didn’t have to get to that point. If Iris had been able to step out of her “I Am” box for a minute, if she’d been able to see her situation objectively and with clarity rather than as a prisoner of her own misguided values and beliefs, she could have realised that being a wife did not necessarily mean being a dutiful servant.
But such is the unconscious mind; it is so eager to have order, routine and safety that it clouds our judgment and makes change seem impossible. It took a full-scale regression and months of therapy to get Iris to see that she hadn’t just created an “I Am…” box for herself; she’d created a prison!
Only by breaking free, one brick at a time could Iris gain relief from the physical pain created in response to her rigid values and beliefs.
You have to ask yourself, how much pain you’re willing to suffer before you realise the box you’ve built for yourself can no longer contain the person you want to be. Indeed, some people would rather die than change. Why? Simple: because changing would upset the precious “status quo” of everyone else and that wouldn’t do at all, would it?
Exercise 8: Your Circle of Life
- Take a look at the circle of life above.
- Redraw the circle of life on a piece of paper.
- Draw a line across each segment at a point that you feel represents your current situation in that particular area.
- Score each area, between 0 and 10. For example:
- Now look at the areas where your score is low and the wheel looks like it’s not running smoothly.
- Write down what you believe about those areas.
- Once you have written them down, notice if you have any patterns that emerge.
- Remember to invite a friend in to help you as someone outside of you will see more than your Saboteur will allow you to see.
- Do any of those beliefs limit you, at all? Work with your friend to upgrade your belief. For example:
- “Don’t talk to strangers.” A brilliant rule for a child.
- Upgraded to “It’s okay to talk to strangers, when I choose,” or, “Strangers are friends that I haven’t met yet.”
- Notice that the upgrade allows you more control, more choice and opens up your world to infinite possibilities.