How to change the subconscious beliefs that limit you
Your beliefs (specifically your subconscious beliefs), are one of the greatest sources of power within you. They are one of the most important factors that determine what kind of a leader you are. For example, do you believe problems are heavy burdens or opportunities to improve? Think about the different experiences and results you would get depending on which one of those beliefs you operated from.
What can often trip us up when it comes to beliefs, is that they can be self fulfilling. We tend to see them as facts, thinking “that’s just the way the world is”. For example, if we believe that “people are out to get me”, we will see the world through the lens of that belief. If someone criticises us, we’ll say “see, I told you, people are out to get me”.
Yet this same situation of receiving criticism could “prove” a myriad of different beliefs. It could “prove” that “I never do things well”, that “people are highly stressed nowadays and they discharge that onto others” or that “the world is always showing me how to improve”. Additionally, changing a belief internally can affect how people treat us externally.
The biggest challenge in changing a belief can sometimes be realising that it’s a belief that can be changed.
While we generally have some beliefs that help us, it’s estimated that about 70% or more of our subconscious beliefs hinder us.
However, trying to change subconscious beliefs using reason and logic doesn’t work. To change subconscious beliefs you need to use a different tact. But before you learn how to change them, it’s helpful to understand how they’re created in the first place.
How a belief is created
A good metaphor for understanding beliefs, is to think of them as tables. The tabletop is the belief you have (eg: “I’m great at work”, “Stephanie hates me”, “I’m a failure” etc). And the legs of the table are the events in your life that have caused you to have that belief. Said differently, the legs of the table are the pieces of evidence you have to support the belief.
For example, if you have a belief that “I’m great at work”, it likely didn’t spring up out of nowhere. What probably happened was that situations occurred that gave you evidence that you are “great at work”: Maybe someone said “You did really well on that project”, maybe you got a significant pay raise, maybe you and your team managed to complete something that others thought you couldn’t do etc. All of these events caused you to create the belief “I’m great at work”.
The same process takes place when it comes to beliefs that diss-empower us. If you believe “I’m a failure”, it’s likely because there have been specific incidences that have accumulated over time to support that belief. (see diagram below).
Keep in mind that there can be more or less than 4 table legs for each table top/belief.
Between the time we’re born and the age of about 6 or 7, we’re essentially in a hypnotic state. This helps us “download” lots of information very quickly without slowing the process down by analysing it. We learn how to talk, walk, communicate, etc in a very short period of time. It is at this early age that many of our subconscious beliefs are formed (beliefs that, often to our own detriment, we tend to keep for the rest of our lives).
If mum makes a disgusted face every time she has to pay bills, we learn that bills are disgusting. If dad comes home from work tired everyday and talks about how stressful work is, we learn that work is tiring and stressful. We’ll often unconsciously take these beliefs and have them become self fulfilling prophecies.
But as children, we can interpret things in all kinds of ways that an adult wouldn’t: Imagine a toddler going up to his mum right when she’s busy on the phone at the end of a long day. He might just want a hug, but if in her stress, she offhandedly says “no, can’t you see I’m busy?” in a stern voice, the toddler doesn’t have the capacity to reason “mum’s just busy right now, she still loves me, I should leave her alone and come back later”. From a toddlers perspective, this simple “no, can’t you see I’m busy?” can be interpreted in any number of ways. That toddler might think she means “I’m not important enough to be loved”, “I don’t deserve attention”, “I’m not good enough” and the list goes on.
This can be directly programmed into that toddler and run as a self fulfilling belief for the rest of that person's life. This is because lessons need to be learnt quickly - you don’t want to have to put your hand in a flame more than once to learn not to do it again. But it’s because of this that we often end up with beliefs that limit us, stop us, sabotage us, and lead us to a life we don’t truly want.
The memories (table legs) for the beliefs that truely impact us in our lives, often have an emotional intensity to them that affects us at the level of our nervous system. In other words, there’s a physical component to them. They’re not just harmless observations like seeing a leaf and thus learning what a leaf is. That’s part of the reason why using logic and reason isn’t very effective at changing these subconscious beliefs.
Tables upon tables
Note that you don’t just have one belief. Nor are all beliefs you have as powerful as one another. You might have one “table top” (ie: belief) that says “I don’t deserve success”, and another “table top” that says “I have to work until I’m exhausted to be good enough”. Both of these tables could stand on top of a bigger belief /table that says “I am not enough”. This later belief supports the two first beliefs. In other words, there can be tables upon tables upon tables.
This is important to understand because it means that if you “remove” one of the tables which supports many other tables, you will generally get a much bigger effect with less effort.
There are many ways to change subconscious beliefs. Here’s one method that puts this understanding of how beliefs are created into action. The method used is called “Tapping”. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, feel free to jump to the next section to learn how to use Tapping to change subconscious beliefs.
“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of situations in your life. Science shows that when you reduce that intensity, you are more intelligent, resourceful and resilient amongst many other things. You’re better able to see situations from new perspectives and take more efficient action.
While knowing what to do is powerful, we can often have resistance to doing the things we know. With Tapping you can reduce and sometimes completely eliminate that resistance. This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.
Tapping involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.
Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.
Tapping: how to do the basics
1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.
2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).
3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:
“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.
eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.
(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).
4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling stressed”, “this project”.
5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.
6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience.
keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. You may either need more knowledge or the guidance of a trained practitioner to get the results you want. Check out these blog posts where I cover the most crucial information when it comes to getting results with “Tapping”:
How to get real lasting results with “Tapping”
Applying “Tapping” to change subconscious beliefs
Begin by identifying a negative belief that you would like to change. If you don’t have one that you can identify, look at a problem area in your life, it is likely that there is a negative belief that is hindering you there. For example, if nobody listens to you, there might be a subconscious belief that your views aren’t worth hearing or that it’s not safe for you to assert yourself.
Once you’ve identified a belief that you want to change, tap through the points shown above and ask yourself: “What evidence do I have to support this?” You can think of this like making a case to a judge. Your job is to provide all the evidence that makes this belief true. Some “evidence” that might come up for the belief “I’m not worthy” could be:
Tom got the promotion when I did most of the work
I failed to get into the university I wanted
My peer group turned their back on me etc
You can also tune into how it feels in your body when you focus on the belief, and travel back in time to the first time (or any time) you felt that way that you can remember.
Write down everything that comes up, focus on the situations with the most intensity and use Tapping to remove that intensity. What you’re identifying and removing here are the table legs, you’re releasing the intensity from the things that support the belief in the first place. You’re collapsing the table. This then gives the chance for either:
more positive beliefs to spring up or…
a more truthful and wiser view of reality to emerge
Both options will allow you to do better as a leader rather than getting caught up in the limitations from your past.
While this can take some time, it’s likely that you won’t have to tap on each memory. Taking out the main supporting legs is often enough to collapse the whole table/belief.
The EFT manual by Dawson Church
Side of hand photo adapted from Andrik Langfield on Unsplash
Tapping points photo adapted from Albert Dera on Unsplash