How to Change a Basic Belief

King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) possessed a gold chain bearing the Latin inscription, “I prefer to die rather than change my mind.” I hope few readers will share that concept with the famous monarch.

Part of accepting responsibility for yourself is examining your basic beliefs and making changes that improve your quality of life and mental health. Any basic belief is replaceable with one that is more adaptive, although this may be difficult or even undesirable. Doing so is a strictly personal matter that cannot be done for you.

How to identify and change a basic belief

Changing a belief requires formulating a conscious thought that is contrary to the offending basic belief and then constructing experiences (behaviors) that are consistent with the new thought. This process may be quick and easy as when you experience an epiphany, or it may require considerable practice and repeated efforts.

Identifying and changing a basic belief involves five steps. Remember, anxiety must be low in order to do the required thinking .

Step 1: Become aware of  any negative thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

The first objective is to recognize that a particular thought, feeling or behavior is a problem for you or someone close enough to you to make you want to change it.

Consider a simple illustration (in italics) as we go through the steps. It would be even better if you used an example from your own life.

Roger realized that he felt a momentary sense of disgust when his luncheon companion ordered a tongue sandwich.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Why do I think/feel/behave the way I do?”

This is the crucial question. Call it “introspection”, “looking inward”, “self-examination” or anything else that enables you to express in words the basic belief that is underneath your thoughts,  feelings and actions. You must be open to whatever answer presents itself.

You do not need to know exactly what you’re looking for in the subconscious, you just have to start looking. Neither reason nor logic has a place in Step 2, and they will, in fact, sabotage the process. Don’t try to be reasonable or justify your action or feeling, just search your subconscious and allow it to bring up whatever it will for consideration. The answer may be counterintuitive and seemingly illogical. Accept it.

It is possible that you will need to ask “why” several times since there may be a more fundamental answer than the one that occurs to you originally. Keep searching until you are satisfied that the answer explains the behavior or feeling you are examining.

You still have some digging to do if your answer refers to or attempts to blame any external person or event. Your own subconscious basic beliefs are the source of feelings and behavior, so assigning the cause to others may be convenient and satisfying, but useless.

Roger thinks to himself, “Well, it’s easy to know why I feel repulsed when I associate the sandwich meat with where that tongue has been! Ugh!” 

Step 3: Decide whether to keep or change the basic belief.

Some beliefs learned early in life are simply outmoded and the decision to replace them will come easily when the time is right. Believing in Santa Claus comes to mind.

Even though they cause distress, you may choose to retain basic beliefs that have positive functions. You would not want to change your belief that close exposure to fire is dangerous.

Examine each problematic basic belief carefully for its pros and cons before deciding whether to change it or not.

Roger makes his decision: “Perhaps the taste sensation from trying something new would be a good idea.  After all, prepared as it is, it is no different from any other cut of meat. Think I’ll give it a try.”

Step 4: Consciously form a concept that is opposite the original basic belief.

For instance, you could have a basic belief (or several of them) indicative of a low self-image. The opposite of this would be a conscious statement that you are a worthwhile human being with human dignity.

Roger constructs an affirmation in his thinking brain: “It is OK to try any cut of meat that is clean and healthy.” 

Step 5: Deliberately practice behaviors that are consistent with the new concept.

After forming a positive thought, the problematic basic believe has not changed. No matter how many times you repeat the new affirmation, it will be ineffective until you take this final step.

Since experience taught you every basic belief that you hold, whether adaptive or problematic, a fresh experiences consistent with the new thought is necessary to replace an old belief with a new one that is mentally healthy because it leads in the direction of inbornintentions.  To replace a basic belief, deliberately choose to think and act in ways that are consistent with the new affirmation.

For instance, instead of keeping quiet because you believe no one would be interested in what you have to say (low self concept), you speak out when you have something to say because you are okay with yourself and have a point you want to make.

After repeating this process a number of times, it will become a part of your basic belief structure. You will know when it has become a basic belief when you no longer need to consciously choose consistent behaviors because they have become automatic.

When their sandwiches are served, Roger says to his companion, “May I try a bite of your sandwich?  I’ve never tasted tongue before and would like to see if I like it.”

It is certainly not a mental health issue as to whether one does or does not like tongue sandwiches, but the story does illustrate the process of change.

A question for your consideration and comment

Think of an instance where your belief about something has changed. How did that change come about? Could you suggest another way to change a basic belief?  (The professor I most admired in college was fond of saying, “There is always a better, easier way to do anything.”)

Since anxiety frequently complicates efforts to change basic beliefs and establish new pathways to optimum mental health, we will now look at that important topic.

Next step: Go to Anxiety Is Your Friend