Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Changing My Beliefs for the Better

Perhaps the most valuable achievement of my life is overcoming old beliefs about myself and my life. I highly recommend doing it.

At some point, after years of frustration, I realized that I could transform my life - that in fact I was the only one who could. I alone had the power to build up a toolbox of ways to create a more fulfilling and happier life.

For many years, I didn't know that I am the one who must decide to do something different. When I realized that I actually have that power - to make the decision and then follow through on it - my life began to look completely different to me. I'll say it again: I am the one who has the power to have a happier life. No one else. Not my parents, not your friends, not my significant others, not my coach, not anyone else, not even God. It all comes down to ME.

I don't know how I finally made that connection - I'd been hearing things like this for years and thinking that it was all BS. Here's how my thinking went:

"That's easy for you to say. But there are too many things out of my control - how can anyone say that my life and how I feel is all up to me? That's just unrealistic, not to mention that it feels like I'm being blamed for how my life is. Do you really think I'd be in this position if I didn't have to be? You're saying I chose this, and all I can think is that I hate being here - how can you say I want this when I am so miserable?"

I kept thinking about it, though, because I knew that what I resisted most was probably the area where there was most potential for me to learn and grow. It's those things that I defend myself against that tell me where I hurt, where I have fear, where I think I have something to defend. It became like a puzzle: why AM I so angry when I hear that I am responsible for how my life is? Why do I resist the idea that I create my own life? What pisses me off about the idea that I can tell what I want by looking at my life? And that if I wanted something different, I could have it simply by changing my thoughts? Why am I SO angry about this way of thinking?

Certainly, I hated the idea that I had brought bad things down on myself. Why would I do that? It made no sense, and sounded like "blaming the victim."

At one point, I put that question on the back burner because I couldn't figure it out. I'd periodically come back to it; in the meantime, I decided to try some of the tools I was gathering - just to see if they would make any difference. Why not try it? As the saying goes, "contempt prior to examination" will keep me in ignorance.

Gradually, I started to notice that I did have the power to make things happen - often for other people instead of myself. However, I did have some power. I started seeing that I could walk away from an argument instead of engaging in it. I could stop indulging in the negative thoughts that plagued me - two were "I'll never have the money I want" and "I just can't get out of debt." Instead I substituted positive thoughts: "I always have all the money I need" and "I am on the path to being fully solvent."

I found I immediately felt better when I said the positive things to myself. I noticed that a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders. I found that I could hold my head up, I didn't feel so much darkness around my eyes. Everything seemed brighter somehow. And I liked feeling better. I allowed myself to like it, to enjoy the feeling of "I'm on my path! I'm headed in the right direction, the direction I really want to go into."

Finally, I had some evidence that I could make a difference to myself. Finally, I could see that I had some power to improve my life. Had my circumstances materially changed? No. Was I more able to handle the challenges? YES! Because I felt better. I was able to get out of bed, first of all, and then show up for things. And I felt more capable. If I could change my mood with some simple changes in how I talked about a situation, then I could figure out how to deal with external things.

Today I know in my bones that I am in charge of my thoughts, my beliefs, my actions and thus my results - the state of my life. If I ever want to know what I really want, I look at what I'm doing. If I'm not happy with something in my life, I look at what I'm NOT doing. Then I either take the next logical step and action, or look at the beliefs and feelings that are in the way of my taking action. I dig them out, expose them to the air, and examine them to see if there's anything tangible embedded in there about which I can DO something. Again, the process leads to action.

Conquering my own mind is probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. I just didn't want to accept that there is a connection between my thoughts and beliefs and the circumstances of my life. I didn't want the responsibility, I think. That was the reward for being miserable - that I wasn't really responsible and didn't have to be responsible. I got to stay a kid, I guess.

I write all this to say I KNOW you can make a change in your attitude and beliefs. I've been there. If I can do it, you can do it. Really. I am no different than you, except that I have taken control of my thoughts and you are just starting down that road.

Think about what it would mean to put yourself first. Think about what it would take for you to commit to doing something different. Take a risk. You can make the life you want, if you really want it.

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