There is a substance that makes dogs go crazy. It’s not a piece of meat like bacon. It’s not an illegal drug either. It’s a spice you can buy in just about any store — anise. If you put some oil of anise on the ground, any nearby dog will become drawn to the spot. They will become alive with excitement. They will roll around in it. They may start to yelp and chase their own tails. It’s quite a sight.
The first time people see a dog’s crazy response to anise, they’re often a bit confused. Why is the dog acting that way?” they ask. We often face a similar confusion when it comes to our beliefs. We know that a statement is false, yet somehow it seems to be guiding our behavior. Then we might ask “How do I really know if I have this belief or not?” To answer that question, let’s examine the following three ideas.
1. The contrast principle
2. The body’s belief responses
3. Specific applications
1. The contrast principle
Have you ever come inside on a cold day and noticed the room felt quite warm to you, while others said it felt normal? Those already inside had gotten used to the temperature and no longer felt anything. Whereas you were coming from a different environment and noticed the difference in heat immediately.
Why is this?
It’s the power of contrast. Contrast helps you notice things and lack of contrast can keep you from noticing something. When an animal camouflages itself, it uses a lack of contrast to hide. For example, when you watch a chameleon, it often changes color in a way that has a powerful fit with a branch it may be standing on or nearby leaves. Until it moves, you may not even see it. You miss the chameleon, and so does its prey. Without contrast, it is hard to notice things.
Our beliefs can sometimes be a bit camouflaged. We live with them for years and they exist in the background of our lives. To get in touch with limiting beliefs then, we use the power of contrast to highlight them.
How does this apply to noticing limiting beliefs?
First, you say the words out loud. This often produces an immediate sense of knowing you have a belief. But if you’re still not sure, you try contrasting that statement with a statement you know you don’t believe.
For example, in the Lefkoe Method Training 1, we teach a technique called “The Monkey Test.” You have the client say a statement out loud, then say “I’m a monkey” and notice how each feels. Everyone notices that “I’m a monkey” feels false. They compare this false-feeling with how it feels to say a belief-statement they were unsure of such as “I’m not worthwhile.” They are usually able to get clear on whether they have the belief or not after this.
This works only because you know for sure you don’t believe one of the statements. As a result, you get a clear sense of what it feels like to NOT believe something. That makes it easier to notice what you do believe. Just like being out in the cold makes it easier to notice the warmth within your home. It’s easy to focus just in our heads when doing belief work, however, it can also be useful to notice the body’s reactions as well which we discuss next.
2. The body’s movements in response to beliefs
When I gave a speech on parenting in Russia in November, I told the audience here’s how my daughter Blake responded when someone said you’re so lucky to have the perfect mom. I then showed them a slide of my daughter laughing hysterically. Members of the audience chuckled. I then made the point that nobody is a perfect parent and no one knows this more than my daughters. Heads nodded.
We’ve all had this experience, we hear something true and then we respond by nodding our heads. The opposite often happens when we hear something that is untrue, we may shake our heads. Our bodies often respond in a similar way when we say a statement out loud.
The body’s response to statements is another way to tell if we believe them or not.
You can say a belief out loud and then notice your body’s response. Do you tend to move your head? Do you have a feeling in your chest? Does your voice change? To train this awareness, we give participants in our courses an exercise called True and Not True in which we systematically compare statements to gain a sense of how our bodies and minds respond to beliefs. They may compare saying statements like the following.
I’m a dog vs. I’m a person.
Dirt tastes good vs. Ice cream tastes good
Poison is healthy vs. Vitamins are healthy
After saying each statement they learn to be aware of what happens in their minds and bodies that let them know they believe or disbelieve a statement. They may notice their head shakes when they say “I’m a dog” and nods when they say “I’m a person.” They may notice themselves leaning back when they say “I like eating dirt” but smiling agreeably when they say “I like eating pizza.”
After a few days of practice, they can notice very quickly the reactions that show they believe something and they are able to spot these reactions in others as well. This isn’t to say that all people respond the same way to belief and disbelief though. What happens is they gain a general awareness of the many ways the body can reveal their belief or lack of belief in a statement. It can be useful to see some examples of this which I describe below.
3. Specific Applications
To make these ideas more real, let’s consider a few examples (all client’s names have been changed).
First, there’s Joe. Joe wasn’t sure he had the belief “I’m not worthwhile.” He knew it was wrong. He felt something in his chest when he said those words but he wasn’t sure that this was a sign he had the belief. He said maybe I feel that way just because I’m saying a negative statement that I don’t want to be true.
To use the contrast principle, he said “I’m a monkey” out loud. He noticed it felt silly. It didn’t feel true. In his body, he noticed a feeling of lightness, like humor. When he said “I’m not worthwhile,” he said it felt more true than “I’m a monkey.” It felt a bit heavy and dark in his chest. His head nodded slightly. Noticing the contrasting feelings and bodily responses to saying each statement helped him realize he did believe “I’m not worthwhile.”
Second, there’s James. James was doing an exercise in Lefkoe Method Training 1 in which we have participants notice what it feels like to say true and untrue statements. He wrote down responses to saying “I’m a dragon” and “I’m doomed.” When he said, “I’m a dragon” he felt bored and had a blank facial expression.
But when he said “I’m doomed” he felt despair, his voice got faint and he slumped down. James concluded from this that he did believe “I’m doomed.” The clear contrast with how he felt about each of these statements made it clear to him which one he believed and which one he did not. Sentences are just words, but they tend to cause feelings when you believe them.
So what did we cover?
You can resolve confusion about what you believe by contrasting how it feels to say true and untrue statements and noticing how your body responds to those statements.
As you use these ideas you’ll get clarity about your beliefs so you can work on them to change your life.
Would you like to hear me in a free-flowing conversation about my philosophy of life, limiting beliefs and how to parent children to have empowering beliefs? If so, check out my recent interview with Kute Blackson for his podcast. Click here to listen.