In this award-winning book, Dr. Lisa Van Allen calls you to live the rich, full life you were designed to lead by breaking through self-limiting beliefs like scarcity, fear, hopelessness, and perfectionism. You will learn how it is possible to build 7 essential beliefs like resilience, initiative, and abundance into your life.
• How beliefs are formed and how they affect your mind, body, and spirit
• Seven powerful beliefs that create success, and the false, skewed beliefs that create failure
• Practical exercises to transform and strengthen your beliefs
• Inspiring stories of courageous belief-builders who prove it's possible to break lifelong patterns of self-sabotage and defeat. If they can do it, so can you!
"Dr. Lisa has shown us how to put our attention on the beliefs that build us up and eliminate focus from those beliefs that get in our way."
-JANET BRAY ATTWOOD, New York Times bestselling author of The Passion Test-The Effortless Path to Living Your Life Purpose
"Deftly weaving threads from psychotherapy, counseling, and coaching, Dr. Lisa offers a sound paradigm and clear pathway for identifying your negative beliefs and stopping them in their tracks. If you want to learn how to stop sabotaging your success, get this book. Read it. And apply it."
- RACHNA D. JAIN, PsyD, Author, Overcome Rejection: The SMART Way
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Your Belief Quotient7 Beliefs that Sabotage or Support Your Success
By Lisa Van Allen
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Lisa Van Allen, PhD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BEGINNINGS OF BELIEF
[bih-leef] An opinion or conviction.
"Man is what he believes." Anton Chekhov
Imagine you are a pioneer traveling in a new land. No map exists for this strange place, but you are given a blank piece of paper to draw your own map as you travel down streets and roads. Every time you turn a corner or interact with one of the locals, you add to your map based on the information you gather. Your ability to understand the local language, culture and customs is limited, so your ability to create anything close to the truth is limited. Your perceptions are skewed because you do not have the whole picture. You assume you know where things are, but based on your incomplete knowledge and experience many of your assumptions are false. Distances and obstacles along your path are inaccurately minimized or magnified. You did the best you could, but you know the picture you have is lacking. Your map is flawed with false assumptions and misperceptions.
Your belief system is just like this map. Research has shown that unconscious beliefs are formed in early childhood, as early as age six. As a small child you started out with a very limited ability to understand the world around you, but you began collecting experiences. Each experience was added to your map in the form of a belief. Your beliefs were skewed by misperceptions and false assumptions as your childlike mind, will, and emotions sought to navigate through the world. Regardless of how distorted your map might be, it is the guide you will use for the rest of your life. Every new experience is measured against this map, every decision is based on the information you already have. The good news is your map can be changed!
Your personal belief system plays a decisive role in how you view and create success. What is a belief system? Your belief system is a structured process by which you evaluate everything in your life. This process takes place beyond conscious thought, much like the operating system in a computer. Your operating system learns and adapts by taking in new information (perceptions) and ideas (assumptions). Over time you develop your own personal system of beliefs based on how you interpret the world around you. A belief system may start out much like a theory where assumptions are made based on logical observations and deductions. For example, you touch a hot stove for the first time and experience pain. You logically deduce that touching a stove again in the future, whether it is hot or not, could cause further pain. The skewed belief attached the concept of pain with the stove and not with the heat.
In other cases your belief may grow out of an emotional viewpoint that seems to be supported by logical assumptions. A mother snatches a small child back from the top of the stairs with a shriek to be careful not to fall. The child is frightened initially, not by the potential fall, but by the worry in his mother's voice. That fear is attached to the concept of falling and a leap in logic is transformed into the belief that all high places are to be feared. Children soak up the emotional responses of the adults around them as quickly as they do their own experiences.
When you consider how frequently you were warned, cautioned and disciplined as well as injured and harmed as a young child, it is not surprising that the majority (approximately 90%) of your thoughts and beliefs are negative. Unfortunately, this negative view of the world skews expectations for the rest of your life. To counter this negative view, you must develop the belief that you are resilient and able to survive and overcome any challenge or hardship. The importance of resilience and tools for increasing this belief are discussed in Chapter 3: Rebuilding Resilience.
Resistance to Changing Beliefs
Dr. F. H. Lund conducted experiments in the 1920s and found that "beliefs once formed are not willingly relinquished" and that the brain actually looks for evidence to support rather than challenge our beliefs. This is called a "confirmation bias," when our minds seek confirmation rather than alternate views. As a small child, you attached certain beliefs to events. These assumptions were based on your limited knowledge of the world. Every other event that has occurred since that time has been interpreted through the lens of that existing belief. This would not be a problem if every belief you created supported your health and well-being, but some of the beliefs you formed were inaccurate and even destructive.
Beliefs are also influenced by our environment. Over time, messages we hear over and over again begin to take root in our minds. The television shows you watch, the papers you read, the friends you spend time with, and the music you listen to all influence your beliefs. Take a young person with very strong beliefs and place him in a new setting where those beliefs are subtly challenged day after day, and his beliefs will begin to shift. There is a natural desire in all of us to conform to the beliefs and behaviors of those around us.
In the 1950s social psychologist Solomon Asch created experiments that tested conformity. In his experiments a group of people would intentionally select an incorrect response in front of the test subject. The subject was not aware that all the others had been coached on their responses. When asked to respond after hearing the other members of the group, the subject would begin to question his own perceptions and agree with the answer selected by the others. The subject's beliefs were challenged and even shifted by the influence of the group. Asch was disturbed by these results: On a personal level, if you are spending your time surrounded by individuals who are influenced by negative, self-limiting beliefs, you are at risk of having your healthy beliefs erode and conform to the beliefs of your companions. Unconscious self-limiting beliefs can be contagious.
Once your beliefs have been formed, your brain looks for evidence to support them. When you are confronted with clear evidence that your belief is incorrect, your conscious mind may accept the evidence and act on it, but your unconscious mind resists and undermines your attempts to change. For example, a child who was bitten by a dog may grow up with the belief that all dogs are bad. As an adult they know on a conscious level that not all dogs are bad or going to bite, but the unconscious mind clings to the belief. The unconscious mind can create a sense of discomfort, a phobia, or even an allergy to dogs in order to protect the belief that dogs are bad. In another example, a child who was yelled at and told he was stupid by his parents might grow up to believe he is incompetent and unable to achieve any standard of excellence regardless of how well he performs at school or work. Unconsciously his mind finds support for his belief and will even twist positive experiences into evidence that he is worthless.
At first your beliefs are soft and flexible, subject to change based on new information. Over time your beliefs become stronger, less flexible and well entrenched in your mind. Once established, beliefs are accepted as fact and are rarely subject to scrutiny. Your brain is wired to protect your map, or your unconscious belief system. Every time you are presented with evidence that does not fit with what is on the map, the brain rejects the new information in favor of the old belief. Even when a faulty belief is exposed on a conscious level, the brain will find ways to reinforce and support that belief in your unconscious mind. Your mind sees protection of your belief system as vital to your survival. This explains why a person determined to change a habit ends up defeated so often. If that habit is tied to an old belief, your unconscious mind will create opportunities to self-sabotage and undermine your success.
This resistance to change can show up in many forms. The first way your mind protects your beliefs is through denial. You generally go through life oblivious of your unconscious beliefs. Occasionally beliefs will be recognized, and your first reaction is to deny its existence. When faced with the possibility that you hold a negative belief, you begin looking for evidence that you do not hold that belief. The greatest tool of evil in the world is deception: the belief in something that is not true. Self-deception is buying into lies and reinforcing them to protect faulty beliefs. Another tactic used by your mind to protect your beliefs is negative emotion. When faced with the truth, many people feel depressed, anxious or angry. Then when attempting to change that belief, the emotions increase in intensity. It is not uncommon for someone to feel panicked when they begin to attempt to change. The first sign that change will not come easily can trigger a sense of hopelessness. If the process of change is being guided by someone else, feelings of intense anger and even rage can be directed toward that person. These emotions are not based on logic or fact. They are tools your unconscious mind uses to protect your belief system. Understanding how the brain works will help you understand how to uncover and shift your beliefs to a more positive, supportive system.
"The brain is a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory." Santiago Ramon y Cajal
Beliefs and the Brain
The brain is an amazing organ made up of three sections: the brain stem, the cortex, and the limbic system. The brain stem is the part of your brain responsible for survival and is well protected in the deepest part of your brain, connecting to the spinal cord. The focus of the brain stem is to maintain functions like breathing and blood flow. This area of the brain also serves as a relay station for information to and from other areas of the brain. Conscious thought is not formulated in the brain stem, but sensations required for survival, including instinct, are generated here.
The limbic system is located in the center of the brain and is responsible for housing your emotions, appetites and motivation. Where the brain stem promotes routine and ritualized behavior, the limbic system creates passion, emotion and the desire for change. Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist known for his work using SPECT (specific positron emission computer tomography) scans to identify areas where the brain is not functioning optimally. In his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Dr. Amen describes the consequences of an under-active or over-active limbic system:
The emotional shading provided by the deep limbic system is the filter through which you interpret the events of the day. It colors events depending on your emotional state of mind. When you are sad (with an overactive deep limbic system), you are likely to interpret neutral events through a negative filter. For example, if you have a neutral or even positive conversation with someone whose deep limbic system is overactive or "negatively set," he or she is likely to interpret the conversation in a negative way. When this part of the brain is "cool" or functions properly, a neutral or positive interpretation of events is more likely to occur.
Together the brain stem and the limbic system organize sensory input and responses. This data is then communicated to the top layer of the brain called the cortex. The cortex is only about one quarter of an inch thick, but it is densely populated with neurons. Neurons are the cells in your brain responsible for communication. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and the vast majority of them are in the cerebral cortex. The cortex is responsible for what is known as higher cognitive function. Your ability to learn and solve problems, think critically, remember, express thought and emotion, recognize communication, appreciate music, focus and shift your attention, control impulses, cooperate and adapt resides in the cerebral cortex.
Every time you learn or experience something, a rush of chemicals is stimulated in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, trigger responses based on where these bursts are located in the brain.
Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across an appendage called a synapse. Neurons communicate back and forth as electrical charges pulse rapidly through the synapse, causing neurotransmitters to be produced and collected by other synapses. Every time a neural pathway is used, the connection of those neurons is strengthened. When a pathway is rarely used, the connection weakens and eventually dies. This process is called synaptic pruning.
As fascinating and mysterious as it might seem, the brain is nothing more than an organ. Like the liver or kidneys or heart, it is not capable of changing itself. However, the brain is changed chemically by beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors produced by the mind. Every time a synapse fires information from one neuron to another, the brain shifts and changes. The mind is the product of the brain. It is the brain at work. Because of the billions of neurons active in your brain, you have an infinite potential of creating different kinds of minds, perspectives or beliefs. All those neurons process about 400 billion bits of information per second, but you are only aware of approximately 2000 bits of that information. Your awareness extends only toward your body, your environment and time. You think about whether you are hot or cold, whether the chair you are sitting in is comfortable, and just how long is this chapter going to be? Your mind is bombarded by thought after thought. But even with all of the thoughts whirling around in your head, you are missing most of what is going onunless you make a conscious effort to slow down and pay attention. The exercises at the end of each chapter are designed to help you become more aware of your conscious and unconscious mind. Awareness of your beliefs will allow you to consciously choose to strengthen neural pathways that support your success. You can change your mind and your brain by changing your beliefs, and that will change your life.
Positivity, Personality, and Beliefs
Why does change seem to come more easily for some people than for others? There are many possible reasons. You tend to inherit certain patterns of brain behavior from your family such as a tendency toward anxiety or hyperactivity. Early childhood trauma can create a series of beliefs that are more resistant to change. Martin Seligman's research on "learned helplessness" found that the majority of individuals who were confronted with conditions beyond their control collapsed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Seligman's work in this field led him to question just what it is that allows us to bounce back and not become helpless. This was a new concept in the 1990s after decades of psychoanalytic approaches that focused solely on minimizing suffering rather than increasing resilience and well-being. Seligman is considered the Father of Positive Psychology, and research in this field is demonstrating that behavioral change is possible by replacing helplessness with resilience.
Dr. Barbara Frederickson is conducting solid research in the field of positivity. She defines positivity as the experience of positive emotions including love, joy, interest, gratitude, and hope. Until recently, these concepts and their effects have been a mystery to science. But Dr. Frederickson contends that "these are not just words, but are deeply heart felt and change our mind's chemistry." In her book Positivity, Dr. Frederickson's research reveals that emotions obey a tipping point. Experiencing three or more positive emotions for every negative emotion will cause you to flourish. Sustained behavioral change is possible when positive emotions (accompanied by unconscious incentives and increased resources) generate passion for the new behavior. Exercises based on Dr. Frederickson's model will help you create the change that may have been eluding you.
Basic differences in human personality might also give one person a stronger preference for familiarity and sameness where another prefers flexibility, spontaneity and change. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® categorizes personality traits into four basic temperaments and expands these four into 16 unique personality types. These types are based on the preferences of each, whether someone is more energized by being around others (Extraversion) or by being alone (Introversion); whether they gather information concretely through the senses (Sensing) or prefer theory and abstract thought (iNtuitive); whether they make judgments based on logic (Thinking) or emotion (Feeling); and whether they prefer structure and order (Judging) or spontaneity and flexibility (Perceiving). Even though each person has a basic temperament and overall type, none of the traits described above are set in stone. Individuals taking the Myers-Briggs will see their scores shift somewhat at different times because of life circumstances. Someone who is more likely to make decisions based on logic can develop the ability to empathize and consider emotion before making a judgment. An individual who prefers structure, timelines, and order can develop the ability to be more flexible. Personality type is not an excuse to resist change when change is needed. Some of the exercises in this book were designed with personality type in mind to help you create the change you want.
Characteristics of a Healthy Belief System
Imagine that you have the chance to build your dream home. In this perfect picture you have imagined the front of the house with trees and flowers and a path to the door. You know the floor plan and have already begun decorating your beautiful home in your mind. But what if the house was not built properly? What if the floor couldn't handle the weight of anyone walking across and it collapsed beneath you? What if you found you had no walls between the TV room and the baby's bedroom? What if you discovered clogged pipes were installed and the water couldn't flow through the plumbing? Or what if you tried to turn on the lights and the garage door opened instead? Your beautiful dream would become a nightmare of hazards and repairs. Just as there are important steps to building a house, there are keys to creating a healthy belief system.
Excerpted from Your Belief Quotient by Lisa Van Allen Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Van Allen, PhD. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Beginnings of Belief....................1
Chapter 2 Your Belief Quotient....................21
Chapter 3 Rebuilding Resilience....................51
Chapter 4 Creating Connectedness....................77
Chapter 5 Increasing Initiative....................109
Chapter 6 Expanding Excellence....................129
Chapter 7 Accepting Abundance....................145
Chapter 8 Finding Faith....................177
Chapter 9 Pursuing Purpose....................197
Chapter 10 Strengthening New Beliefs....................223