Identifying Your False Beliefs & How to Shake Them

Identifying Your False Beliefs & How to Shake Them

By Mary Rogers McMaster

A false belief is an idea that you live by, and it doesn’t help you at all. In fact, it most likely causes you a tremendous amount of stress.

We often form these false beliefs as a survival tactic when we are very young. We are looking for connection and acceptance constantly, seeking clues for behavior from the adults in the room. Children are very clear about what they want—love and acceptance. This is where false beliefs begin.

While you developed your sense of self as a child, the adults around you were offering rules to live by that you either accepted or rejected. Whatever was the shortest route to love, you took. If you were very joyful as a child but your mother was not, you found ways to hide your joy to gain her love. If you were a very sad child but your father was constantly laughing, you found ways hide your sadness so that he accepted you.

We are a reaction to the adults around us, and, whatever the scenario, you formed a structure around their beliefs. By the time you were three years old, you had a pretty solid sense of survival rules. Now you’re 47, and you have no idea why things have to be so intense all the time. You chalk it up to being “just a thing you do.”

I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t have to be this way.

Earlier this year, I was faced with my own false belief. I realized in a moment of stress that my false belief was dictating my actions and deteriorating my mental state.

To give some color to my childhood “rules,” let’s look briefly at my perception of it: I was born into a political family, equipped with spotlights and a stage. I quickly learned to adapt to adult conversation, and the stakes always felt high. I was acutely aware while growing up that my actions would reflect on my father, so I thought, “I’d better be perfect.” Acting became an avenue for safe expression, and I began pursuing this career path at the age of six. I created a life with an additional stage—and, once again, the stakes were always high. Everywhere I looked, the belief rang clear: things must be intense in order to be important.

Cut to last year: I’m back in New York City with my fiancé, and on this particular Sunday, I carved out a few hours to buy a gown at Macy’s on 34th Street for an upcoming celebration. The journey requires a subway ride with a bunch of strangers for the better part of an hour, and then the train spits you out right next to the mall. New York City is known for being an aggressive place to live, but for the most part, people leave you alone. The smartphone has also created a very nice human shield, so it has become shocking if someone speaks to you. In the train station, it’s the same rules. Everyone has headphones in, everyone avoids eye contact—you are essentially in a cubicle by yourself. For me and my brain, however, this scene was rife with opportunity for danger; it was time to make a story out of it.

Things must be intense in order to be important.

As I stepped on to the train platform to wait for the Q, my mind started buzzing. You know this feeling—it’s the sensation that immediately follows the calming thought, “Everything is fine.” It is the preverbal voice that busts through the doors of your conscience to let you know there’s something you forgot to worry about. Suddenly, my false belief began to rule my thoughts.

Things must be intense in order to be important.

I began to imagine terrible scenarios so that I could prepare for them: What if someone pushes me onto the track? What if I see Kelly and she’s rude to me and we argue? What if I create a dangerous scenario accidentally? My brain is buzzing, and I am feeling stress mounting and mounting. Stress is a clue to the core issue. When you begin to feel stress, you imagine obstacles that separate yourself from the moment you are currently in. As long as you are pushing away from the present moment, you are creating a narrative for stress and disconnection from yourself. When you disconnect, you push that bar of personal success further and further away. You are creating a game of cat-and-mouse out of your own happiness, letting your false belief lead you down this dark road. Sound familiar? We’ve all bought in to the cycle of stress, and our fear is driving.

Things must be intense in order to be important.

The train still hasn’t come, no one has spoken a word to me in the station, and I am sweating in my own mental personal hell. By the time my list of terrible-things-that-could-go-wrong-right-now reaches 10 or 12, I start to sense that this stress is unfounded. I look around to see that people are calm, and there is no obvious disaster. It was then that I entertained the idea that this stress had no basis in reality–-but just to make sure, I asked myself three questions:

1. Am I safe? Yes.

2. Did I just do something wrong? No.

3. Did something bad just happen? No.

When you ask yourself these questions in a highly stressful moment, selfinduced or otherwise, you cut to the truth and throw yourself back into the present. The present moment is where the gold is; the present moment is where the truth is. Most of our stress comes from our imagination.

I answered these questions and slowly began to shake off the fog. As it turns out, I was just going to the mall. As it turns out, I was just another person on the train platform with nothing exciting or interesting happening, and that’s okay. I was simply running an errand. That was it. The train arrived. The doors opened. I stepped in and went about my uneventful trip to Macy’s.

It was then I realized the power of this false belief, so I decided to flip it. “Things must be intense in order to be important,” became, “Things don’t have to be intense in order to be important.” Eventually, it became, “I am valuable even if things are not intense.”

It always comes back to you. Our fear tied to action always stems from a false belief that we must be a certain way to be loved. The truth is, you are worthy of love by virtue of being you.

We invite stress into our lives because we still think we have to behave a certain way to gain love and acceptance. When we allow false beliefs to lead us, we get what we think we deserve—stress. There is still a part of us that believes we have to behave a certain way to be loved, and our false beliefs can feel like protection.

I get it! I’ve used my need for intensity as a shield of armor for years. I used it to present a tough exterior so that no one could get too close; if no one could get too close, no one could hurt me. But, if no one could hurt me, no one could love me.

See where I’m going with this?

Your false belief has kept you from reaching your full potential, and here’s the good news—you can turn it around. If you want to release stress and invite peace into your life, take a gentle look at what drives you. Thank your parents for doing their best and move forward with peace and ease; this is not a rear-facing exercise whatsoever.

Notice your habits and follow the fear.

Notice the things that you say all the time, the things that tie you up in knots. Notice the patterns of stress in your life. Is there something that occurs often? Patterns of stress reveal false beliefs, and as patterns continue, they are self-perpetuating until there is interruption.

The flip of our false belief is that interruption.

When you’ve identified one of your false beliefs, put it into a single phrase and work to flip it so that you can start to invite peace and ease into your life. Notice how your posture changes when you see this false belief written out—how big it felt before and how small it looks now. Feel free to laugh with joy or cry with exhaustion.

You are a powerful person.

The first step to undoing our knots is realizing where they come from. Be gentle with yourself, follow the fear and flip that false belief. You don’t need it any more. You’re wonderful without it.

Some examples of “the flip” from clients past:

“I don’t want to call him back because he’s not going to like what I have to say.”

False Belief: I will not be received well.

Instead: I will be received well. “I just don’t have time to stop what I am doing for that.”

False Belief: I am only valuable if I am moving and busy. 

Instead: I am valuable when I am still. “The only way it is going to get done is if I do it myself.”

False Belief: I can’t trust anyone but myself. Instead: I value others and their input.

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