Mental Shortcuts & Negative Beliefs
Usually, the parking where I live is pretty scarce. Today, the street was mostly empty. Why? Well, the reason was obvious. Or was it? It has to do with beliefs that get in our way. And beliefs that get in our way can be considered negative beliefs.
As you can see, there’s a big “No Parking” sign on the sidewalk. The funny things is, the sign has dates on it and the dates are for a few days away. So, you can park there. But people don’t. Why?
It’s because they have a mental shortcut that usually works pretty well for them. A “No Parking” sign means don’t park there. We all have these mental shortcuts. And mostly, they work for us. But when they don’t, it can be trouble…
The Structure Of Beliefs (Positive, or Negative Beliefs)
While believing that “No Parking” signs means you shouldn’t park there probably isn’t much of a problem, we can look at the structure of that belief to ferret out other beliefs that may be causing serious problems.
Linguistically, beliefs can reveal themselves with a couple of forms of statements we call ’cause and effect’ and ‘complex equivalences’. Cause and effect statements say that one thing causes another. Complex equivalences say that one thing means another. Complex equivalences and cause and effect language are cousins. Here are a couple of examples.
Cause and effect: “When she wears that dress, it makes me mad.”
Complex equivalence: “That look symbolizes his growing frustration.” In this case, the word ‘symbolizes’ is about the meaning of the look.
Sometimes, people only express half a belief. “She doesn’t deserve that” leaves out why the speaker thinks “she doesn’t deserve that.” If you were to ask why not, you might draw out the other half of the belief.
These beliefs are mental shortcuts.
Why do we care about the linguistic structure of beliefs? Well, because beliefs can be very helpful in us having the kind of lives we want to — or they can get in our way. Knowing the linguistic structure helps us figure out what beliefs we (or our clients) have. Then, if those beliefs are hindering us, we can find ways to dissolve them, work around them or challenge them. Sleight of Mouth patterns and the Meta Model are two ways I often use.
How To Practice Uncovering Beliefs
For now, let’s talk about how to get good at uncovering these linguistic patterns that reveal negative beliefs. Begin to “tune your ears” to pick up these limiting beliefs in your language and the language of others. Pay attention to words and phrases that contain cause and effect or meaning statements or imply them.
Here are some examples…
- “She made me mad.” (She did something that caused anger)
- “You must go to bed now, it’s ten o’clock.” (Ten o’clock means bedtime)
- “I can’t quit smoking, smoking is harder to quit than heroin.” (The supposed fact that quitting smoking is harder than quitting heroin means that they can’t quit)
- “When she looks at me that way I get sad.” (Her looking at them that way causes them to feel sadness)
Use It For Yourself
One of the best ways to practice uncovering beliefs is with yourself. Pay attention to your own belief and meaning statements. Then, feel free to ask yourself if the beliefs you’ve expressed are beliefs you want to keep.