0026 - Reframing examples & limiting beliefs
In my previous article, I explained how to reframe stressful thoughts to achieve a more favourable state of mind, reduce anxiety and feel better. It is now time to put reframing into practice. You will see that it is quite simple and can quickly become a very powerful habit.
Minor life annoyances
Sometimes, it is all the little things of the daily life that can drive us crazy and make us stress for nothing. Being caught in traffic when we are already running late, the Wi-Fi that stops working when we need it the most, ending up in the slowest line at the supermarket… we all have our pet peeves that make our stress levels skyrocket in a nanosecond. Have you ever been trapped in an automated phone-system hell when calling a customer-service line, and cursed at the voice repeating options that are totally irrelevant to you? Well, you see what I mean…
When you experience one of these little daily annoyances, your mind starts bombarding you with stressful thoughts: You are going to be late and miss an important appointment. You really don't have time for this, you are already so busy. You feel like punching something… or somebody.
Unfortunately, your body is going to feel as much stress and anxiety as if you were experiencing something really serious, like a tiger chasing you. So, remember that it is just a temporary frustration without long-term consequences. Put in perspective, think about all the good things that you have (health, family, job, house...). Ask yourself whether this will really matter in a week from now. And in the meantime, put your headset on and start listening to a podcast or an audio-book.
Something bad is going to happen
You are waiting for results that are critical for you (call for tender, exam, medical tests…). You fear that you are going to receive bad news: you are not going to be selected, you are going to fail the exam or learn that you have a serious health condition. Reframe: You cannot predict the future (well, most of us can't). You don't know what is going to happen. Chances are nothing bad will happen. Or it might even turn out to be better than expected. Think about the last time you were in a similar situation when everything went well. Or picture yourself just after receiving the results and imagine that they are positive.
You did not receive a response to a very important email. You assume that if the recipient has not replied, that means he/she does not like your email, is not interested or does not care. You start doubting yourself. Maybe sending this email was not a good idea. Maybe you made a mistake or said something wrong. Reframe: You don't have any information to know how the recipient is going to respond. He/she may be busy (who isn't?). Maybe he/she has not read your email yet or has forgotten about it. You decide to send a reminder or even better, to call him/her to clarify.
Negative feedback and criticism
Somebody criticised your work or the way you look. You wonder why, start doubting yourself, thinking that you did not do a good job, that you are not good enough. Reframe: It is unfortunate that this person did not appreciate your work / your ideas / the way you look / what you did, but many other people do. You make a mental list of all the positive feedback you have received before. He/she might have been in a bad mood, have personal issues or just a different opinion or taste. You cannot please everybody.
Or if you think the negative feedback is deserved, make a note to be better prepared next time or to work on your weaknesses. It is tough to receive criticism but it does not reflect your worthiness as an individual and can help you identify areas for improvement, gain useful experience and get better.
You did not get the job you applied for or lost a big contract. You think you are worthless or not qualified enough. You believe that you will never find an opportunity as good as this one. You feel depressed and anxious about the future. Reframe: The company found a candidate or the client found a supplier who better matched their needs or criteria. This has nothing to do with your qualifications and does not mean that you did a bad job. What can you learn from this? Can you improve your resume or your offer? Should you be looking for a different type of job or client? You decide to call them to get some useful feedback. You are hopeful that you can do better next time. Who knows, it might even turn out to be a good thing. You might get a better job or a bigger contract.
Something you have never done before
You have to speak at a conference for the first time, or you took on a very challenging project. You have never done something like this before and you start stressing about it. You wonder whether you have the right skills or expertise. You fear that you are going to make a fool of yourself in front of a large audience. Or you are going to miserably fail this project, which will ruin your career. You are anxious about finding the resources you need. You doubt that you will be able to meet the deadline. Reframe: It is a fantastic opportunity to learn something new and to boost your career. You are going to work really hard to pull it off. You know you can focus, prioritise, ask for help if necessary and manage your time well. You know your strengths and you will put them in good use. This conference or project is simply a bigger version of your past successes. Your family and your colleagues will be proud of you.
You can also picture yourself past the successful completion of the event. Imagine yourself right after the conference, when the attendees shake your hand and congratulate you for the great presentation. Or right after the end of the project, when you celebrate your success with your team and all the stakeholders.
Something terrible happened
You just lost your job or are going through serious financial difficulties (or both). Your stress goes to the roof and you feel very anxious. You don't know whether you will be able to find another job, how you are going to pay for the mortgage and the bills, how you can support the kids... You start imagining the worst. You might never find another job. You could lose your house... Your stress bucket is overflowing, you start losing sleep, getting sick and depressed. Everything goes downhill very quickly. Reframe: Many people go through hardship every day and manage to bounce back. It is tough but you can cope. This is not the first time that you have lost a job and you managed to find another one last time. You know that you have what it takes to find a way out of this. You are determined and you will work hard to get back on track. Your family, friends or connections will help you. You start thinking about what to do next.
People who went through really terrible events and made it through to the other side commonly report that they were actually able to find a lot of positives in adversity. It forced them to take a step back and reconsider every aspect of their existence, to pinpoint what was superficial, what was harming them or what they were doing wrong, to refocus on what was truly important for them to live a happier life. Even if they had to go through immense pain and anxiety, some say they would not change anything, others observe it took them to a higher state of awareness or wisdom. Some start helping those who are going through similar traumas: they say that their journey enabled them to more effectively support others through theirs. Others become advocates to change whatever harmed them in the first place. Those who had to take care of very sick family members report that instead of being overwhelmed by the suffering, they were able to refocus their energy into helping the person under their care to make him/her feel better and recover.
Being able to reframe a traumatic event can feel like an electroshock that gives you the energy to become a better version of yourself, with a much stronger purpose and resilience to go through life.
A limiting belief is a thought – often subconscious – that dictates what we consider possible in life and that prevents us from achieving our full potential. It affects how we see ourselves and how we feel. It holds us back, limits our perspective, our actions and our opportunities. The most common limiting beliefs relate to the fear of not being enough: not smart, lean, lovable, deserving enough…, and to the fear of failure or rejection.
Many of our limiting beliefs are formed when we are kids, based on our experiences and on what our parents, family, teachers or other kids tell us to be true. For example, if our teacher keeps on telling us that we are bad at math, we will start believing it. Or if other kids say that we are fat or ugly, we will start seeing ourselves as fat or ugly. This belief will become ingrained in our subconscious, driving automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviours confirming that we are bad at math, fat or ugly. For instance, we will find it difficult to do our homework or to follow in math class, which will only makes things worse. Research has shown that kids who believe they are not good often achieve below their potential in school.
As adults, these beliefs continue to dictate important life choices. For instance, if you think you are not qualified enough for a job, you may not even apply. You may think it is not worth trying, as you will be rejected anyway. It will only lead to more disappointment. To undo this limiting belief, think about your skills and strengths, what value you could bring to the company. You don’t know what they are looking for. If you don’t apply, there is a 100% chance you will not get the job. But if you do apply, there is a chance that you could get it. Or you could make new contacts in the process, identify other opportunities or get valuable feedback.
The technique to undo limiting beliefs is similar to the reframing technique used for other negative thoughts. However, it requires regular practice and real commitment, as limiting beliefs are usually anchored deeper. Start by identifying them by looking at areas of your life where you feel unhappy, unsatisfied, uncomfortable, incompetent or weak. Then, acknowledge that your limiting beliefs are not the truth. Find counter-examples or evidences proving them wrong: somebody complimenting you, or a time when you felt confident or were successful. Understand how these beliefs have held you back and decide to let them go.
The next step is to replace them by empowering beliefs, such as “I am capable and strong", "I can get through this”, “I will give it my all to make this work”. Every day, remember what your new beliefs are and how they will empower you going forward. Visualise yourself successfully achieving your wildest dreams. When you keep on practicing, your subconscious starts forming new connections, leading to new thoughts, feelings and actions that will support your new empowering beliefs. And remember that your posture, smile, positive words and attitude impact how you feel. You can use them as well to reinforce your new beliefs: stand or sit proud and tall, smile. Fake it till you make it!
Negative thoughts can only hurt you if you let them. You can decide to interpret any event positively to improve how you feel, become more resilient and more resourceful to better respond to distressing situations. Don’t become a victim of your circumstances. With awareness come choice: the choice to tame your thoughts to feel better, happier and more successful.
This article is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, heal or prevent any disease or medical condition. See full Disclaimer here. I encourage you to do your own research and to discuss with a qualified healthcare practitioner the options that could work the best for your specific circumstances.
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