What if You COULD Help it, Stop it, Change it?
Your thoughts can be managed; they can be questioned, judged, refined, dismissed, and changed.
Beliefs on the other hand, are things that we usually don’t question—until we’re challenged or in pain. Beliefs we take for granted as we move through our daily lives. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve settled the matter. No need to talk about it unless we’re defending it...or selling it.
Underlying beliefs determine our attitudes, our emotions, our choices. Beliefs not only move us emotionally, they drive us. Your beliefs are the sovereign ruler of your feelings and your will.
So what happens if you don't make this distinction between thoughts and beliefs? What if, consciously or unconsciously, you treat your thoughts as if they were beliefs, or your beliefs as if they were mere thoughts?
It's easiest to see exactly where you're mixing up thoughts and beliefs by looking at your emotional experience of life and your relationship to rationalization.
What's Your Emotional Experience?
We all do it. We don’t pause to question our thoughts, opinions, judgments. We assume we’re right. And in our assumption, our rush, our certainty, we forfeit several layers of protection from overwhelming emotions and bad choices. We give up the questions we could have asked, the refining we could have done, the brushing off of nonsense that would have changed everything. And we later regret it.
But what if you’re doing it unconsciously? How can you know if you’re habitually treating thoughts as beliefs?
Your emotions will regularly overwhelm you.
This isn't a bad day we're talking about, or a crisis, or a season of turmoil. It's an emotional experience of life that feels like internal oppression. It's being ruled by emotions as a way of life. It feels like you have no say in it, like you're being tyrannized. When life is manageable you'll see yourself as a sensitive and caring and empathetic person. When life isn't manageable, you'll feel like a victim...of your personality, of other people, of life, even of God.
This kind of fluctuation comes from habitually and unconsciously promoting thoughts to the level of belief, and therefore having a lot of beliefs.
Beliefs generate emotions.
When you mix a constant onslaught of emotion with a healthy dose of I-give-a-damn-how-I-behave integrity, you have someone in a constant battle to keep reactions to emotions in check just to be able to function.
Spend a lot of time managing or trying to control your emotions? Pick an emotion and trace it to your thoughts. Ask if you’re giving it more weight than it deserves.
You can reduce the number of emotions that must be managed by reducing the number of things that you "believe." In other words, stop being so sure all the time. You’re constricting, closing, holding on to more than is necessary, judging and interpreting too soon.
Open up to possibilities, let go, consider, expand.
What's Your Relationship to Rationalizing?
Ever do something and later realize that you were rationalizing when you made the choice? The guilt-producing junk food. The over-charge on the credit card. The email you later wish you hadn’t sent. When we rationalize, justify, excuse ourselves it’s because we’re treating thoughts, that is, the rationalizations as beliefs, stirring up our emotions and welcoming those beliefs to drive us.
We can eat that junk food...we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves.
We can buy that...we'll make a way to pay for this because we deserve it.
We have to send this email...courageous honesty is a rare virtue.
The real beliefs aren’t in the rationalizations. The rationalizations are protecting the real beliefs, the “I need this” beliefs that are butting up against the "but I shouldn't have this" beliefs. We treat shallow rationalizing thoughts as beliefs to neglect, avoid, resist, and deny the real beliefs, the ones we don’t want to face.
We bury our real beliefs, quietly (and falsely) pronouncing them mere thoughts in order to minimize them and avoid the internal conflict between, "I need this, but I shouldn't have it."
Find yourself with a habit that you can't seem to overcome, or behavior that keeps you suffering and stuck? Look beyond your rationalizing to what you’re protecting. Real change comes when you reconcile the true conflict.
Ruling your emotions and reigning in your behavior begins with making distinctions between thoughts and beliefs, and wherever possible, demoting those prejudices and rationalizations to thoughts.
...that you can question
...that you can judge
...that you can refine
...that you can dismiss
...that you can change.
To learn how to discover the beliefs that are driving your emotions and behavior, get The Curated Soul's introductory digital retreat: