In February of this year, Catriona and Ian led an excellent Zoom meeting on the subject of “The power of mindset.”
Here Catriona summarises the points that were covered in the meeting.
Why do you do what you do? Perhaps a better question to ask is “Why do you think what you think?” How often do your thoughts take you in the direction of who God says that you are? Or is it more likely that your thoughts take you down a negative spiral into who you are not, what you can’t do, and negative comparisons with other people? Our thoughts dictate our actions, and this process is often subconscious. If our behaviour and actions are not what we want them to be, it is often because of a deeper problem: our belief system is faulty.
In this article, we will look at how our belief systems are formed, and how to re-write negative beliefs. This will be followed in the next edition with tools to help us live in our new ways of thinking.
How are our mindsets formed?
A negative experience creates a belief about ourselves. It might be some negative words said to you by someone you loved or trusted. Or you were let down by someone who should have been there for you. Often this occurs at a formative stage in our lives. We internalise that negative experience or those negative words, and a negative belief about ourselves takes root in our minds. If that experience is repeated, that belief becomes reinforced and becomes our default, and often subconscious way of thinking. Our behaviour follows – we act and behave in a way that is informed by our negative belief about ourselves.
Imagine a path across a large grass meadow, like this one. The path takes you along the most direct route from one side of the meadow to the other. It is not an official path – the path was created by hundreds of sets of footsteps walking the same direct route, and over time, the grass has been completely worn away. When you arrive at the meadow, you don’t even need to think about where to walk, you automatically follow the same path. It is easy, convenient, familiar, and requires less energy. Our brains work in the same way. Our brains like to conserve energy, so will quickly default to familiar ways of thinking. Thinking patterns are repeated and form pathways in our minds that become our default way of thinking because it is easier for our brains and requires less energy.
When we find ourselves in situations that then trigger that negative belief, our brains revert to what is known and simply repeat the same old thinking patterns to ourselves, keeping us trapped in negative thinking loops. The pathways in our brains become as entrenched as this path across the grass.
Some examples that might resonate:
“I have to make the perfect diagnosis.”
“If my patients don’t get better, it’s because I am not a good enough vet.”
“I can never say ‘I don’t know’ or show emotion.”
“I can’t do …. like …”
What stands out to you the loudest? Notice what comes to mind. These are just examples; pay attention to what is in your own head.
What are some of the costs of these negative thinking loops?
Firstly, we keep ourselves trapped going round and round in circles in our own heads, robbing us of self-confidence and self-belief.
If you have been told you are a failure, and have learned to believe that about yourself, this might become self-fulfilling. For instance, you lower or minimise your expectations of yourself to avoid the risk of failure, or never take action in the first place because the plan can never attain your own perfect ideals. Or you sabotage your own plans because the loudest voice in your head is telling you there is no point as you will not succeed, so why bother. You push people away or keep them at arm’s length to avoid further rejection.
These are like mental worry beads – we ferret over and over about things we have said or done, or not said or not done, or what other people have said, and go round in circles perpetuating and reinforcing the negative belief, so it remains our default way of thinking.
This is exhausting and takes up so much time and head space. But worse than that, it stops us being who we ARE because we lived trapped in who we believe we are NOT. God tells us that we are His Masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139). But if we are consistently telling ourselves that we are unlovable, or a failure, or not good enough, we are essentially calling God a liar – we are saying that He and His love are not enough. It is important that we see that this is a spiritual battle. There is no condemnation here (Rom 8:1) but we have an enemy who wants to keep us trapped in these negative thinking loops, isolated, and stuck in our own heads, unable to see who God is and who He says that we are. The enemy wants to keep us in a place of self-condemnation because he does not want us to live and work in the freedom of who God has made us to be and in the power of the Holy Spirit available to us.
There are two laws at work here.
The law of cognition says that you are who you think. And the law of exposure says that our mind thinks most about what it is exposed to. So, if we spend most of our time focused on negative things about ourselves and other people, this will affect every aspect of our behaviour. Rom 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and Phil 4:8 encourages us to fill our minds with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
It is important that you read this without blame or judgement. It is only when we see objectively what is going on that we can start to make changes.
So, what do we do about this?
The first step is to identify a negative belief. Self-awareness is key. Notice the emotions that stir up during the day, especially in a difficult situation. What are you reacting to, and why? What are you most afraid of? What does this experience bring to mind? Whose voice(s) are you listening to – it might be someone specific or it might be your own voice. What is the belief that you are telling yourself?
The next step is to make a choice to create a different, positive belief.
What do you know to be true in this situation? Who does God say that you are? What do those you trust say? What evidence do you have to the contrary of this negative belief – i.e. when you have come through situations like this before?
Create a healthy belief to have instead of the negative one. For instance:
“I don’t know yet, but I am learning, and God is helping me.”
“I am loved and accepted by God for who I am.”
“I can succeed with God’s help – I can do everything through Him who strengthens me.”
Scripture is a great place to start – identify a phrase that counteracts the negative belief that you are telling yourself, to break that pattern.
This might seem overwhelming at first, but like everything else, it is possible with repetition, reinforcement, and practice. You did not learn your veterinary skills overnight; it took time, and this is no different. Remember the path across the grass? If you go to that meadow and choose to walk in a different direction, you will walk across fresh grass and there will be virtually no evidence of your footsteps. You will need to walk the same route repeatedly to create a new path that then becomes the established, default path.
But a small change every day over time leads us to a completely different outcome. There is a wonderful coaching principle called the One Degree Principle. Imagine a plane set on auto pilot. If it is flying from Glasgow to London, a short distance, a one-degree shift in autopilot will not make much difference. But if that same plane is flying from Glasgow to New York, a distance of over 5,500 km, a one-degree shift in auto pilot will make a huge difference with the plane ending up somewhere nearer Florida. The same is true for us as we practice our new beliefs –one small change carried out daily, over time brings a completely different result.
Repeat your new belief to yourself multiple times a day, reinforce what you know to be true about yourself, and practice new ways of behaving based on your new positive beliefs.
Next time we will look at two tools that help us live in the freedom of our new beliefs.