Goodbye old beliefs

When thinking about plans for the upcoming New Year's Eve, I was reminded of a very superstitious (and very silly) thought that I believed (and acted upon) for a really, really long time. For about a decade I lived by the thought that if I had a really dull and boring New Year's Eve, the year that followed would work out better for me than if I celebrated New Year's Eve in some fabulous fashion. This theory was based on a very small number of New Year's Eve and year progressions with a sample size of one (n = me).

I’ve had a number of thoughts and theories such as these that I have held on to over time. And for that period, they didn’t serve me particularly well. The following is a list of (some of) these thoughts that since I stopped believing, the world has magically become a little bit better.

1. The world can be separated into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people.

Nope, it’s way more complex than that.  If you think it’s that simple, you probably just don’t know the person well enough.

2. Worrying about a thing will prevent the thing from happening.

As a recovering chronic and pathological worrier, I really deluded myself into believing this to be true. Weird now to think that my own thoughts could prevent things from happening – If only my mind control could have influenced the US Presidential election!

But, the things I was worrying about weren’t happening (the research says that about 85% of the things we worry about never happen), so my beliefs just continued to be confirmed. If only, I’d spent that time on actual actions.

3. When x or y or z happens I will be happy.

Oh, the buzzkill of habituation. X, y and z might make us happy for a brief moment, but then we’ll get used to things pretty quickly. I lived by this rule for ages – I’ll be happy once I finish my degree, get a new job, take a break, own those beautiful shoes – but the happiness doesn’t last all that long.

A famous 1978 study aimed to find out how different subjects felt after experiencing one of two life-changing events: winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed after an accident. Two situations, two entirely opposite outcomes, right?

Researchers found that after becoming paralyzed in an accident or winning the lottery, moods completely leveled out back to their original state after approximately six months.

Us humans can get used to almost anything. After a few months, not having control of your limbs doesn’t seem that bad, and having millions of dollars doesn’t seem that great, either. It’s called habituation, and it ensures that we’re never too depressed or too happy for too long. No feeling, negative or positive, lasts forever.

So the old adage is not quite true: Money can buy happiness – but only for a little while and then the happiness wears off.

4. You have to be perfect all the time.

I’ve banged on about how perfectionism begins and continues and is destructive and can be overcome before, so I won’t repeat myself here. But one of the wonderful things about letting go of this belief (quite recently) is that I’ve found freedom in stepping outside of my comfort zone. Trying new things, meeting new people, going to new places, learning new skills. Every time we step outside of our comfort zone we grow a little bit as a person. We make ourselves the focus of change. It’s a little bit magic.

5. Everyone else knows what they are doing.

It appears that this is a total fallacy. Look beyond the Instagram and facebook accounts. Have a real conversation with the people you know and the people you don’t. There’s no “right way” to navigate this thing called life. Everyone is just doing their best with what they have.

6. Success equals happiness.

This one took ages for me to grasp hold of. As it turns out we don’t have to meet the perceived expectations of society or your family or your friends to be successful. Or happy.

There has been points in my life where I’ve come incredibly close to achieving what I thought “success” should look like. Only to find that once all my expectations had been met I was miserable. Like really miserable.

It took me a while to accept that there was nothing wrong with finding genuine happiness in moving home, being single and living with my parents in your mid-30s. Eventually I stopped fretting about it and trusted my gut and enjoyed it. That period of my life, whilst technically “unsuccessful” was joyful and content and beautiful.

 “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.’ – Albert Schweitzer.

If it feels okay, it probably is. Find success and joy by living in line with your own values.

7. Loss is the most awful thing that could ever possibly happen to me.

A lot of us are really scared of loss and rejection. It’s hypothesised that this is a hardwired fear that our ancestors have passed on because if they were kicked out of the tribe or clan, it meant certain death. Even though this fear probably isn’t as important these days, it still drove a lot of my actions (or inactions) for a while. But this fear can be overcome. Awareness is key. Exposure is good too.

8. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

I used to sprout this statement all the time. I must have sounded like an imitation Dr Phil.

I don’t completely not believe it now. But I try to refrain from speaking it now because it ignores the wonderful capacity that is humans have for change.

Us humans are made up of bundles of automatic habits, lit up by a small ray of conscious thought. But we can look into those habits, think if they’re working for us, and if not, we can change our them.

Our personalities are always changing, all the way through our life. Neuroscientists call it “plasticity” - our ability to re-wire ourselves. Because as we change our behaviours our brains actually change as well. We re-wire our brain into something new. The habits we grew up with are not written in stone for eternity. We can change them. It can be hard work – challenging the old habits of thought, challenging the old habits of behaviour, facing your fears, and going through some painful moments. It takes energy and effort to change yourself but we can, in fact, change ourselves much more than we typically think. Never be scared to change. Start small. Make a choice. Take control. It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves.

We will however never be able to change anyone else’s behaviours. And They will never be able to change ours. But we will always be able to change our own.

9. I need to be liked by everyone.

This thought caused me heaps of grief for ages. It seems silly now. I don’t like all the people out there. Why should all the people out there have to like me?

10. Anxiety is evil all the time.

This goes for all emotions actually. They all have purpose and we need them all. Just not all the time and in massive doses.

11. Being non-judgmental is a personality trait.

Turns out you’re not born with this as a quality Sam. Everyone has judgments about things and people and if this is something you would like to be, then keep practising.

Quick activity – a bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much is the ball?

If you said the ball costs 10 cents, like me, you fell into a very common trap. If the ball was 10 cents then the bat would have to cost $1.10 and this totals $1.20. The correct answer is the ball would cost 5cents (5 cents = $1.05 = $1.10).

The reason we make this common mistake is that our brains look for the easiest option and then latch on to it as a way of saving time and energy.

The antidote to judgmentalness is questioning. Lots of questions. And the ability to be prepared to accept that our opinions may not be correct.

12. You have to have a favourite Beatle.

What doofus introduced this concept? When I realised there was nothing preventing me from loving John and Paul and George and Ringo equally and in their own special way my life improved exponentially.


13. My thoughts are correct and true and must be believed.  

In actual fact thoughts they are just thoughts. As an example, for a long time you believed the above twelve thoughts to be true. And now you don’t.

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