By May 21, 2009 Read More →

Is Your Personal Belief System Working For or Against You?

PsychologicalStrengthAndVulnerability

Your personal belief system can work for you or against you.   When it’s working against you, your mood is subject to whatever is going on around you.  You feel a sense of entitlement.   Love is a requirement for your self-esteem.   You take things personally or try to control the world around you.  You’re a perfectionist and nothing is ever good enough.

When your personal belief system is working for you,  your self-worth is not based on your achievement.   You don’t seek others for approval.   You’re able to find happiness inside yourself.   You don’t feel entitled to everything.  Love is not a requirement for your happiness or self-worth.   You don’t need other people to agree with you.  You let yourself make mistakes and you don’t always have to try your best or be the best at everything.  You can roll with life’s punches and your mind is a fortress that serves and protects you.

In the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated , Dr. David Burns shares the patterns of self-defeating attitudes and the patterns behind a healthy and supportive personal belief system.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  •  Know the key attitudes that affect your self-esteem.  These include your attitudes around achievement, approval, autonomy, entitlement, love, omnipotence, and perfectionism.
  • Beware of silent assumptions.  Silent assumptions are your unchallenged assumptions that shape your attitudes and beliefs around your self-worth.
  • Expose and challenge your own self-defeating belief system.   Check whether your beliefs are serving you.  The more you increase your awareness of your belief system, the more you can evaluate and reshape it to serve you.
  • Adopt healthy patterns over unhealthy patterns.   Some patterns are more counterproductive than others. 

Remember that attitudes are a spectrum and a sliding scale.  The key is to shift from negative or counter-productive patterns to ones that better serve you.

A self-defeating belief system

Silent assumptions are how you define your personal worth.  They’re the base of your self-esteem.  They represent your value system and your personal philosophy.  Dr. Burns provides some examples of silent assumptions that lead to a self-defeating belief system:

  • "If someone criticizes me, I feel miserable because this automatically means there is something wrong with me."
  • "To be a truly fulfilled human being, I must be loved."
  • "If I am alone, I am bound to be lonely and miserable."
  • "My worth as a human being is proportional to what I’ve achieved."
  • "If I don’t perform (or feel or act) perfectly, I have failed."

According to Dr. Burns, if you learn to expose and challenge your own self-defeating belief system, you lay the foundation for a personal philosophy that is valid and self-enhancing.  You will be on the road to joy and emotional enlightenment.

Categories of Attitudes

Dr. Burns provides a summary of key attitudes:

  • Achievement – your need for achievement.
  • Approval – your tendency to measure your self-esteem based on how people react to you and what they think of you.
  • Autonomy – your ability to find happiness within yourself.
  • Entitlement – your sense of "entitlement."
  • Love – your tendency to base your worth on whether or not you are loved.
  • Omnipotence – your tendency to see yourself as the center of your personal universe and to hold yourself responsible for much of what goes on around you.
  • Perfectionism – your tendency to perfectionism.

Negative Patterns (Self-Defeating Attitudes / Vulnerabilities)

Dr. Burns provides examples of beliefs, results and signs of self-defeating attitudes:

Category Beliefs / Results / Signs
Achievement
  • You are a workaholic.
  • You have a constricted sense of your own humanity.
  • You see yourself as a commodity in the marketplace.
  • Your sense of self-worth and capacity for joy are dependent on your productivity.
  • Economic and emotional depression seem identical to you.
Approval
  • You evaluate yourself through other people’s eyes.
  • If someone insults you, you automatically tend to look down on yourself.
  • You are easily manipulated because you are sensitive to what you imagine people think of you.
Autonomy
  • You are still trapped in the belief that your potential for joy and self-esteem comes from everything outside.
  • Your moods end up the victim of external factors.
Entitlement
  • You feel "entitled" to things – success, love, happiness, etc.
  • You expect and demand that your wants be met by other people and the universe at large because of your inherent goodness or hard work.
  • When you don’t get what you expect, you are either depressed or irate.
  • You consume enormous amounts of energy being frustrated, sad, and mad.
  • Much of the time you see life as a sour, rotten experience.
  • You complain loudly and often but do little to solve problems.
  • As a result of your bitter, demanding attitudes, you get far less of what you want from life.
Love
  • You are a "love junkie."
  • You see love as a "need" without which you cannot survive and much less be happy.
  • Your resort to coercive, manipulative behavior.
Omnipotence
  • You tend to see yourself as the center of your personal universe.
  • You hold yourself responsible for much of what goes on around you.
  • You take things personally.
  • You blame yourself inappropriately for the negative actions and attitudes of others who are not really under your control.
  • The attitude that you should be omnipotent and all-powerful cripples you and leaves you anxious and ineffectual.
Perfectionism
  • You are hooked on searching for the Holy Grail.
  • You demand perfection in yourself – mistakes are taboo.
  • Failure is worse than death.
  • Negative emotions are a disaster.
  • You are supposed to look, feel, think and behave superbly at all times.
  • You sense that being less than spectacular means means burning in the flames of hell.
  • Although you drive yourself at an intense pace, your satisfactions are meager.
  • Once you do achieve a goal, another more distant goal instantly replaces it, so you never experience the reward of getting to the top of the mountain.
  • Your problem does not lie in your performance, but in the yardstick you use to measure it.

Positive Patterns

Dr. Burns provides examples of beliefs, results and signs of positive, healthy attitudes:

Category Beliefs / Results / Signs
Achievement
  • You enjoy creativity and productivity but do not see them as exclusive or necessary road to self-esteem and satisfaction.
Approval
  • You’re independent.
  • A healthy sense of your own worth even when confronted with criticism and disapproval.
Autonomy
  • You are able to find happiness within yourself.
  • All your moods are ultimately the children of your thoughts and attitudes.
  • You assume responsibility for your feelings because you recognize they are ultimately created by you.
Entitlement
  • You don’t feel automatically entitled to things, so you negotiate for what you want and often get it.
  • Because of your awareness that other people are unique and different, you realize there is no inherent reason why things should always go your way.
  • You experience a negative outcome as a disappointment but not a tragedy because you are a percentage player, and you don’t expect perfect reciprocity or "justice" at all times.
  • You are patient and persistent.
  • You have a high frustration tolerance.
Love
  • You see love as desirable, but you have a wide range of other interests you also find gratifying and fulfilling.
  • Love is not a requirement for your happiness or self-esteem.
  • You radiate a healthy sense of self-love and are interested in many aspects of living.
Omnipotence
  • You know the joy that comes from accepting that you are not the center of the universe.
  • Since you are not in control of other adults, you are not ultimately responsible for them but only for yourself.
  • You relate to people effectively as a friendly collaborator , and you are not threatened when they disagree with your ideas or fail to follow your advice.
  • Because your attitude gives people a sense of freedom and dignity, you paradoxically become a human magnet.
  • Others want to be close to you because you have relinquished any attempt to control them.
  • People frequently listen to and respect your ideas because you do not polarize them with an angry insistence they must agree with you.
  • As you give up your drive for power, people repay you by making you a person of influence.
  • Your relationships with your children and friends and associates are characterized by mutuality instead of dependency.
  • Because you don’t try to dominate people, they admire, love, and respect you.
Perfectionism
  • You have the capacity to set meaningful, flexible, appropriate standards.
  • You get great satisfaction from processes and experiences.
  • You are not exclusively fixated on outcomes.
  • You don’t have to be outstanding at everything.
  • You don’t always have to "try your best."
  • You don’t fear mistakes, but you see them as golden opportunities to learn and to endorse your humanity.
  • You are likely to be much more productive than your perfectionistic associates because you do not become compulsively preoccupied with detail and correctness.
  • Your life is a flowing river or geyser compared with your rigid perfectionistic friends who appear more like icy glaciers.

For more insights and actions, check out the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated .

My Related Posts

Photo by etrusia uk.

17 Comments on "Is Your Personal Belief System Working For or Against You?"

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  1. Fluffy Pancakes | Blogger For Hire | August 24, 2010
  1. Silent assumptions were one of my biggest weaknesses. I didn’t realize that my “self talk” was tearing down my confidence. Over the past few years I’ve been listening to this voice inside my head. I realize that he is just telling me to be cautious so we wouldn’t get hurt. Instead of listening and hiding, I listen and talk with this voice. I try to reassure him that we need to (insert tough thing here) because it will help us in the long run. I’ve noticed a much improved attitude and willingness to try new things.

  2. What a useful post! The categories of attitudes really helps focus on key areas and uncovers the ones I need to work on. I’m going to get the book – I think there’s a lot I can learn from it. Thanks!

  3. Daphne says:

    JD,

    This post illustrates well the title of your blog – it is very insightful! I like the clear way you lay out information. And I’m amazed at how much reading you seem to get done. Do you speed read?

  4. Another wonderful post by you! I really think it’s possible for our belief systems to work against us, BUT there is a possibility for change. For example, it was always my belief that unhappy people were cool and happy people were lame. But I’m changing that belief and finding that it’s possible to be awesomely cool AND happy. :) Haha!

  5. Writer Dad says:

    I would have to say, that my belief system does work for me, but that sometimes my silent assumptions do get the better of me.

  6. Curphey says:

    The picture is Bodium Castle which is near my house !

  7. Don Willits says:

    As always, a big fan of bullets and J.D. doesn’t disappoint. The content was excellent (and a tip of the hat to Dr. Burns).

  8. “your self-worth is not based on your achievement. You don’t seek others for approval. You’re able to find happiness inside yourself.”

    Sounds wonderful, but human beings are social creatures. I’m not sure anyone can get to a place where they 100% don’t care about what others think. I’m guessing the need to be liked by others is somehow connected to our primal survival instincts.

  9. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Karl

    That’s a great way to retrain and condition your new rules and attitudes.

    @ Laurie

    Thank you. It’s one of the best books I’ve come across … it’s literally a set of patterns and practices for feeling good.

    @ Daphne

    Thank you. when I read for skills, I read fast. The keys are: 1) identify questions 2) read to answer your questions 3) read with intense focus in short bursts.

    The main bottleneck to reading fast is your mind, so question-driven helps. I make it through something fast and skip speed bumps, then go back and drill in again. It’s iterative and incremental. Each pass sinks in deeper.

    The next bottleneck is your eye speed. I used EyeQ training to speed up my eyes.

    When I read for fun, I read slowly and daydream as I go.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. Cool and happy is a great combo. The surprise for me is that happiness is a decision you drive from. It’s a lens, sort of like 1/2 full or 1/2 empty. That said, I like the book Learned Optimism. There’s thought patterns you train your brain with.

    @ Writer Dad

    That’s the beauty of a well-oiled belief system … it helps you ride the storm, silent assumptions and all.

    @ Curphey

    Too Cool. It looks unreal. When I first saw it, I thought it was fake, like something from a fairy tail.

    @ Don

    Thank you. Dr. Burns is an incredible source of insight.

    @ Vered

    Good point. I think it’s more of a spectrum. I think it’s about internalizing your self-esteem vs. depending on others for it. We all want positive feedback, but we shouldn’t be devastated when we get negative feedback.

  10. Rob Boucher Jr says:

    Having had a large number of these issues when I was young and progressively removing them, I can attest to these patterns not working.

    The achievement and approval ones have been the latest I’ve been working on. Certainly this has been true at work. There is some balance between knowning my values an stenghts, living them out and releasing that the outcome is completely controllable by me. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback lately as well. I’ve been watching since during times of positive feedback is when I find that I start tying the feedback to my self-esteem. Then when there is negative feedback, I’ve built my self-esteem on foundation that is sand and I feel unstable.

    I can feel that there is this balance between letting in the feedback and actually relying on it as a foundation. It’s almost like thinking about balance while standing up. Don’t put all your weight on something that you know can easily go away and is not under your control. If you have to, recognize that it’s unstable and move to something else over time. That “something else” is an internal frame of reference on built on top of thoughts and patterns that sustain a higher degree of happiness.

    Rob

  11. I need to fixate less on outcomes sometimes, thanks for the reminder.

    Be, just be.

  12. Louisa says:

    Wow! That’s quite a detailed breakdown. I don’t see myself fit squarely in either of those though. I think maybe I have elements (good and bad) of all of them.

  13. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Rob

    Related to that, I think a big piece of it is building your feedback system to be flexible and think of feedback as input, not judgment or game over. It’s about testing your results, knowing what you’re getting, and changing your approach when it’s not working.

    @ Jannie

    I think the idea of experimenting with your results helps make it more play than pain.

    @ Louisa

    It’s a spectrum and a range of goodness. I think the extremes are easier to spot and I think what helps is just knowing that some of the extremes on the negative side are really counterproductive.

  14. Sharmila II says:

    J.D., I absolutely loved this blog!
    My top areas which I need to work on to bring into healthy patterns are: Achievement, Approval and Perfectionism.

    The main subtitles under each which resonated strongly are:

    # Achievement – your need for achievement.
    -Your sense of self-worth and capacity for joy are dependent on your productivity.

    # Approval – your tendency to measure your self-esteem based on how people react to you and what they think of you.
    -If someone insults you, you automatically tend to look down on yourself.

    # Perfectionism – your tendency to perfectionism.
    – You are hooked on searching for the Holy Grail.
    – You demand perfection in yourself – mistakes are taboo.
    -Once you do achieve a goal, another more distant goal instantly replaces it, so you never experience the reward of getting to the top of the mountain.
    – Your problem does not lie in your performance, but in the yardstick you use to measure it.

    My goal into 2010 is to lay a new solid foundation for healthier mind patterns in these areas! Thank you for this kickstart!
    blessings!
    ~Jen

  15. JD says:

    @ Jen

    Thought patterns are tricky, especially because they are habits. If you haven’t explored NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), you might like to check it out. It’s got black belt techniques for shaping your thoughts.

  16. Troy says:

    Know this one thing, that after all the years (and I use that loosely)of feeling good. You’re gonna leave this place and there is life after death. What then?