You’ve been reading this column because you’re curious about how we think, or how we can think differently, or feel differently about ourselves. Today we’ll explore how all of these are possible.
Psychology as a self-conscious field of experimental study began in 1879. Until the 1950’s, it is believed that how we think came largely from of our past, especially our childhood. Sigmund Freud coined the phrase “unresolved childhood conflicts.”
However, this significantly changed in 1961 when Dr. Albert Ellis published “A Guide to Rational Living,” one of the first books on cognitive psychology. Some of the titles in his book summarize his thesis:
• You largely feel the way you think.
• How you create your feeling.
• Thinking yourself out of emotional disturbances.
• Overcoming the influences of the past.
Dr. Ellis declared in this book that what we can do today is based primarily on what we believe today. Another way of saying this is that what we can do today is principally based on what we say to ourselves and about ourselves today. A third way of expressing this is: what we can do today is based on our self-talk today. (This has since been validated by more than 60 years of research by cognitive psychologists.)
I have found this simple principle to be wonderfully encouraging for the 30,000 or so people I have presented to over the last three decades.
The question then arises: How do you overcome the influences of your past, which cannot be changed nor controlled? Good question!
The answer comes in two brain principles. When taken together, the answer can be tremendously encouraging for those of us who are trying to slough off some the psychological baggage we’ve been carrying around for most of our lives.
• Brain Principle One: Our brain believes what we tell it…without question. This is one of the principle foundations of cognitive psychology and one that has run like a thread throughout all my presentations, seminars, and writings. (If you are skeptical about this first principal, read V.S. Ramachandran’s book titled “Phantoms in the Brain.”)
• Brain Principle Two: The feelings we have about ourselves do not come from our upbringing, or events in our lives, or things that have happened to us. They come from our beliefs about our upbringing, and our beliefs about events in our lives, and our beliefs about things that have happened to us.
Now here is the encouraging part. The encouraging part comes from knowing that when you change your beliefs, your feelings follow, and you can change your beliefs any time you choose. That is the reason this is called “cognitive psychology.”
Now, are your new beliefs true? Your brain doesn’t even care! All it cares about is what you tell it.
This is the reason so many non-Freudian psychoanalysts such as Alfred Adler, Erick Fromm and Karen Horney emphasize analyzing their clients’ present problems, ideas and relationships, rather than obsessing about the gory details of their past histories.
To see how this works, let’s take the example of parental rejection from either the mother or father or both. I’m choosing this one because it is an issue that is common among many of us.
Let’s suppose that you were severely criticized and rejected by your parents and that you felt inadequate. As a consequence, you refused to try certain projects and ended up feeling very depressed about yourself.
You had disturbing feelings, but here’s the important part. Those feelings were not coming from your parents’ rejection; they are coming from your own personal beliefs about it.
For example, for most of my young adulthood, I had disturbing feelings about myself, and believed that my father was largely at fault. Later in life however, I discovered that those beliefs were absolutely false. I discovered that my father was one of the kindest men I have ever known; that he loved me very much and would do anything he could for me. It was my own misguided beliefs that caused my depression and destructive behavior.
So when I realized this and began changing those caustic beliefs, my feelings about both me and my father radically changed. It was then that I began accomplishing things that amazed both of us.
There are two kinds of pains which all of us experience: physical and emotional. To lessen the physical pain, you can exercise, do yoga, take a pill or various other remedies.
However, for your emotional pain, you have considerably more control. Your emotional pain is primarily coming from your beliefs, and you can change those beliefs.
So if people unfairly call you stupid, you can choose whether or not to take them seriously. Remember this, what others say about you don’t become a part of you until you agree with them.
The most wonderful
discovery of all
The discovery that I have seen turn more lives around is when you choose to believe something different about yourself, your brain will not only believe it, too (no matter what has happened in the past), it then rewires itself so that those new beliefs become a part of who you are.
Let me put this in another way: Your feelings about yourself are coming from your own beliefs, and those beliefs are reflected by your self-talk. Now, you can decide to believe something different about yourself right now, this second, and your brain will believe it.
And then when you lock onto those new beliefs, your brain rewires itself so that those new beliefs become a part of who you are.
So, your very simple assignment for today is to immediately throw away any notions that you are too old, or too young, or too uneducated, or too stuck in your ways to change. You can grow and change as much as you want!
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.