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3 Tips for Displacing False Beliefs

Leadership Leading

There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. – Anthony de Mello

We talked a lot last month about the power of belief and how to build belief. But what happens when you believe something that isn’t true?

It’s devastating.

In fact, the thing that holds us back the most isn’t external resistance, scarcity of resources, or even lack of capability. What holds us back most are our own false beliefs about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

Behind every bit of reluctance, every hint of futility, every bad habit, is a lie that we’ve let creep in and grow into a belief—something we cling to as if it were true. False beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small (I’m no good at talking to strangers), some are huge (No one could ever love me), others are personal (I don’t have what it takes to lead others), many are professional (People at work don’t care how I’m feeling).

The first step in dislodging these subtle self-saboteurs is to call them what they are: Lies. At some point someone told you, “you’ll never be any good at math” or “don’t use your hands when you speak” or “that’s how we always do it around here” and you believed them. It probably wasn’t a conscious choice, but it happened. Now you’re living out those beliefs and dealing with the consequences.

The next thing to realize is that you can’t just stop believing something. You can’t delete false beliefs, they must be replaced. Here’s a process I’ve used to do just that:

1. Reflect on your own experiences. Look at the decisions you make—what factors are driving them? Dig into your fears—where do they come from? Identify the assumptions you’re living by—and challenge their validity. Write down the lies you think you believe. This is a difficult, but liberating, action. It’s humiliating to confess on paper some of the stuff we’ve bought into, but the moment we do, those false beliefs lose half their power.

2. Feed yourself truth. Experiment. Read. Listen. Learn. Question. Debate. Wrestle. Journal. Write the truths down that will counter the false beliefs you recorded earlier. The idea is that you’ll have them at the ready should you be tempted to go back to those familiar lies again. What I’ve found, however, is that writing down the counter-truths diminishes the power of false beliefs all the more.

3. Surround yourself with good friends. I define a good friend as someone who both cares about you and will tell you the truth. You can find plenty of people who fulfill one of those requirements, but finding someone that’s committed to you and to telling you the truth is a rare and beautiful gift. Listen to them. Trust them.

How else have you seen false beliefs displaced?

  1. lee
    June 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I think many leaders are generally successful people, having risen to their position, and every now and then a bout of failure or slump brings all these fears back to the surface. I have realized this myself recently amidst a slump at work and i think times of success obscured fears that were always there under the surface. Hopefully this will be a time to deal with those. I did write them down and some of them are downright silly or unrealistic. Sometimes i guess we must learn to push on even amidst these fears.

    • June 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm

      Great add, Lee. I’m convinced that well over half the battle is recognizing that our faulty beliefs are lies—which can be tricky since (by definition) we hold them to be true. As always, thanks for sharing

  2. Michael
    June 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Hi Geoff, I want to thank you for posting this. This is an issue that I deal with on a regular basis. Today in fact. I found this to be helpful in reminding me that these false messages can be overcome and that we can rise above them to see our true worth as leaders. I believe I was led to this post for this time as I just began following you on Twitter yesterday. Again thank you for sharing yet one more tool that I can use to combat these lies. I also thank you for the transparency that this post shows on your part. Blessings!

  3. June 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks, Michael. Honestly, I write most of these posts as reminders to myself as well Glad it helped!

  1. June 15, 2011 at 10:54 am
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