How Insignificant Beliefs Create Very Significant Habits

Many years ago, about this same time of year, I spent a weekend at a women’s workshop at the Garden of the Goddess, a retreat ranch outside of Santa Fe. What I learned about myself came as a bit of a surprise because it seemed like an “insignificant belief” but it actually had very far-reaching effects. I believed that if anyone ever gave me support or helped me in any way, I felt beholding to them disproportionately. This is a simple belief and one easily rationalized away by my intellect. But wait ‘til you see what it had been doing to my decision-making.

First, to explain the belief. I will use a real-life example that incidentally happened the week before the workshop. At work, I asked the technical director to cut some thin lumber to cover the shelves of an organizing unit since the slotted construction of the shelves made them fairly useless. She did so. And afterwards, taking the sheets of wood under my arm, I asked, “What can I bake you?” For some reason, I felt like I owed her a personal favor in return for the favor she did me in cutting the wood. The ironic thing is that she didn’t really do me a favor at all. She did a favor for the office…and then, is that even a favor? She is employed same as I to keep the company functional. But the problem for me does not really lie in the “was it a favor or not” question. I was grateful to her regardless. The problem lies in the fact that my feeling gratitude wasn’t enough. I had to do more, even taking personal time and going to expense to prove it.

It ultimately comes down to self worth. Had I had a sense of worth that said, “yes, I accept this person’s effort” or “I deserve this help that I am receiving”… Instead, my hidden belief was that I did not deserve what others were willing to do for me, and if I wasn’t careful in covering that up with lots of gifts and overzealous thanks, they would see that I was not worth it. Or even worse, everyone else would realize I’m worthless and therefore expect me to pay back big time if they did me a favor.

A joke was made at the workshop to help me bring this shadow into the light of absurdity: “Thanks for the foot massage; what kind of car can I buy you? Thanks for the Kleenex; would you like a new wardrobe?” My perceptions were not only that screwy but were accompanied by a bizarre sense of guilt that I could not respond.

Once I started to spend more thought on this one issue in my life, I became aware of so much more. For one thing, this belief ties in to both my parents. My father was always showing love by buying, feeding, forcing. Yet, he never really gave himself, his presence. I had inherited that trait. I didn’t see my presence, my love, as enough. I don’t blame my father in any way because after all, it has to be an ancient belief. We each simply inherited it like a gene. Had he known differently, he might have done differently. He might have realized his true worth, his self, was enough. On the flip side was my father’s belief that he was not appreciated, a belief frequently made apparent, hence, my warped perception of gratitude not being enough.

My mother on the other hand contributed to my perceptions because she was so sacrificial. She would give us kids anything…and not always with a smile but often with a martyred sigh. While other children may have interpreted this experience differently, I interpreted it as meaning that mothers have to give ‘til they are dry and always put others first’. I also perceived a huge void in my mother that I felt responsible to fill as her beloved daughter…an impossible task since no one outside of the self can ever fill a hole for us, hence the guilt for not being able to fulfill another’s needs.

Complicating my beliefs about payback and gratitude was another belief I discovered about asking for what I need. It was revealed to me in a dream I had a few nights before the weekend. It didn’t make sense until I had the rest of the pieces of the puzzle. I dreamed that my father had cut off his thumb. My sister was on the phone to my mother telling her, “You have to take him to the doctor now!” and my mother saying, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” I realize now that the dream was about my own inability to take my needs seriously. I have held a belief that I have to be more than uncomfortable, more than in pain, more than sick to seek assistance. It has often resulted in exercises of endurance.

Can you see how my fear of payback also influenced my ability (or inability) to ask for what I really need? And if I just waited until it was an emergency, then I wouldn’t have to worry about not being deserving enough.

With this awareness, I could then continue to see how these ingrained beliefs played out in my life behind my field of vision. I had more opportunities to take a different point of view about my worth and my responses to others, and started taking responsibility to meet my own needs whether that meant asking for help when I was afraid to do so or helping myself when I’d rather look outside of myself. A single thread unraveled a whole blanket of misperception.

The act of discovery, while often painful to approach, has the awesome ability to greatly lessen the power our beliefs have had over decisions and choices and greatly empowers us with a new awareness to make new choices. It’s magic…when we’re willing to do the work.

Perception: Why Not Rose Colored Glasses?

sy00590_If everything is a matter of perception, through what lens do I see the world? It is a question I have been asking myself lately and frequently, having read Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman, a book which I very highly recommend. In it, she discusses the cognitive habits and beliefs we have that skew our perceptions of reality in all manner of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Work gave me the perfect opportunity to observe exactly the dangers such habits can wreck on an otherwise happy life. One day, I received a phone call from a woman asking to speak to our accountant. I asked her who was calling for him, as I always do in order to announce the call, as is considered standard procedure. She became very irate without ever simply answering me and hung up. Several minutes later, we received a fax that said, “Tony, I can’t seem to get passed the person who answers the phone. Here’s the information you wanted.” It made me laugh because all she had to do was tell me who she was. But, she must have had some belief in place somewhere in her subconscious that morning that made it true for her that I was giving her a hard time, singling her out, making her unimportant. None of that could be further from the truth for me.

The incident made me wonder, how often do I react “as if” something is true making my life harder than it has to be? It saddens me to think of all the times I’ve taken something personally and then suffered emotionally over what was nothing at all. No wonder one of the four agreements is to not take anything personally. It reminds me of a song that Ella Fitzgerald sung, “we made up and then, quarreled again, all over nothing at all.”

That same day at work, I got a call from a woman who wanted to be added to our audition mailing list. She was upset that she hadn’t been getting mailings as she used to “get them all the time and someone must have removed” her from the list. I then asked for her birth year, again standard procedure. She answered and then asked why I needed to know. I explained that we use birth years to save costs on mailings that only apply to certain age groups. For instance, it would be a waste to mail audition notices to people over 30 if the show calls for children and young adult actors. She became furious admonishing me not to judge her without seeing her. There was no comforting her, and the call thankfully ended. When I ran her name in the computer, her name was still on the list. It turned out that she had moved; she just never updated her address.

It became so clear to me that she was seeing everything through the lens of deprivation. Her belief that she would be mistreated, forgotten, and unwanted is exactly what she set herself up to experience. She reacted to me as if that we already so. Ironically, I got another call a few minutes later from a woman asking to be added to the same list. When I hesitatingly asked her for her birth year, she too wanted to know why. I explained, and she responded, “Oh, that’s a really good idea!”

We all do it. We all look perceive through the lenses of our previous wounds and experiences. We set ourselves up to experience exactly what we most fear. Seeing things as they really are and taking responsibility for what we’ve created is a stepping stone to freedom. Now that I am becoming more aware of my ability to choose which lenses I use, why not rose-colored glasses?

Day 12: Are My Numbers Up?

An ongoing personal exploration of Divine Guidance and distinguishing between the voice of fear and the voice of love reflecting on the article, How to Distinguish Between Divine Guidance and Fear/Ego/Imagination, on Sir Froggie’s PositiveNews Network .

Today’s pairing is:

Divine Guidance may assign specific goals to work for, such as “sell 1,000 books,” but won’t use that number as a way to assess judgment or failure.  It merely keeps you moving in the direction or your goal.
Ego assigns numbers as a way to control, manipulate and judge you and others.  These numbers are often difficult or impossible to achieve.

Woohoo! An aspect of ego that I don’t frequently get tussled over! Or am I kidding myself? I love numbers. I find them quite magical. But is my state of being subject to the influence of self-inflicted numbers?

I guess I have been known to obsess about the number of dollars in my bank account and often use it to determine what I can and can’t do. I also notice when when the little Amazon statistic line of my book starts making a downward trend, I always feel a little deflated or likewise over the moon when it shoots up unexpectedly. I suppose I’ve also fallen prey to comparison based on numbers, too. Is he selling more books than I am? Does she have more Facebook likes on her post?

So, yes, I guess ego does use numbers to keep me in a slightly elevated state of anxiety, the better to control me with, my dear.

It’s interesting. The more I think about it, the more I see how deeply ingrained this tendency is in our society. We judge businesses by how big they are, not often by what really matters like do they care about anything other than the bottom line. We judge authors by how many books they sell and movies by box office sales numbers. As a result, we miss entirely those rare gems that could change our entire perception. We determine whether someone is rich or poor based on numbers as well…failing entirely to see that a state of mind can have so much more to do with it than their income. Numbers blindside us…or at least the interpretation of them does.

Can I imagine living free of this tendency? I could stop counting. It wouldn’t be about the number of times I repeated a mantra but the mantra itself. How much something cost wouldn’t be my final determination in whether something was worth it. I wouldn’t be put off my how many days or even years something takes. The number of mistakes I’ve made wouldn’t indicate anything, nor would how often I make the same one over and over indicate the likelihood that I’d do it again. The numbers wouldn’t matter. All that energy could then be directed away from counting and focused towards the goal itself.

The Count from Sesame Street could just cut right to the “Ah, Ah, Ah!” and we could all sit down to a big piece of 3.14.