Last week’s skill building post had you start noticing the stories and meanings you add on top of the events in your life. You did this to begin really seeing the separation between what occurs and what you think about what occurs. “It’s not so much what happens to you but how you interpret it that matters,” is the old maxim that applies here.
This week is about expanding out and seeing all the different beliefs that come along with your own very personal interpretation of the world around you.
Part One – Activating Events and Beliefs
For the first part of this week's skill building activities, you will need to know two important terms:
Activating Event (n.) – An activating event is any occurrence that creates a reaction in you. It can be a huge event like a divorce or something small like your wife not putting the cap back on the toothpaste tube. It’s objective and doesn’t come with an interpretation.
Beliefs (n.) – In this context, your beliefs are what you determine the activating event means. It’s partly why you think the event occurred along with how that affects your beliefs about yourself, others, the world, or even similar situations that your mind links to the activating event. Your beliefs are subjective. They are based on your own experience in this world.
Let’s look at some example to fully get how these two terms interact:
Activating Event: You are rejected by your crush.
Beliefs: He must not be for me then; This wouldn’t have happened if I were thinner; He probably has issues anyway; I’m a catch and it’s his loss; I always mess this up; and I’m really bad at dating.
Activating Event: Denied a promotion at work.
Beliefs: This wouldn’t have happened if I had worked harder; My boss doesn’t like me; My coworker stole it from me; I should have said I didn’t want more money; I’ll never get ahead working here; and I hate this company anyway.
Activating Event: Not invited to a friend’s party.
Beliefs: She must have forgotten to invite me; She doesn’t like me anymore; I must have done something to offend her; She’s a horrible person; and We must not be as close as I thought we were.
You can see the difference between the objective occurrence – which is the activating event – and the subjective interpretation of it – which are the personal beliefs surrounding what occurred. You will also notice that some of the beliefs about what happened actually contradict each other. This is called cognitive dissonance.
This week, take some time to look at your broader beliefs to see how different activating events in your life have created a set of beliefs. Some of those beliefs will be specific to the event and some will be more global in nature. For this week, your job will not be to interpret or judge the beliefs you have. Like the first week, this week is about noticing without judgment. Turn off any form of self-criticism.
To do this inventory, grab a sheet of paper and make two columns. Label the first column “Activating Events” and label the second column “My Beliefs About What Happened.” List any major events in your life that created a strong reaction in you: marriages, divorces, bullying, dating mishaps, conflicts with friends, having kids, not having kids, money stressors, and the list goes on. When you first do this, it’s easier with stronger life events. After you get used to doing this, you can come back and look at more minor issues.
For each activating event you list, ask yourself a series of questions to help tease out what you’ve come to believe as a result of it:
1. Why did this happen?
2. What do I believe about myself or my abilities as a result of this?
3. What do I believe about specific others or the world as a result of this?
Take the time to list out and see what you believe.
Part Two – Social Conditioning
The second part of looking at what you’ve learned to believe is to see how the beliefs of your parents, family, town, regional area, country, culture, media, and the environment around you has influenced you. Some of what you’ve come to believe through outside influences may be benefiting you while other parts of those learned beliefs may be holding you back.
The activity for examining the beliefs you have as a result of social conditioning is very similar to the first activity. On a piece of paper, make two columns again. Label the first column “Area” and the second column “Beliefs.” Leaving space in the right column for your beliefs, list in the left column the following starter list of terms: marriage, divorce, love, romance, sex, friendship, family, work, success, forgiveness, food, drugs, alcohol, conflict, free time, education, money, emotions, and religion.
For each of the starter list of terms, write down what you’ve come to believe about each one in the column to the right. For some people, this can look a lot like a list of rules. Also write down what your parents, siblings, family, local geographic area, country, culture, and media tell you about each of the areas you listed. Notice where your beliefs match or don’t match the beliefs held by those around you.
Also note any beliefs that come from outside yourself that you haven't formally thought about or personally examined. We will come back to those next week.
Until Next Week
Remember, you are not listing these beliefs as a way to judge yourself. Do your best to turn off all self-criticism during this process. This is about self-acceptance, growth, and learning to see your thoughts.
Next week, you will use these lists to see how what you’ve come to believe impacts you. Hold off on doing any interpretation. Practice non-judgment and just use this this week to get your beliefs out on the paper.
For this week, it’s enough to just take the time to create the lists of what you have come to believe.
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