How identity beliefs shape our bodies and minds

Now that you have completed last week’s exercises it is time to do some analysis. Look back at your writing or your pictures, if you did a visual exercise and begin making a note of the beliefs that are revealed. You are looking for a specific type of belief and this is how you do it.

As you read your story or look at your images ask yourself the following question about key points in your story.

“What am I believing about myself?”

Notice how you respond and which belief you have revealed. The type of belief we are looking for is about your identity, who do you label yourself to be. Identity beliefs can be recognised as “I” statements worded as “I am…..”

Here are some examples:

“I am fat” or “I am the fat one”

“I am the funny one”

“I am smart”

“I am depressed”

“I am worthless”

I am responsible”

“I am kind”

As you look at this list of examples what do you notice? From an NLP perspective I’d like to start first by explaining why these are all identity beliefs. Whenever we start with an “I am” statement followed by a quality we are using what is known as a “complex equivalence”. We are in effect saying “I” equals whatever the quality is we have used. For example “I am fat” translates as “I” equals “fat”. We have taken on this belief at an identity level as if that is all we are and as if it is true.

So the first thing to challenge within this is the limitation we are placing on ourselves in saying that we are defined by this statement. When I work with people and groups I like to remind them of an NLP pre-supposition developed by Julie Silverthorn, my American business partner and John Overdurf.

“No matter what you think you are,

you are always and in all ways more than that.”

When we hold an identity belief we mistakenly believe it is who we are, it informs our thinking, feeling and believing. So staying with the belief “I am fat” we set ourselves up to act out the truth of that belief. We may find it hard to stay motivated with healthy eating and exercise, we may be easily discouraged because we are unable to get beyond the identity we have assumed. By stepping outside the assumption we are making about our limitation you are allowing yourself to open to the possibility that you are more than your label.

And you are more than your label. Your body size and shape are not related to who you are as a person. Give yourself permission to accept that you are so much more. Paradoxically this will help you to make physical changes if that is what you want to do.

So what do we do about the limiting belief and how do you change it?

Before we can transform limiting beliefs into empowering ones we need to first explore the belief on a number of levels to ensure that we have understood why we developed the belief in the first place.

Go back to my original list of examples. Had you noticed that some of the examples were obviously limiting beliefs but others appear to be positive beliefs? Even beliefs that may be helpful can create limitations so we may need to examine seemingly positive ones too.

For example a belief such as “I am kind” on the surface seems like a very positive one and in many ways it is. However if you hold this belief do you find yourself always putting others first sometimes at your own expense? Perhaps you feel you are not “allowed” to express annoyance or irritation with others. It might even mean that when you need help you are unable to either ask for it or let others in enough to offer you help.

You may want to retain the belief “I am kind” however it might also be healthy to include a complementary belief that allows you to have support and express yourself assertively when necessary.

So with each of your own beliefs consider the following and jot down some notes to yourself about them.

  1. What does having this belief give me that is useful or positive?
  2. How does having this belief protect me?
  3. What does having this belief allow me to avoid?
  4. What permissions does having this belief give me?
  5. How is this belief limiting me?

These questions will help you identify the positive intention behind the belief and any secondary gains you may also have as a result of holding this belief.

Positive intention is the motivation behind an option or behaviour. This is connected to ecology and is also an NLP pre-supposition – all behaviour and beliefs arise from a positive intention. For change to be long lasting the positive intention must be preserved or replaced with something even more compelling. If you don’t handle the positive intention of the old behaviour, you may get unconscious resistance. Positive intention can be elicited by asking: “What does that give/get you?”

Often confused with positive intention, secondary gains are unexpected benefits to an unhelpful belief or behaviour. For example, a person who has a fear of open spaces may have a secondary gain that their spouse does all the family shopping – if the fear is transformed to confidence, who does the shopping? If secondary gains are not anticipated they can sometimes sabotage an otherwise effective process.

With both obviously limiting beliefs and those that on the surface look helpful identifying the positive intention and the secondary gain can allow us begin the process of change. Look back at your answers to the questions above for each of your limiting beliefs.

Have you noticed that the power of each belief has already diminished? Perhaps you are already beginning to doubt the limitations you have been placing on yourself.

Next week I will write about how to reframe limiting beliefs so that you can embrace a more empowering identity. If you would like to get on with an exercise designed at changing limiting beliefs download my free MP3 Audio and follow the exercise Changing Beliefs. Here’s the link


About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
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