I am not sure where I read it but I learned a while ago – that we all behave in ways and make choices that reinforce unconscious beliefs we have about ourselves. We need to think about the ramifications of that.
Oprah Winfrey grew up believing in her child’s magical thinking mind – that God, yes the God, the big guy, was her father. If you grow up thinking that God is your father, and that He has your back, and the He is benevolent and good and loving – then you must grow up thinking you can handle pretty much anything. You must grow up thinking that you don’t really need to be afraid of too much. Now I’m sure that Oprah has her hang-ups just like the rest of us do, but I am also sure she has more than her share of resilience, and trust in her self to be able to cope with the world.
In terms of her behaving in unconscious ways that reinforce beliefs – Oprah has climbed the ladder of success by, among other things, following her intuition, I think she believes pretty deeply – and I have heard her say as much – that she experiences her intuition as “God talking to” her. That is some powerful reinforcement!
On the flip side – many of us behave in ways that reinforce negative beliefs about ourselves. I’d like to share an example from my personal experience. My hope is, in doing your own work, that you can transpose this learning and that it helps uncover negative beliefs you might have that are hindering rather than helping your growth.
One of the areas in my life that I struggled with for a long time was money. My relationship to money was fraught with a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. There is an excellent book by father and son team Klontz and Klontz called Mind Over Money. I heartily encourage anyone and everyone to give it a read because it’s brilliant and helps you explore your emotional relationship to money.
An exercise meant to help one understand where our ideas about money come from resulted in my uncovering a memory. My father, who was self-employed, would come home with a huge wad of bills and count his money in front of me at the end of the day. Often he would stop and say “There’s nothing for Heidi”. There is nothing for Heidi. He also spent a lot of time telling me I wasn’t smart – so I am pretty sure I coupled the two together and crystallized that into a belief about my incompetence around money.
The next step was examining how I made choices around money. I wrote down and looked at everything I and my husband owned and owed. It came as a huge shock when on paper it looked like Heidi = 0 and husband = everything else. It struck me then that I had been making choices that reinforced the old belief of there being “nothing” for Heidi, and of Heidi not being smart enough to manage money. I made choices to use my money for groceries, vacations, clothes, expenses for kids … all very important, very meaningful, but not all together tangible, certainly not balanced, not like a bank account or an RRSP. What's also interesting is how I reinforced the belief around my incompetence with money - I had nothing that needed "managing", so no mistakes for me! That choice also deprived me of the opportunity to learn about money, the managing of it, and to break the negative belief I had.
How did I change this? I became aware – the exercise of putting everything down on paper was hugely life changing. I did not want to accept that belief about myself any longer. I needed also to change the behavior that reinforced it. I had to challenge the anxiety that came up when I initiated a change around what I did with my money. I had to challenge the anxiety that comes up when one challenges a long held belief period. Taking responsibility for my financial self was like stepping out into the world anew. Scary! And yet… I’m so grateful for that learning.
Sometimes our unconscious beliefs remain that way, unconscious. Its hard work to look at the things that might be holding us back, and harder still to change them. A huge dose of self-compassion is required. With that compassion we can endeavor to change, we can endeavor to live in a way that pushes us outward, toward growth, toward balance, toward strength.