I was at a bike shop that I frequent and as the cashier was ringing my purchase up, she asked me what I did for a living. Being in private practice sometimes presents with a
paradox, it’s not something I am eager to tell everyone about, but at
the same time it is.
Either way, after I shared with her that I am a psychotherapist, she leaned forward and asked if it was truly possible to change your life through thinking. She further
shared that she had been informed that one could not think themselves
out of a problem and that problems were best addressed by changing habits.
This is the long version of what I shared with her. First, if you are going to change a habit (I presume an unhealthy habit) you are going to have to think up what the
replacement habit is going to be and have an idea or expectation
about how well the replacement habit is going to work for you.
The only time thinking doesn’t work in solving problems is if there is no follow through. Really, it’s not so much the thinking or thought processes, but a person’s core beliefs. If you have ever been led to believe that you can change an unhealthy habit without addressing your beliefs, feelings and thought processes, you are going to be disappointed or perhaps be in denial about being disappointed.
Habits are actions, reoccurring actions executed by living organisms (in this case human beings) are behaviors. All behaviors are a result of how we think, and how we
think is influenced by our feelings and our feelings are influenced by our core beliefs.
Let’s say you have a person who recently experienced an assault to her person hood. Let’s say that this person has core beliefs of self reliance and assertiveness. It wouldn’t be a surprise to people who know this person if she enrolls in some self defense classes to prepare her self in the event her safety were to be threatened or compromised by a perpetrator again.
So here you have a core belief of self reliance and assertiveness, influencing feelings of empowerment and courage, which leads to thinking that she should take some self defense classes which leads to evenings of practicing take downs at the neighborhood dojo.
So what happens if I receive a client who recently experienced an assault to her person hood, but she does not hold core beliefs of self reliance and assertiveness? This first part is tricky, because after establishing rapport and without offending her, I will have to get her to realize what her core beliefs are. Which will most likely be the opposite of self reliance and assertiveness. The truth is, a lot of people are in denial about their core beliefs, but their behaviors give them away, all the time.
Once a person without shame or self prejudice can identify an unhealthy core belief or beliefs, then that person is properly on his or her way to true recovery. Thinking your way to solutions, is relatively easy once you have gone through the emotional gauntlet of tackling your core beliefs. Mental health issues occur on a spectrum, however in the absence of structural damage to the brain or a chemical in-balance, lies a core set of beliefs that are
maladaptive to a person’s problems. From issues like poor anger management to chronic anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, these are all symptoms of flawed beliefs.
The short of what I shared with the cashier? It is unrealistic for anyone to adopt a new habit that deep down they have found no reason to believe in.
So what are your thoughts about this post? I do read all comments.
Ugo Uche is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions a small counseling practice based in Tucson AZ.