The other night, my nine-year-old son, Danny, told me about an argument he had at school. His friend didn’t believe something Danny had said, something he believed in deeply. Danny got angry and tried to convince his friend why he was right and the other boy was wrong. My son came to me because the fact that another person believed in something very different than what he believed really rocked his boat. He also didn’t like getting upset and wanted to know another way to handle this hard conversation.
I told him, the best ways to feel more grounded during hard conversations are to get perspective on what beliefs actually are and where they come from, and to be flexible and open to what the other person has to say. This flexible way of being can help him stay grounded, develop his sense of self, as well as increase his confidence. It was a wonderful conversation and Danny told me I should write a post about it, so here we go.
What is Belief vs. Truth?
First, Danny and I discussed what a “belief” actually is. I explained that his experience only “seems” real, and when that same experience repeats itself over and over again it becomes a belief. However, that belief is not necessarily true, it’s just his perception of the experience. And perhaps his friend had a different perception of what happened, and he feels equally strong about his belief based on his life experiences. So, even though the event was the same, the two boys perceived the experience very differently.
In that moment, I realized that as a human race we are all still fighting each other on differing opinions and belief systems. So this conversation revealed to me how early it all begins.
We also talked about the difference between truth with a capital “T” versus a little “t”. Truth with a capital “T” means it is true for everyone, such as love is love, or a lie is a lie; those are universal truths. Whereas, truth with a little “t” are differing beliefs that we have due to our different personalities or life circumstances that lead us to establish different belief systems. I explained to Danny that his truth about what happened was with a little “t” meaning it is true for him, but not necessarily true for everyone. And that the differing little truth of that other child didn’t have to rock Danny’s little truth, since these truths are based on different perspectives.
Being in the health and fitness industry, I see these differing belief systems primarily in how people eat. Some people are vegan, others have a paleo diet, others do the ketogenic diet, some never eat fruit, it goes on and on. In my experience, people have very different beliefs about what it is to be healthy. A healthy lifestyle, healthy weight, healthy diet — it’s all very individual.
Someone might feel success with one of these diets, and over time they create a belief system. So, let’s say someone does the paleo diet, and they eat fresh rather than processed food, they lose weight, have more energy, and feel great. Over time, this person gets attached to this way of eating and then creates a belief system that paleo is the “best way” to eat, and they argue with others about it. But, it’s still truth with a little “t” since others may have had a similar experience with another way of eating.
This same process can be applied to fitness programs, religion, and even love. Let’s say one person experiences love in a certain way as a child, it will be very challenging to dismantle that system, even if that system is not benefitting that individual. Even if the belief system is causing them to choose people that will repeat the hurt they experienced in the past, they will still make that choice because it’s familiar and they’ve learned to be okay with it somehow. Extracting them out of that belief system is very challenging.
Trauma solidifies belief systems even stronger, since these patterns are created in order to avoid having that experience again. I have experienced trauma in my life, so I understand it. Trauma gets stored in the body on the subconscious level, so we have to acknowledge that certain thoughts may arise automatically due to a belief system that was created during childhood (at the time the trauma occurred), even if, as adults, that system doesn’t work anymore. Both the fear and the way in which your mind figured out how to survive or avoid the cause of that fear are stored in the body, and you have to acknowledge that they are in there and that they can dictate your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is where somatic work is helpful, such as massage, Feldenkrais, drumming, yoga, tai chi — all of these acknowledge the body, the rhythm of the body, and are very useful for healing and unraveling these belief systems so that a person can let go of a belief that is not working for them anymore.
Be Open to Different Perspectives
As a Senior Health, Nutrition and Fitness consultant for Beachbody, I work with clients and have seen people get very attached to their way of eating and working out. When I ask them to be flexible regarding how they eat or exercise, they are resistant – it is very hard for them to make changes. But, I remember living that way; I know what that feels like. That familiar way of life, way of being and doing things, it feels safe. You get used to it and it may help you avoid the pain from the past. And it still serves a certain purpose — to keep things in control.
So, when my clients have the same problems for years and years, I ask them to look at their ways of being and ask if those methods are still benefitting their lives. Because if not, there are so many other ways of being to explore. But, when I ask them, I’m surprised how often they are able to see that their patterns are no longer the best, but still decide not to make changes…out of fear. Even though they are unhappy, they prefer to stay there, a place that is safe, a place that is known, as opposed to explore the unknown.
Be Flexible in Order to Be Grounded
To make this concept simple for my son, I explained the principle of flexibility. To develop the ability to be flexible, to be open, to not be afraid to let go of your beliefs and try something new, almost on a daily basis. That we don’t have to label ourselves or identify with just one belief system, such as “I am a vegan”, rather we can acknowledge that this belief serves me now, but I can remain open to different ideas or ways of being in the future.
Another example could be about fitness programs. Let’s say advanced-level workouts have served you in the past in that they’ve provided a certain level of physical fitness. But, perhaps now they are causing you to develop chronic fatigue. You realize that switching up your exercise and doing intermediate workouts might help you, but since the hard-core workouts give you a feeling of accomplishment, you may be too scared to let that routine go. You’re attached to the identity of being an “advanced-level” exerciser.
With my son, we explored ways he could be more grounded while having this hard conversation with his friend, and not get upset or be threatened by his different point of view. He could do this by being flexible. I told him “be like a jellyfish” — he loves jellyfish. Soft and moveable, so that he can be open to exploring other peoples’ perceptions and not get attached to his own beliefs as if they were the only way.
Create Safety in the Unknown
I’m getting into the concept of not being attached to an idea. Not being attached to a belief system, to explore feeling safe in the unknown. Feeling safe in not knowing who you will be tomorrow and re-creating yourself, trying a different way of being if the old way is not working for you anymore.
Here is an everyday example. Let’s say you cook breakfast for your family every morning and you’re just on automatic pilot. You make the eggs, toast, and shake the same way every day, and you always feel a pang of resentment while doing everyone’s dishes. What would it be like if one morning you pretend that this was the first time you’re making breakfast? How would you make the eggs, the toast, and the shake differently? How would you welcome your family when they come into the kitchen? How would you wash the dishes, or perhaps would you ask a family member to help? Getting curious about different ways of being in your life, and having the courage to try those new behaviors, rather than being stuck in a pattern, can open up powerful possibilities for changes in your life.
The purpose of all these beliefs is to create a sense of safety, to prevent you from feeling that pain from a past trauma again. So, if you remove that particular belief, you may feel suddenly unsafe for a bit, as if that original trauma will happen again. But, since the belief was made up to begin with, isn’t this feeling of safety also an illusion? If it’s that easy to remove that belief or change that pattern, were you actually safe having that pattern, or was it just an imagined sense of safety? For example, let’s say you are a gluten-free for 10 years, then one day you eat a bagel. If all it took was one bagel to rock your level of safety, were you ever safe to begin with, or were you just holding on for dear life to that way of eating, that belief system? If your identity is so easily rocked, what does that say about how solid you are regarding your sense of self? Realize that you can create your own safety, with or without these patterns.
Cultivate a Stronger Sense of Self
With a strong sense of self, you can be more fluid and open to exploring different ways of being. You could be completely different tomorrow. I’m not talking about reaching for sugary soda or a hot dog, not the destructive kind of change. But, the curious kind, the creative kind, the joyful kind… the curiosity of it all. Ask yourself, “What else could I expand myself into and how could I feel safe and complete in this moment? What could I imagine is a real sense of safety, real health, real knowing that I can be the best I can be?” You can explore it all. Be able to both listen to your own beliefs as well as other peoples’ beliefs without having to judge them as right or wrong, or push them away. All of that can easily coexist around you because you’re not rocked emotionally — you’re more grounded because you’re flexible. When you practice having a conversation without having to be right, you can really listen and be more curious and open about what the other has to say.
The message I drove home with my son is when we let go of these patterns from the past and are more flexible and curious about others’ viewpoints, we actually create a more solid sense of ourselves. If we get stuck and rigid about our belief systems, we limit ourselves from becoming a better, healthier, more joyful, and peaceful person. At the end of the conversation with my son, I gave him these questions to ponder: “Can you explore having these types of conversations with your friends without having to tell him why he’s wrong and why you’re right? Is it threatening to you to hear something completely different than what you believe in? Instead, can you be flexible and get curious about their point of view?”