I was starving. It was my 1st day in a foreign country where I knew absolutely no one. And I had no place to stay due to some “technical issue” at the university’s international students’ office.
“I won’t make it here,” I thought, sitting in the middle of the deserted campus surrounded by my suitcases. “I’ll just go home and study something else.”
And then dad called.
“You can come back home if you want. But I know you. You’ll forever regret if you don’t at least try to thrive.”
I guess, from the tone of my voice, dad knew I wasn’t ‘doing terrific’ like I said I was.
He hung up and I thought “Can I really give up on my dream to help women feel comfortable in their bodies?”
As I turned my gaze to the blue sky, I saw a magnificent eagle gliding amongst the clouds. Back in 2007, the Medical and Health Sciences campus was literally in the middle of a jungle.
And I remembered a saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him):
No, this is not going to be a religious article.
My point is this: If you’re craving for change, for different results, you’ve got to take result-driven action. But you can’t move forward if you don’t believe you can.
In other words, do you truly want a healthier version of yourself? Then, you have got to challenge your beliefs.
You have got to peel your beliefs system layer by layer to see what lies beneath.
So, how do you challenge your beliefs?
Strategy #1: Take a step back. Name your limiting beliefs.
Look at your life right now – are the results you’re currently getting in your life those you always dreamt of?
Then press that rewind button aaaaaaalllll the way back to your beliefs system.
Because those results you’re currently getting, well, they stem from what you believe. Especially when it comes to beliefs you hold about:
- How deserving you feel about a living a life that you love
- How capable you believe that you are about making long-term changes
For instance, perhaps there’s a voice in your head that nags you with thoughts like:
- Eating healthy is hard. Tasteless. Too expensive. And time consuming.
- You don’t deserve to feel healthy / pretty / [fill in the blanks].
- You don’t have time for self-care. Or reading about health.
- People will make fun of you if you start sleeping at 10 pm!
- Your joints will always hurt no matter what you do.
- You can’t live without milk or crunchy baguettes.
- Why try to get healthier? You’ll fail anyway!
Or, my “favorite” : “My family has always eaten like I do. Yes, their health isn’t great but that’s cos of their age. Diet has nothing to do with their health issues. Naaaah, I won’t change my diet – I’ll just take meds.”
These beliefs are called limiting beliefs. They’re thoughts you have about yourself, or others, or the world at large, and which prevent you from achieving your true potential. Because they keep you stuck where you are.
And guess what?
We all have limiting beliefs! We all have a nagging voice in our heads.
You can’t strangle that voice to shush it. But you CAN choose to deconstruct it. You CAN decide to challenge your beliefs.
But... why is it so hard to challenge your beliefs?
According to a 2016 brain study, it appears that when our beliefs are challenged, the brain tries to protect itself by triggering negative emotions. Especially when it comes to long-held beliefs with which you identify yourself. Because challenging those beliefs = an ‘attack’ on the self. As a result, there needs to be a counter-attack (in this instance, negative thoughts).
Example: “Entire generations in your family have eaten pasta daily. And then you learn that modern wheat is one of the main contributors of inflammation. And you know that inflammation is behind many of your period problems and/or autoimmune flares.“
Do you think your brain will happily accept that ‘pasta is causing your health woes’?
Or that your brain will ‘react’ with thoughts such as ‘They’re all eating pasta 😡. If wheat is the culprit, why is everyone else healthy?’
The solution? Challenge your beliefs. You have to remind your brain something along the line of ‘Hey Ms. Brain. I am not my beliefs.’
REAL-LIFE STORY: CAFFEINE AND I – IDENTIFYING MY LIMITING BELIEF
When I first came across the Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP), the little voice inside my head screeched: “I’m SO not giving up coffee!!! I’ll be one very grumpy zombie without it. I’ve been drinking coffee for the past 12 years – I would’ve known if I reacted to it! ” And blah blah blah.
Weeks went by. Deep down I knew I had to go full-AIP. So, I wrote my fear down – seeing my inner voice on paper made me realize that it wasn’t a fact that I couldn’t give up coffee. It was just a thought. A limiting belief.
Now it’s your turn to challenge your beliefs. You can do it!
“CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEF” STRATEGIC ACTION # 1:
What are YOUR limiting beliefs? Just write ‘em down – use a notepad or an online document to help you organize your thoughts. (This exercise is pointless if you do it ‘in your mind’.)
STRATEGY 2: DIG DEEPER – FIND THE ROOTS OF YOUR LIMITING BELIEFS.
We all want to be healthy.
So why is it that we don’t ‘attract’ health?
Because of limiting beliefs – they program us to perform actions that will keep us healthy enough to survive. So, we’ll live our lives in ways that, for example, help us have juuuuust enough energy to go through the day. But not much more.
Why is it that we allow ourselves to only survive but we don’t allow ourselves to thrive?
Simple: because of beliefs we have about, let’s say, health. And that programming often comes from:
- Social media with all those “perfect” (read massively photoshopped) pictures
- The media with all its confusing and always changing “latest” diet tips
- Stories of recovery / healing process that look so neat and pretty
- Your environment – your past, your society
And maybe you:
- Think it’s unsafe for you to heal – If your digestion improves, you’ll have to attend parties. And you’re an introvert. * (Drum roll…)
- Are unwilling to heal – Maybe there’s a financial issue? Or you think healing demands too much energy (as in finding time to go grocery shopping, cook, etc.) Some people see benefits of being sick such as attention from others or the ability to take more days off from work.
- Don’t feel ready to heal – Perhaps you believe you need to do X, Y, Z before you can focus on healing.
- Don’t believe you can heal – It could be that you believe you don’t ‘have it in you’ to do what it takes to heal. Or maybe people told you ‘Oh, you just have to live with it. It won’t get better!’
- Don’t think you deserve to heal – This often comes from not feeling good about yourself, maybe because of what someone said in the past. Or something you couldn’t do but thought you should have been able to do easily.
The point here is there are a swarm of limiting beliefs. And you can’t conquer them all at once. You just need to take that first step.
REAL-LIFE STORY (CONTINUED): CAFFEINE AND I – NAMING MY ‘FEAR’
I thought long and hard about why I couldn’t give up coffee.
Coffee was what I used to unwind after internship hours or whenever I felt overwhelmed. Somehow holding a steaming hot cup of very strong black coffee gave me some emotional comfort and strength to carry on.
Plus, lecturers said coffee was bad. But I liked it. And I’m my own boss sooooo…
Reluctantly, I had to acknowledge that my limiting belief surrounding coffee stemmed from the fear of losing my safety/comfort net and becoming a stickler for the rules.
BUT being able to bring those fears to the surface slashed the power my limiting beliefs held over me.
Ready to feel “liberated”?
“CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEF” STRATEGIC ACTION # 2:
What fears, or uncomfortable thoughts, lie beneath your limiting belief? Write those down in this workbook.
Done? High-five yourself! I know it’s not easy to face fears head on.
Important: Please keep in mind that the voice inside your head isn’t your brain / body trying to betray you. It’s only trying to protect you using the flawed premise that you’ll be safe if you stay in your comfort zone and don’t step out into the scary unknown.
Strategy 3: Re-wire your brain – change your reality!
Same ol’ beliefs –> Same ol’ actions –> Same ol’ results!
Trying to change an outcome without editing those beliefs = Exercise of futility.
But how do you edit thoughts?
Through a process known as positive reaffirmation. This involves:
(i) Creating a new script to replace the nagging voice in your head and (ii) repeating the script daily while (iii) implementing a concrete action (described in “Challenge Your Habit” Strategy #4 below).
With time, your subconscious will accept the new message and your brain will be “re-wired”.
Yes, it may sound like some weird woo-woo. But think about it: if limiting beliefs come from self-programming in the brain, doesn’t it make sense to try to recode that program?
Now, I’m not saying you should stand in front of your mirror and lie to yourself. Or say stuff that you don’t believe in.
REAL-LIFE STORY (CONTINUED): CAFFEINE AND I – CHANGING MY REALITY
That’s what I wrote and repeated to myself: “I thought I needed coffee to keep me going. To act as an anchor. To help me relax. I’ve already given up so much and I don’t know if I have it in me to give up something else I love. But there are other ways, better ways to keep going and seek comfort. 15+ cups of coffee a day can’t be good for me. I’ll just decrease slowly when I’m ready – it’s okay to be imperfect. Plus, I need to try AIP for myself and to help my clients.’’
Notice that my new script didn’t say: “I’m the best dietitian the world has ever seen. I can stop drinking coffee cold-turkey whenever I want. I don’t need it.”
That second message wouldn’t resonate with me. But the first one, well, it’s realistic while being hopeful and kind. And that’s how you should talk to yourself.
“CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEF” STRATEGIC ACTION # 3:
· Redesign a new script for yourself – remember that the script needs to be true, honest, and specific for it to resonate, and gradually cause the old, untrue script to fade out.
· Write that script on post-it notes – stick them on your fridge, mirror, anything you look at often – or use sticky notes on your laptop.
· Read the script out loud, or write it down, several times a day until the old message becomes something that makes you smile and shake your head in a “I can’t believe I once thought that!’’ kind of way.
STRATEGY 4: KEEP IT REAL–CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY
You’ve identified your limiting belief, analyzed it, and have started to ‘recode’ it. Great work! But you still need to take result-driven action for the “brain rewiring process” to last.
Real-life story (continued): Caffeine and I – Making long-term changes
I drank coffee (i) as a stimulant and (ii) whenever I needed a moral boost. So, I told Sooraya, I’d exercise whenever I felt drained and that I would do something that brought me peace when I felt down.
And I can tell you that, in the sweetest way possible, Sooraya challenged and pushed me to overcome my limiting beliefs about coffee.
This is where having a confident, or a coach, can help. Someone to whom you can talk about your fears and struggles and who would give you honest feedback. Not someone to pat your ego and who’ll only tell you what you want to hear.
Having someone from the outside will help you with reality checks about what you’re doing and saying. Because, more often than not, limiting beliefs give us a skewed perception of our life because these beliefs act as tainted lens. And you won’t notice if you’re letting a fear or a limiting belief hold you back.
But you have to be willing to accept criticism. You have to want to be held accountable.
Ready to dip a toe in an ocean of possibilities?
Want to navigate your limiting beliefs in a productive way? With support from me, Sooraya, and a community of women who share similar struggles? Check out the course we’ll be offering soon .
When you challenge your beliefs and re-design them, you can transform your entire life.
Yes, it’s scary. It can feel lonely. Maybe you’ll stumble. But your beliefs will help spring you back to your feet. And you will grow on your journey into a happier, more peaceful, and healthier version of yourself.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE. YOUR BELIEFS. AND ONLY YOU CAN challenge your beliefs.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever tried to challenge your beliefs? How did that go? Share in the comments below.