How to Change A Belief

By October 12, 2012 15 Comments


A few years ago, I was working with a great coach, someone who had been a therapist for over twenty years and then transitioned into coaching.

I was on a call with her, while on a writing retreat in Santa Fe. I paced around the patio of our little cottage there, talking to her on the cell phone.

We talked about some area of my life I wanted to change (I don’t now remember what. There have been so many over the years…) and we stumbled upon some belief I was holding that was getting in the way of me making that change.

She asked me a question I never forgot.

She said, “Now Tara, do you have a process for changing your beliefs?”

She said it like, “Do you have milk in the house?” Or “Do you have a wrench?” Like this was something everyone needed in their internal “home,” in their toolkit.

She was right. We all need processes for consciously changing our beliefs.

Why? I think of it this way: As we grow up, and particularly in childhood, we interact with wounded people and the wounded world. From those interactions, we learn lessons, and we draw conclusions. Broad conclusions like these: “This is how men are. This is how women are. This is what happens when we share your emotions. This is what happens when you get angry. This is what happens when you make a mistake.”

In other words, we generalize. Consciously we might know that there is no one way that “women are” or no one outcome of “getting angry.” But underneath those conscious thoughts, there are often unconscious or barely conscious beliefs — generalized beliefs, that have been developed out of very specific, individual experiences.

The problem, of course, is that we generalize way too much from what we learned. Your partner is different than those junior high boys who formed your beliefs about what men/boys want. The boss you have now is very different than that first boss who shaped your beliefs about “how bosses are.” Maybe your family punished you for expressing anger but now — expressing anger would lead to a deepening — not a destruction of your relationships.

So part of living wisely is updating and changing our beliefs. Pressing the refresh button on them.

So now, are you wondering HOW we actually do this–how we change our beliefs? If so, today’s post comes with a free gift, a worksheet that takes you through my 8 step process for changing a belief. Check it out HERE (PDF) or HERE (editable word doc).

Love & gratitude





Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Lauren says:

    For my first 40 years I believed being good at life meant being good at everything. I have just recently learned that it is okay to have stuff you don’t excel at or you’re simply not interested in. I have a neighbor with an amazing looking yard. She’s constantly outside trimming away at her lawn with a scissors and picking up each new fallen leaf by hand. I was always jealous of her persistence and her lawn until one afternoon I saw the Shwann’s truck pull up to deliver her week’s worth of meals. It was an aha moment for me! She’s mastered the lawn but she doesn’t do cooking. Now I feel better and know I can pick and choose too.

  • For a very long time, I believed I was broken. Ruined, to be completely honest. And through breaking down (seemingly) a million little beliefs, I finally saw that. For me and many of my clients and peers, it seems that the seeing of the belief is 80% of it, at least! And now I know I’m whole. Healthy. Happy. The freedom in that is bigger than I can describe.

    Thanks for this, Tara, and for all you do.

  • David Lance says:

    Step 1: Do whatever work is required to recognize the negative thought. Quite often it boils down to a core thought such as “I am not good enough.” “I am not wanted.” “I am not smart enough.” Etc. The more boiled down you can get it, the better. If you want to fundamentally transform a house, it is better to change the foundation than the roof.

    Step 2: Construct a statement that is the opposite of the core belief. “I am good enough.” I am wanted.” “I am smart enough.” Etc.

    Step 3: Obtain a college-ruled notebook. College-ruled notebooks have 30 lines per page. On the first page of the book, count down the first ten lines, then make a subtle mark on the edge of the page. Count down the next ten and make another mark.

    Step 4: Now write your replacement thought on the left side of the first line. “I am good enough.” Immediately after you write this, your ego will kick out a negative retort. Sometime with great flourish and colorful language. WHATEVER it kicks out, right it down to the right of the positive new belief. So the page will look something like this:

    I David am good enough. Bullshit.
    I David am good enough. Bullshit.
    I David am good enough. This is such crap.


    Repeat this process for all ten lines. On the eleventh line, change the narrative mode to second person. So lines eleven through twenty look like this:

    You David are good enough. Yeah? You’re crazy.
    You David are good enough. You are out of your mind.
    You David are good enough. This is such crap…

    On the 21st line, change the narrative mode to the third person. So these look like this:

    David is good enough. Yeah? That’s not what I heard.
    David is good enough. Why do you believe such a lie?
    David is good enough. Maybe…

    Write this new belief 30 times in this way the first thing after you wake up, and the last thing you do before you go to sleep at night. Do it for a month, and watch the world around you change to accommodate your new belief. (Try it yourself.)

    When you do this process, you are reprogramming that part of your mind that is outside of your conscious awareness. It is like dripping water, one drop at a time, into a glass of mud. Overtime, the mud will flush up over the edge of the glass (with the response – no matter how negative), and will be replaced with the pure new thought. If you do it long enough, and with enough diligence, the glass of mud will be transformed into a clean glass of water.

  • claire says:

    Hi Tara, this is very timely, as I realised the other day that I was holding a belief that my art work is not good enough to be in a major gallery (even though it is right now in a major gallery!!). It stems back to not feeling good enough and that my work is not good enough to be considered real art! Even though the world is telling me different things, I realised this is holding me back as I am discounting myself from things rather than being open to what the world has to over. Half the battle is know that though it there so you can work on challenging it and changing it. I might give David’s suggestion above ago and see what happens.

  • A simple technique that I’ve learned. Observe yourself as if you were in a play. It has helped me see myself and the cast of characters that surround me from a different point of view.

  • Lynn Cook says:

    This post is very timely for me, thank you!

    The belief that I’d like to change is: ‘Other people know what’s best for me.’ I’m going to try out ‘I can say what I’d like to do.’ today. It might be difficult because I’ve been going along with for so long, but it might be surprisingly easy. I think the difficult thing for me is articulating why I want to do certain things, but perhaps ‘just because’ is enough reason.

    With thanks,


  • I’m currently working to challenge every belief I hold: Religion, relationships, my own purpose and abilities. Trying to question everything, take nothing for granted. Like anything else, it can become a habit so that when a belief creeps in masquerading as fact, there’s a curious voice that responds – almost automatically – with “But really?”

  • Susan says:

    Challenge minus ‘lle’ (lousy, lame excuses) = Change, which is always for the better.

    I heard the above a long time ago – I’m still learning it, though lately some days I actually succeed. If not, there’s always tomorrow to try again. ==j==

  • Karen Steele says:

    Love this article! I think our beliefs are one of the biggest things that can hold us back in life. I became aware of this concept a few years ago and shifting my beliefs is changing my life. Often when we hold these limiting beliefs we look for things around us to confirm what we believe is true. It can really filter our perception. One of the first things I ask myself is “how true is this belief really” and then I start to find examples that highlight to me it is really a limited way I am thinking. Now I have created a business I truly love once I was able to shed that “I don’t have what it takes to start my own business.” I love the work you do Tara!

  • Dianne Juhl says:

    I agree with you re: refreshing our beliefs. It is essential given we live in changing times and throughout our lifetimes we will make several transitions. I’ve been working to change some beliefs about wealth on a personal meta-level and to do this, I use an unconventional approach: writing poetry. Your beautiful words in this blog are like poetry and that worksheet is excellent too. Here’s a poem written in this Autumn season about changing a belief and living a charmed life 🙂

    “The Enchanted Life”

    A lone leaf, released by tree,
    Wafts and spirals downward
    Imagining anyone can work magic

    If she can wait,
    If she can think,
    With a goal in mind

    Leaf is drawn towards,
    She lets herself drop,
    Wind does not trouble her,
    The course fixed inside this one,

    Who allows nothing
    Confound her belief
    To become a fairy boat,

    Drifting gently on the river
    Sailing beneath maple tree boughs
    Navigating by compass and radar vision
    Autumn’s musky perfume floating too, on air

    Your soul sings likewise,
    For this re-enchantment of everyday life;
    It requires very little of us —
    Only that we believe it.

    Poem by Dianne Juhl
    Inspired by Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha”
    Photo by Novembergale in New York
    Postscript: The “belief” and “be leaf” pun intended 😉

  • A belief I was given in childhood and was reinforced in adulthood surfaced today. So your article helped me see it and myself more clearly. The belief: People will steal your ideas, your chances to make it. So, don’t answer others questions or help them in any way.

    To act on the belief feels small, tight and bad. The belief is based in feelings of fear which leads to feelings of jealousy, competition. I hate it.

    My first impulse…not to help the person. When I saw my jealousy, competitiveness was really my own fear. I realized the fear is a feeling, not reality. I could help and still be successful and abundant. I had experience she didn’t have and needed, so I helped. The change: I realized that helping her made me feel better, stronger and less fearful.

  • Just discovered your site and blog through Marianne’s Facebook post. Wonderful find! I am dedicated to leadership as well and am passionate about helping my sister’s voices sing. I coach and blog too, but I’m on the front end of this new work, having been in education for 25 years.
    I’ve worked on many issues over the years, but a few biggies for me were releasing judgements of others (often growth and being “right” just don’t mix) and getting defensive. I feel infinitely better and able to think from a more compassionate mindset.
    I will dig into more of your posts. For now, it’s great to meet you here online!

  • Ralph Borrelli says:

    I’m not sure how I got onto a “women’s only” blog. But I have read a few of your writings, and am favorably impressed. I happen to believe that there should be more equivalence in all respects between women and men in this world. I guess that’s the way I perceived the world while being raised by a strong mother figure versus a weaker father figure. Anyways, I think women should be given a stronger and bigger chance to rise beside men in this world in such things as politics (especially), work-related issues (including and not limited to breaking through the “glass barrier” as I think they call it) etc. And, I strongly believe that men should learn with help from women how better to respect women, to communicate (especially their deepest feelings without shame), with women and children, how best to be true friends with others, to be more generous and giving, to be more forgiving, to be more courageous (on, but especially away from the damned battlefields of this world) on a day-to-day basis, etc. Can we help each other by sharing our strengths instead of constantly do battle from positions of real or perceived weakness? The world would be a much better place with what I am looking for – more ACCORD not division. Ciao, and thank you, Tara. Keep up the great work!

  • […] OK, so… if I would like to believe it, I’d better start acting like I do. […]

  • Sherron says:

    i have lots of beliefs that are creating problem in my life. i am trying to change them but changing them is not a easy task. from the very beginning of my life i have made strict rules for me. for example boys are very bad creatures, they only what to physically exploit you (because of this i became insecure in my relationship,some time i think my boyfriend is cheating me), never hide any thing from parents,do as they say, falling in love and sex before marriage is wrong (because my parents will not approve of this and according to them society will consider you bad), for last 21yrs i was following my rules but situation changed and i established a relationship, which i have to hid from my parents. this brings strong guilt feeling, i know i didn’t do any thing wrong…but still facing problem and depression in my life.

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