How to develop more helpful beliefs.

Write a list of some of the things you believe about yourself. They can be positive or negative. Usually people write a long list of negative things about themselves and overlook their positive qualities.

Are you a winner or a loser? A tortoise or a hare? What do you think about your physical appearance? Your intellectual ability? What would your good friends say you are?

Look at the good things on your list. What’s really good about them? Spell those out for yourself. Are these some of your strengths? How do they help you?

What’s so bad about the “bad” things? Are they objectively bad? Do these things really hold you back in your life – or do you only believe they do?

What can you do about the things that do actually hold you back in life? Can you make some changes here?

Can you change the way you think about these things? Think back to where these beliefs came from? Are they true for you, and if not can you change these beliefs? Hint – try thinking the opposite to these beliefs.

Awareness is the key to letting your mind out of the trap. Raising your consciousness about your mental habits means that you can begin to change the negative aspects of your life.


Another tip is to be aware of your values

First make a list of your values. Many people are unfamiliar with the concept of values, but we operate with them on a daily basis.

If you are not sure what values are, Google them! Some values which you may have or hold may be:

  • Honesty, integrity, perseverance
  • Patience, tolerance, thriftiness
  • Hard work, reliability, good humour
  • Kindness, courage, humility.

Add some of your own values to this list:

Of course there are many more, but you get the idea? Make it your intent to bring your best values to the forefront of your mind as much as possible.


Get out of the stress trap – use your mind to help you cope with stress.

When you are under stress how do you cope?

Lose the plot?

Worry yourself to death?

Fall in a heap?

Fight with everyone around?

Eat like a horse?

Drink like a fish?

Smoke like a chimney?

Avoid the problem?


Now is the time to step back, and think.

List any strengths that you find helpful

List any beliefs in your own ability that help you through stress

List any of your values that are helpful in managing stress. For example – tolerance, persistence, or patience. If you are keeping these at the forefront of your mind they will help guide you through a stressful period.


Now look at your beliefs, if you’re stressed they are usually negative.

List any beliefs about your ability that are not helpful in managing stress

Is there evidence that these unhelpful beliefs are true or are you just being hard on yourself?

If there is “evidence” in the truth of these beliefs, where did this “evidence” come from? Do you have an example for this evidence?

If you did stuff up a while back in a similar situation? How bad is it really? Should you still be beating yourself up about it, or could you forgive yourself and let it go?

What are your standards for completing a task? Perfection? If so, is this realistic and helpful?

Are your standards realistic or unrealistic? If they are unrealistic how can you change them to a more realistic standard?

If your stress comes from a person, for example a bully boss, check your thoughts. Are they catastrophic or realistic. Are others having the same problem? What choices do you have in the situation. What skills do you need to cope?


Get into a habit of being aware of your thoughts and attitudes and behaviours.

Decide what is helpful for you and try and weed out any unhelpful beliefs, attitudes, values or behaviour.

When you are under stress you need to monitor your thoughts, because if they are negative, they will be unhelpful and increase your stress level.


Do affirmations help?

Many people swear by affirmations, and you may be thinking that a few affirmations might give your self-esteem a boost or help you cope with stress.

Saying affirmations to yourself could backfire, according to some research scientists who were investigating the truth and efficacy of positive affirmations.

They found that people with low self-esteem who said super positive affirmations to themselves were more likely to feel worse afterwards, and were better off thinking their usual negative thoughts. So saying to yourself 10 times “I am a lovable person” when your self-esteem is in the pits is likely to convince you that you are never going to be lovable.

On the other hand, people with high self-esteem who repeated this affirmation to themselves were more likely to benefit. Doesn’t seem fair does it?

How to do it better

However some other researchers were looking for ways to implant a positive and effective health message in the brain of participants in a study on behaviour change and they found something interesting.

They divided the study participants into three groups. The primary group was given behavioural change health information. They had previously been asked to think of their values related to family and friends, religion, politics or the like. They were asked to select one of these groups and rank their values for a concept. For example a top rank could have been the value placed on long term love or friendships into the future. This was coupled with a health tip, for example that being sedentary was not good for health in the long term, and exercise or moving was a more healthy option.

The second group was just given the behaviour change information and the control group was asked to select values not particularly important to them.

The researchers found that the group who were asked to make an affirmation about a time in the future when thinking about their valued group, for example their family and friends, just prior to receiving their behaviour change information did much better than the other two groups.

The researchers reasoned that because the participants were focusing on their happy thoughts about the future, the actual behavioural health change information did not seem so threatening and was more likely to be accepted. That is, they had less negativity about exercise.

So the lesson to be learned is, if possible, to place your challenge or threat in your mind just after thinking about very positive thoughts about valued things or people in your future. So coupled with happy thoughts about the future, a negative belief like “I’ll never get through this” seems to fade into the past and not seem so important and you feel affirmed.

The science behind this: The behavioural change link plus the ability to take in the message as relevant to the self, and having value, seems to increase the neural activity in the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (VPFC) associated with behaviour change, but you knew that anyway didn’t you?


Refs: Psychology Today on affirmations by Ray Williams, 05.05.13

The Pump Handle Research on affirmations posted by Kim Krisberg on 06.02.15

© Kathleen Crawford