If your unhelpful thoughts continue to come back, despite your attempts to challenge them, you may have hit upon a core belief. As you know, core beliefs are deeply held and resistant to change. Therefore, automatic thoughts that are difficult to let go of are likely to be closely related to a core belief. You can test this out by taking your automatic thought and asking yourself a series of questions to get to the roots of it. For example:
What is the automatic thought?
“I screwed up and let everyone down”
What’s so bad about that?
“They’ll judge me and think I’m stupid”
And what is bad about that?
“They won’t want to work with me anymore”
And that’s bad because?
“I’ll have no friends and no purpose”
What does that say about me?
“I don’t belong” (core belief)
Through this series of questions, Rob identified a core belief. You can use these questions to identify your own core beliefs. Challenging your core beliefs takes time, and it is best to do this only after you have become skilled at challenging automatic thoughts. However, it is possible to shift core beliefs over time.
When you are ready to do this, we suggest you make a list of all the experiences that disprove or go against the core belief. This process is similar to the ‘examining the evidence’ technique introduced above. You need to find evidence that goes against your core belief. This is to make sure that we don’t just focus on information that confirms our unhelpful beliefs. Once you have a comprehensive list, you can come up with a more balanced core belief.
The next step is to gather evidence to support your new core belief. You can do this in many ways, for example:
- Think about past experiences that support the new belief
- Pay attention to new information that confirms the new belief. Keep a daily log of experiences and evidence that reinforces this more helpful view of yourself.
- Test out your new core belief by using behavioural experiments. We talk more about behavioural experiments next week, but the general idea is that you act as though the new belief is true and you examine the outcome.
- Seek out opportunities that reinforce your new core belief. Think about how a person who may have this core belief might act on a daily basis and mirror this behaviour. List these experiences in your daily log of evidence to support your new belief. For example, you might aim to be more assertive, seek out challenges rather than avoiding them, and prioritise fun over achievement.
The main thing to remember is that patience is key. Changing core beliefs is hard work and will likely take time and lots of practice. Examining the evidence is not something you do once here. Instead, it is a continuous process that you will need to engage in over time. Think of your old core belief as an established, fast flowing river. In forming a new core belief, we are essentially trying to dig a new river bed and divert the water towards it.
This metaphor represents the old and new pathways in your brain. The pathway for your old core belief is well established. Each time you activate it, it gets stronger. To establish a new pathway, you need to consciously redirect your attention and efforts towards it. The human brain has an amazing ability to rewire, relearn and strengthen important pathways. Over time, you will notice that your old belief gets weaker and your new belief gets stronger.