In all personal growth work designed to explore the mysteries of the inner realm it’s bound to come up sooner or later. It’s that roar of angst and frustration at the sticky grip a deep seeded belief can have. Arrgggh…all the work I’ve done and it just won’t let go! Years I’ve been working on this and I’m still living it out. Why!?
One of my clients (I’ll call him Todd) exemplifies the tenacious grip that some beliefs have. Todd was raised by his mother in a single parent household from the age of nine, and is the eldest of four siblings. Throughout his formative years, under the influence of his mother and his aunt, he was expected to shoulder the responsibilities of the eldest son in a family with an absent father: to be the caretaker of his siblings, do his fair share around the house, maintain excellent grades, follow the right educational path, and of course leverage that into a great career. “Being responsible for others is your duty” was drummed into him at every turn.
Thirty years on, this is how Todd lives his life. People expect him to do the responsible thing, and time and time again he does. The challenge facing him now is his acute awareness of having long lived a life for others; of laying aside his deepest desires out of concern for their wellbeing. And he feels utterly trapped.
There is a part of him that yearns to take flight and live his life, yet the gravitational pull of the need to be responsible keeps him stuck in a prohibitive pattern of thought, perception and behavior. I have worked with Todd on and off now for many years, and despite our work and his efforts, the effect of this belief continues to play out in his life. Has he improved? Absolutely. Is he free of it? Not yet – which causes him frustration and grief.
We have all seen or personally experienced the struggle to let go of conditioned beliefs, even in the face of dire consequences. Once a belief is established in the DNA of our being it can be very hard to dislodge and highly resilient to change. How can coaching effectively support the outworking of beliefs that are held so deeply they are wedded to the fabric of our self-identity?
One of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal is the power of conscious thought. Once we become aware of a mental pattern that is no longer working we have the choice to change our mind. We can change our mind at any time, and observe the immediate consequences of the new perspective.
The difficulty people have is that shifting thoughts occasionally does little if anything to build in and sustain a new pattern. There needs to be a concerted and consistent effort over a span of time in order to outwork the old belief and in work the new.
The mechanics of it are straightforward—V.C.R.: vigilance, choice, remedy. There is a need for heightened vigilance of thoughts and perceptions which arise from the belief, or of its telltale consequences (it is possible that a thought goes unobserved but its effects do not), and there is need for a remedial thought to supplant it. The willingness to be vigilant leads to increased awareness, and higher levels of awareness increase our capacity to make conscious choices.
In his book Power vs. Force David Hawkins talks about ‘will’ as the primary condition for shifting our consciousness to higher levels. “Higher levels can certainly be attained. In practice, great will is required…a constant repeated act of choice.”
Will is a key driver of all human growth processes, yet as people go through their daily doings, how many actually maintain such a high level of will, presence, and self awareness that they are almost immediately able to choose a new possibility for themselves whenever a limiting thought arises?
Most people are caught up in unconscious, automatic thought patterns. They are neither present nor vigilant to the products of their mind until, at last, they lift their heads up and take notice. It’s very difficult to outwork a deeply seeded belief through sporadic attention.
Yet, if a person willfully and with great consistency starts to think, for example, more lovingly about himself, he will experience the benefits of those loving thought patterns and sustain them for longer and longer periods of time. It is willfully initiated continuity of experience that is the most powerful means for supplanting a way of thinking, and coaches have a critical role to play helping clients understand this.
My own life experiences has shown me how easy it is to forget to remain vigilant to the activity of my mind or to neglect to connect an experience with the thought quietly playing in the background. It’s easy to allow my mind to fall back into routine patterns and to perceive through the lens of an outdated belief. But to catch myself, to stay highly present to what is happening in my mind, that is work. And since my mind is active 24-7, it’s a full time job! The old patterns are quite comfortable and will happily remain in place as long as I’m not paying much attention.
This is Todd’s pitfall. His mind is so preoccupied with his daily doings that he has little time or energy left for V.C.R. He professes a willingness to change but his actual attention to doing the work is sporadic.
V.C.R is not easy to do, but it is necessary work for those who want to move beyond a crippling belief. The world we perceive is neither solid nor immutable, it’s plastic and elastic and always amendable to a new way of perceiving.
But it requires V.C.R.