It breaks my heart when I meet parents who have gone to workshops or worked with a coach and, despite some great insights, nothing really changed in their day-to-day life afterwards. They still got triggered in the same kinds of situations. They still had the same voices running in their heads. They still fell into their old reactions.
And although there may be many reasons for this, it's still deplorable. I mean, when you’re stuck in a swamp, what’s the point if someone is going to bring you a flashlight but no hip waders or tow ropes? All you’re going to do is see how stuck you are. For parents, it just confirms their worst fears: that they’re screwing up their child, screwing up parenting.
What I know, from my own experience and from the people I work with as a parenting coach, is that insight and self-awareness only take you part of the way toward your desired change. And today I want to talk about what takes you the rest of the way.
First, let’s talk about beliefs.
Most people seek out a mentor, teacher or coach because they have a conviction, a habitual way of seeing things, that’s holding them back. And although “limiting belief” is the popular term, it’s more accurately a conditional belief.
A conditional belief is the belief that if you do X, then Y will happen.
Remember, beliefs aren’t something you choose. You don’t walk by a storefront and think, Oh, I want to believe that.
No, beliefs don’t even occur as beliefs. They occur as truths - truths that have developed through your particular lived experiences. You came to see them as truths because of what you did, how you felt and the conclusions you reached somewhere in your past.
For the people I work with, their conditional beliefs are often about being a good or bad parent.
For example, a client first uncovered a belief that, if she gave her son lots of opportunities, then he would be successful. As her coaching program progressed and we delved deeper, she revised this to: “If I give my son lots of opportunities, then he will be successful and I will feel like I’m a good parent.”
This is often hard to see in ourselves. And hard to admit.
How to Change a Conditional Belief
1. Recognize you have a conditional belief.
Don’t skip over this one; it’s not as obvious as you might think.
Our egos are pretty clever at hiding things from our awareness. Recognizing a conditional belief means taking a close look at the thing you hold as true, either the broken record in your head or as demonstrated by your reactions and habits.
Here are few I’ve encountered:
If I take time for myself, then things won’t get done and I will be seen as a selfish parent. If I stay on top of everything, then I will avert catastrophes and be seen as a good parent. If I let my son go to school without a jacket, then I’m a negligent parent. If I save her from hassle and heartache, then she will be happy and I will feel like I’ve done a good job of parenting.
What are some of your conditional beliefs about parenting?
If I do _____, then ____ will happen.
Let’s get these out in front of ourselves. Let's write them down and say them out loud so we can begin to wonder... Is this really true? What experiences have substantiated this? Could it more accurately be called 'something you have come to believe as true'?
This is the first step in changing a belief: seeing it as a belief, not an absolute truth.
And beware. Your ego will try to maintain the status quo. It will hold on firmly and do everything it can to convince you that this is actually how things work. It’ll try to divert you with fear, self-doubt, panic, or a deep thick fog… Just keep going.
2. Identify the new belief.
What would be a healthier way to see this? What perspective would be more in alignment with who you are now? What narrative do you actually want running through your head?
Taking time for myself replenishes my energy.
When he goes to school without a jacket, he’s experiencing his autonomy.
The question to ask yourself is: what belief/truth do I want to carry forward in my life?
3. Create new lived experiences that corroborates the new belief.
It’s too bad you can’t just choose a new belief and believe it.
You can aspire toward it but you can’t just will it to happen. You can see it, name it, want it and get excited about it. But the new belief has to compete against a lifetime of experiences that substantiated the old belief. There have been thousands of moments where a certain conclusion was forefront in your mind and its evidence was anchored in your body. You're carrying all that within you.
So you need to have new experiences that substantiate your new way of seeing it.
Before we go any farther, let's remember the dangers of taking a big jump right into a new belief and acting like it’s true. If you want to be able to climb more efficiently at high elevations and you start on Mt. Everest, then your belief that you lack high-elevation skills will be corroborated, right? If you want to be more easygoing in your interactions with your big kid and you start ignoring your instincts and suppressing your opinions, it'll most likely cause tension, not ease.
So what actions can you take to support your desired belief?
What works to create real, sustainable change is daily actions that create the lived experience, repeated daily, so you’re shifting your course one degree at a time.
The parent who feels they cannot take time for themselves might begin with noticing where they actually do take time for themselves, maybe something as simple as putting on moisturizer, and savor those moments more thoroughly. Or they might create a 2-minute window each day for a sweet little ritual.
You cannot change a built-in belief without taking incremental actions that will have outcomes landing in your being. You can’t just will it to happen. Your body has to sense it and register it.
Flex your muscle a bit each day - that’s how you enact a new belief.
If you’re wanting to change a conditional belief about your parenting, think of new moves to create an actual lived experience of your new belief system. Not to get certain outcomes, but actions that build your abilities in this area so your experience of yourself in this area shifts.
When you experience yourself repeatedly in a new way, you come to believe something new about yourself.
This is real sustainable change. This is how you close the gap between what you want to change about your parenting and actually changing it.
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