“Take a temporary break from pursuing goals to find the knots in the garden hose that, once removed, will make everything else better and easier.” -Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans.
The chapter on The Dickens Process is a great exercise to help explore our mental blind spots. Tim summarizes the exercise which is part of Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power event. Tony can be a polarizing figure but regardless of your opinion, he has lots of ideas. Trying things is always a good idea. You should try this one.
The rub of the Dickens Process is that we may unknowingly be paying a high price for certain ideas we hold to be true. As with Ebenezer Scrooge and his visit from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, your beliefs may come at cost today as well as in your past and future. In keeping with my recommendation of living a life of intent, I love the idea of sitting down and assessing cost to make sure it is something you are okay with continuing.
What are your Core Beliefs?
Tim doesn’t explore how to find your limiting beliefs. He does it a bit in the chapter on Fear Setting, but that assumes your belief is a fear. As I wrote about before, you generally can explore limiting beliefs by turning on your radar for Absolutes. We call them All-or-nothing cognitive distortions in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive distortions act as a treasure map to find your limiting beliefs, which we call Core Beliefs.
One approach to find your limiting beliefs is to examine your language for these absolutes. One place they often live is in our self-assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. I recommend writing them out. What can you do? What can’t you do?
This will be very hard at first. You will likely do better at “can’t” than “can”. Heck, right there you may find a “can’t” – “I can’t come up with my strengths.” Like creative writing, keep at this process with discipline. It will crystallize eventually. Ideally you do this in a very private way that will promote you to explore vulnerabilities. You are trying to make the subconscious conscious. If it were easy I wouldn’t have a job.
Another strategy is to create or use an existing list of words that define human qualities. Here’s one. Then go through the list and circle ones you identify with and cross out those you don’t. When you’re done you should start to see a pattern of where your confidence and discomfort with yourself lie. Try to coalesce these into a basic statement about who you are and what you can or can’t do.
A final core beliefs survey exercise is to think about your goals and your dreams. What do you wish of yourself? What are your “if I could just ____, then I know things would be better”? Is there a dream career, partner, lifestyle you would love to wake up to tomorrow? When identified, ask yourself “why don’t I have them” and more importantly “what about me will keep me from achieving them by the end of the year/week/day?”
The more uncomfortable you can get with this exploration the more likely you are to find something that has been hiding in your blind spot. Remember, you are looking to expose subconscious ideas. Your Ego defense system has been working very hard to keep you from realizing these uncomfortable things. If you stay in your comfort zone your are unlikely to find something new in your self exploration. Like a parasite, these limiting beliefs may continue to hang on and steal your wellness.
The Dickens Process
Now that you have your 2 or 3 most limiting beliefs, let’s explore them. Tim has a script for this. Remember to try to push into some uncomfortable space.
What have these beliefs cost you in the past? What has it cost the people you love in the past? What have you lost because of this belief?
I will add that a provocative way to approach this is to write your life narrative. Getting your story down on paper can make a big difference in understanding the connected nature of our history. It’s one of the core components of the evaluation process in psychotherapy. We ask you about your life- where you’re from, who comprises your family, how school went, early memories, etc. That narrative often proves to be the most valuable sources of information about why you are the person you are today.
This references back to Melanie Klein’s Object Relation Theory I touched on with George. The experiences of our past, mostly childhood, set up a basic rubric or lens we will always reference for all future experiences. By writing your life narrative you will find the costs of your beliefs and the origins of the patterns that created that belief. Again, try to explore uncomfortable space.
What is each belief costing you and the people you love in the present?
I like to expand this again to a CBT process- journaling. With your limiting beliefs in hand, go through a week and task yourself to experience the cost in living motion. Write this down. The easiest way to do this is to text message yourself right as it happens. Assuming you don’t text yourself very often, it creates an easily accessible log you can audit later. You can also email yourself which would allow for categorizing.
For example, a person with a limiting belief that they aren’t good at their job would look for evidence at work and home of this thought. “A position opened up above me, but I won’t apply.” “My annual review is Friday and I’ve been stressed all week.” “I don’t have lunch with coworkers because it’s too uncomfortable.” “I was up late last night thinking about going back to school so I can change my career.” Each of those ideas is a quick text to yourself.
Another option can be to really examine your current whole-life avatar. For better or worse, modern human life is increasingly asking us to consolidate our identity into a few lines and a picture. As social media goes, we tend toward showcasing the best of ourselves. Instead take a moment and contemplate what your profile would look like if no one would ever see it but you? Who are you? Where are you? What do you do? If a camera crew followed you around for one day what would we see? When you have a sense of that assess how the you-of-today is affected by your beliefs. If those beliefs were different would you live somewhere else? Would you have a different job or career? What would your selfies look like if you didn’t have these beliefs.
Okay one more cool way to use social media as a mental tool- social media stalking! Get on your portal of choice and start looking at everyone’s most recent posts. Maybe focus on the last week. What are they doing? Where are they? What assumptions do you find yourself making about their lives? Your Ego defense’s wheelhouse is attaching seemingly logical value to the myriad of ambiguous inputs social media offers.
As an aside, I’d like to petition Instagram to change their name to “I think you’re better than me-agram.” I was kind of hoping Google Glass would work out. I would have created a new social media platform that automatically took pictures in places people tend to not share on social media. Isn’t it amazing how nobody on Instagram EVER eats at McDonald’s yet they serve millions every day? There’d be some sort of filter that if the camera detected kale in the visual field it locked out camera use. Same deal for national landmarks, beaches, and any burger that costs over $5. Instead it would use GPS to identify when you haven’t moved in over an hour, any time you haven’t showered in 48 hrs, and if you have streamed more than 2 episodes in a row of any show where the actors are more than 10 years younger than you. This app would dramatically change who we let people think we are. Alas, one can have dreams.
I wonder what belief is limiting me from creating that anyway? Maybe it’s my belief that this is all Google’s fault for not designing Google Glass into some Ray Bans.
What will your beliefs cost you and the ones you love 1, 5, 10, or 20 years from now?
Get out your crystal balls because it’s time to predict the future. Some people have a real problem with this from either a logistics or policy standpoint. “I have no idea. I’m not good at coming up with that stuff” (oh look it’s a limiting belief!) or “I don’t think people should fixate on the future” (another one!).
I really like thinking about the future as a creative process. It is remarkably informative about who you are and how your mindset engages the world. Odds are that if you have a negative assumption about where you will be in 20 years you also have a negative assumption about 20 minutes in the future. Or vice versa.
I also think our ideas about the future are less influenced by our Ego defense mechanisms. Anxiety or depressive disorders aside, there is a certain amount of time in the future that we experience as so far away our minds allow anything to be possible. I will argue there is likely a mathematical equation that can determine this using our age and some quantification of our personal risk tolerance. One way to assess this for yourself is to think about silly futuristic dreams. If you had $1 million and had to bet it on a year by which we will be guaranteed to have invented flying cars what would it be? What year would you feel confident saying we will have been to Mars by that time?
This may seem arbitrary but the next step is where we find value. Now that you have your year, and let’s assume you are still alive, write a story about your life then. Are there parts of that story where your beliefs still live? Is your Facebook profile in 2050 still living where you are now? Are you happy? Are you successful? How is 2050 you defining that?
You may notice here that I am selling hard on the creative process. So much so that I will argue that creative writing and acting should be consistent components of education at all levels. The mental muscles they each develop are so important to effective execution of human life. I will jump on my soapbox here a bit.
Our current education system is on the verge of a renaissance and I’m not sure it realizes that. The old/current system that focuses on memorization is as antiquated as the feather pen. Memorization and regurgitation will soon be unnecessary. With that change, or because of it, we will also see a redefining of the role of humans in the world. Robotics promise to make many aspects of our lives and more importantly many jobs obsolete. There will need to be a shift away from humans doing things and toward our unique abilities as a species.
An article I read recently posited that the unique abilities humans have is to care and to create. Very little of how we educate our future generations is instructive on either. Instead the arts are a dwindling force and mental health skill-building is restricted to those with pathology. A simple exercise like the Dickens Process could easily be part of an elementary school curriculum. It would teach creativity, problem-solving, and emotional interpersonal connectedness.
100 years ago education was a luxury. Maybe in 100 more years mental healthcare will no longer be restricted to those with pathology. Until that becomes a reality, give the Dickens Process or some other wellness training a try in your life. Then share it with your kids.
Pay Your Price with Intent
One addition I would make to Tim/Tony’s plan is that maybe the costs of your limiting beliefs are worth it. There is a trend in pursuing health and wellness that the best idea is always this phobic reaction to anything negative. Like Chris Sacca talks about in Tools of Titans and we explored last week, maybe we need a little sour to go with the sweet. I think the goal is to be able to say that you have intentionally allowed the sour. In medicine we call this informed consent. If you are of sound mind and have been made aware of the risks and benefits of your decision you have the autonomy to do as you please. So as you explore your limiting beliefs and assess their cost, finish it with an honest self-discussion of “am I okay with that cost.” If not, change. If so, stay the course. There may be consequences so be prepared. You do give up your right to complain in such a case.
If you focus on living a life of intent you can afford to hold as many limiting beliefs and your budget allows.
I like to compare our experiences of mental health to that of physical health. In physical health we have the fitness industry. It has crossover with diet and many other aspects of life. There is a basic structure in the lives of people with good physics health. They often spend time trying new things (fad diets and workout routines). They have periodic objective assessments of progress (checking weight, competing in sports, completing events that utilize their discipline). This system works very well.
We need to develop a culture of having similar systems for our societal mental health. Exercises like the Dickens Process are the TRX straps or Paleo Diet of mental health. Try it. See what it brings. Eventually find something else. Just keep trying and progressing. Always.