On paper, Naomi had a lot going for her. Smart and well-educated, a college professor, Naomi has a quick wit. She made me laugh the first time we met. She is tall and athletic, attractive and, when she wants to be, quite stylish. Her best friend talked her into hiring me as a dating coach. She wanted to find love, but she kept getting in her own way. When I told her about singles events in the area, she always made an excuse for why she wasn’t going to go. Finally she admitted, “No one is going to want to talk to me. Besides, the men just go to those things so they can have sex.” No matter how earnestly I explained that just was not true, she was firm in her belief.
There were many things about which Naomi was absolutely certain. First dates are always disastrous. Men don’t want women unless they’re 15 years younger. On-line dating is based on lies. On-line dating is for the desperate. Or losers. Or sex-fiends. No matter what evidence or logic I presented to Naomi, her outlook was so entrenched that, though I’d see a glimmer of hope now and then, she always fell back into the safety of her negative beliefs.
Why do I say safety, when her beliefs obviously made her unhappy? They were safe because they were familiar. Believing differently would throw how Naomi was living her life into question, and that is scary.
She grudgingly agreed to create an on-line profile. I helped her, though she did not want to invest much effort into the endeavor. Why? She was positive that internet dating would not work for her. And sure enough, it didn’t. It worked fine for several of her friends, but somehow Naomi got very few first dates.
It took a long time, but gradually Naomi came to understand something that turned her world upside down: Our beliefs don’t just define us, they control us. Beliefs manifest as emotions and thoughts, and all our actions reflect those emotions and thoughts. We make every decision (even seemingly inconsequential ones that can have far reaching reverberations) based on our—often deeply hidden—beliefs.
To go back to Naomi: she believed that no man would want to talk to her or date her. She believed that so deeply that everything she did on eHarmony or Match.com reflected that truth as she knew it. If a man sent her a message or expressed interest, she was so sure he was not being genuine that she often did not respond, or she’d write back sounding morose, distrustful, or uninterested. When I pointed out how her responses might be interpreted by these men, she was genuinely shocked. She had not realized how her beliefs were making her behave—as if without her consent! But by stubbornly holding onto limiting beliefs, Naomi was giving consent. She started to see the light, at last.
What does this mean for you?
You can change your experiences by reframing your beliefs. Reframing is a way of changing how you look at something, which, in turn, changes your experience of it. When Naomi finally reframed how she looked at dating and men, she started to have fun. She started to trust. She met an awesome man on eHarmony and they’ve been dating happily for 10 months.
Research shows that pessimists like Naomi experience much higher stress levels and achieve less success than optimists. Even if you are a glass-half-empty person, you can change your outlook in some key ways without changing your unique and special soul! Reframing your beliefs sounds hard, but it starts with reframing your thoughts, which may seem a more accessible concept. There are many benefits of learning to reframe thoughts:
✓ Discovering your limiting beliefs and re-writing them will enable you to achieve goals that have been out of reach. (Don’t forget Naomi. It was a long path of discovery but she rooted out every last limiting belief until she was able to go for exactly what she wanted.)
✓ Interpreting a situation differently allows you to create new meaning which is hugely liberating. (Think of a personal example: a break-up or job loss, maybe. If you could find meaning in that experience other than “I’m a loser” or “I have crappy luck,” imagine the possibilities.)
✓ Understanding that every negative thought started with a positive intention will increase your self-confidence (not to mention help you understand and be kind to yourself). You don’t have to turn a mistake into a learning experience—all you have to do is realize that it is one.
✓ Opening your mind to possibilities is a much more fruitful approach than closing it with (a false belief in) limitations. “I can’t do that,” results in one thing–you don’t even try. “I can do that,” might result in failure, at first, but gosh, if Thomas Edison said “I can’t do that” I’d be writing this blog by candlelight.
✓ Reframing thoughts and beliefs gives us hope, and a better perspective on ourselves and the world.
You might ask: “Okay, so how do I reframe my thoughts?”
- Discover your limiting beliefs. Be an observer of your own thinking. This requires vigilance, but it can be kind of fun if you keep your sense of humor. Say, “Gotcha!” every time you catch yourself driving on the rutted road of tired old negative thoughts. Ask yourself, does this idea limit me, hold me back, mess with my mojo?
- Challenge the thought. Once you’ve caught yourself in the act (and said, “Gotcha”), ask yourself, “Is this really true?” Naomi might ask, “Wait, are all first dates really disastrous? After all, my friend Larry had a great first date just last week….” Then ask yourself: “How can I look at this from a different perspective? Is this situation a real threat? What can I learn? What are some solutions? What am I assuming?”
- Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. When thinking about something that has happened, look for the gift in the situation. When pondering your next move, tell yourself “I can” not “I can’t.” Don’t wonder “Why me?” Instead say, “Yes me!” But also, don’t beat yourself up for having negative thoughts. Look for the initial positive intention and work with that. Use kinder words to reframe it. E.g., instead of “right” or “wrong” use “useful” or “not so useful.”
Reframing your beliefs does not mean you deny reality or pretend sad is happy or bad is good. It’s about perspective. If you are turned down for a second date (sad), you can think, “I’m a reject” or “Men/women are shallow” (both very negative) or you can think, “What I have to offer does not work for him/her at the moment” or “His/her decision is not about me; I know I’m worthy.”
There is a technique I use in my coaching that works very well. In fact, it is what finally helped Naomi turn around and reframe her beliefs about herself, dating, and relationships. Starting with the three steps above, you:
→ Discover your limiting beliefs (you can ask a friend, coach, therapist to help you with this).
→ Rewrite them—literally on a piece of paper. Transform the belief before you write it down. (You don’t want to reinforce the negative belief by committing it to paper.) “I am not worthy” is transformed to “I am worthy” and written down. “Dating is stupid and pointless” becomes “I will enjoy dating until I find my match.” And you write it down. “Men/women can’t be trusted” is reframed as “There is a wonderful man/woman out there for me.” Committed to paper—your list of reframed beliefs.
→ Say them. Out loud. For 30 consecutive days. (And if you are the overachiever type, say them twice a day, especially just as you wake up or are falling asleep when your brain is most receptive.)
→ And here’s where I am quite the taskmaster. If you miss a day, you have to start over from the beginning!
Why does this work? This regimen literally reprograms the brain and is based solidly in science. NASA and other highly reputable research agencies have confirmed again and again that new neural pathways can be created in the brain through such means as simulation, imagination, repetition, and affirmation. If you think of your limiting beliefs as having created grooves in the road you travel, then you can change where you drive on that road, thus creating new tire tracks which begin to define your path in a totally new way.
Reframing your beliefs about anything—but for our purposes, about romance, dating, and relationships—can transform you from feeling powerless to being powerful within your own life. The frogs on the lily pad will suddenly appear as the princes (or princesses) they really are when you reframe the way you see, think, and believe.