Core beliefs can be difficult to uproot

“Are you all right?” I asked. “There’s broken glass all over you.”

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”

— Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, mathematician, historian and social critic.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “There’s broken glass all over you.”

“I’m alright,” replied Ralph, brushing the glass from his shoulders.

I had run outside when I heard the crash and subsequent scream. My neighbour Ralph was just climbing out of his pickup truck. The rear window had been shattered completely. Ralph’s wife was standing nearby — obviously shaken — and scolding him for his foolishness.

On this particular weekend, Ralph had been attempting to remove an overgrown shrub from his front yard. Cutting it down had been the easiest part.

Removing the deep-set roots was another matter altogether. Ralph had dug and chopped most of Saturday away.

At one point he even took on the persona of an axe-wielding maniac as he cursed and chopped frantically at the roots.

In frustration, he had chained the mass to the bumper of his truck. When the chain broke, the end flew through the rear window, narrowly missing the back of his head.

Core beliefs are deep-rooted patterns of thought and behaviour defined by our various assumptions and expectations.

Typically formed early in life, core beliefs can be as difficult to uproot as Ralph’s shrub. Yet, shifting core beliefs is fundamental to improving self-esteem.

Perhaps you’ve figuratively chopped, dug and tugged at old self-defeating beliefs only to find them still firmly rooted in your psyche.

Changing a deeply embedded core belief can prove a daunting task, but necessary if you desire positive and permanent change in your life.

Core beliefs typically function below the level of our conscious awareness.

For most of us, we mastered our way of thinking and being long ago and thus no longer need to bring conscious awareness to it. It has — unconsciously — become our emotional default setting.

Certain core beliefs serve and support our well-being. For example, if (at your core) you believe in the value of hard work, you’re likely to be industrious.

If you believe in the value of kindness, you’re likely to be empathetic.

If you believe in the value of community, you’re likely to be involved in local politics or volunteer for local boards and organizations.

One way to unearth core beliefs is to notice what you say to yourself during times of stress. Do you say such things as, “Why did I try?” or “I knew I would fail”? Likely, these statements are the result of a core belief that you’re undeserving or incapable of success.

Here’s a common theme when it comes to core beliefs: no matter how many people disagree with you or present information to the contrary, you incessantly refuse to release your grip on these inviolate truisms.

And typically, as you get older, you’ll hang on even more tightly to these apparent maxims. If asked, you might not even be able to answer why. That doesn’t mean that change is impossible, but change will likely take time, effort and commitment.

To understand how core beliefs function, we must first acknowledge these four components: core (Deep-rooted unconscious) belief, active (Perceptual) belief, behaviour and out-come. Let’s take a typical example: irresponsibility with money.

Core (Unconscious) belief: I am irresponsible with money.

Active (Perceptual) belief: my finances are perpetually in shambles. Behaviour: acting fiscally irresponsible.

Outcome: my finances are consistently in a mess. When expressed in this manner, it becomes easy to see how we might both feed and be fed by our core beliefs.

Put another way, our life will always be a reflection of what we hold as true. There will always be congruency or harmony (as odd as that might sound) between what we believe be true and what we experience in life.

Here are some steps you might take to shift unhealthy core beliefs.

— Identify a core belief that you’d like to change.

— Ask yourself what will be different if and when change occurs — seek the benefits.

— Separate the wheat from the chaff. Most beliefs aren’t written on stone tablets. Most are simply opinions or alternative viewpoints. Accept them as such.

— Consider the opposite of what you believe to be true. The more you expose yourself to divergent thinking, the more likely you are to make a positive change.

— Ponder the origin of your belief. You developed it and held onto it for a reason. It must have made good sense at one time in your life. Perhaps it’s not even your belief at all but one you borrowed from your family or culture. Acknowledge that now – for you — the rationale is faulty or that the belief as it stands no longer serves you.

— Create an alternate belief — one that serves you and enhances your life experience.

— Practice the new belief. Consciously focus on its implementation.

— Be patient. Allow for a little backsliding. You spent years in default mode. Be kind. Be understanding. Know that you’re moving in the right direction.

Sometimes, the sudden understanding alone of why you react the way you do is enough to uproot old and self-defeating core beliefs.

More than likely, you’ll need to do a little digging and chopping.

Either way, the first steps toward initiating change are desire and self-awareness.

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong,” wrote Frantz Fanon, Martinique-born Afro-French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer. “When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

As for Ralph, he finally hired a tow truck to remove the roots. The driver wrapped a cable around the base of the roots and, by lifting straight up, easily popped the mass out of the ground. It would seem that with the right technique, most anything is possible.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at

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