One of our most limiting human traits is practiced by most of us for much of our lives. Most people never learn how limiting it is. In the absence of that awareness, it nearly always seems the right and sensible thing to do. And so we continue to practice it, missing the opportunity to become powerful.

The limiting trait is our tendency to allow our feelings to drive our behaviour. The trait is not always limiting. Allowing positive feelings to drive productive behaviour is universally helpful and empowering. It’s allowing uncomfortable feelings to drive unproductive behaviour that’s so unhelpful and limiting.

Some examples: avoiding an action or situation that makes us anxious or fearful; allowing low feelings to drive withdrawal or isolation; allowing anger to drive an excessively angry response; if we’re overweight eating in response to a desire when we’re not hungry; ‘comfort eating’ to control uncomfortable feelings; consuming something we’re craving; procrastinating when we don’t feel like taking action; acting in an unconfident way when we’re feeling unconfident …. or any other unproductive action driven by any other uncomfortable feeling.

You might think these feeling-response relationships are unhelpful because the resulting behaviour is unproductive. This might be true, but that’s not the main reason for saying the trait is limiting. The bigger concern is that every time we do what a feeling is telling us to do, we reinforce the unconscious beliefs driving the feeling. So the drive to behave in that way, just gets stronger.

To understand why this is so, consider an example of a dog phobia. All feelings are driven by a belief, usually an unconscious belief. The dog phobia is clearly driven by a belief that dogs are threatening or dangerous.

Our subject is walking down the pavement and sees a dog approaching. His belief triggers a fearful thought which in turn triggers anxiety. This drives him to cross the road to avoid the dog. That feels like the right thing to do. His anxiety disappears and he feels safe.

But when he crossed the road what happened to his belief that dogs are dangerous? It was reinforced. His unconscious picks up two clear messages. The first … “If I’m crossing the road to avoid the dog, dogs must be dangerous”. The second, when he reaches the other side: “Over there I was fearful and anxious; over here I feel fine. There’s only one possible explanation for this. Dogs must be dangerous”.

When he eventually comes to see me, I might ask him why he thinks he has his phobia. He’ll probably say “I was bitten by a dog when I was young”. I’ll tell him that’s not the reason at all. That was just the initial trigger for his avoidant behaviour. He has his phobia because for years, he’s been avoiding dogs. And every time he’s done that, he’s reinforced the belief driving his phobia.

This reinforcement process is universal. Whenever we do what a feeling is telling us to do, we doubly reinforce the belief that’s driving the feeling. Anxiety speaking to groups is driven by a (mainly unconscious) belief that speaking to groups is threatening and somehow ‘dangerous’.  Avoiding speaking to groups reinforces that belief. Low feelings are driven by a belief that ‘life isn’t good’. Withdrawal or isolation reinforces that belief. An ‘anger problem’ is driven by a belief about injustice. If we then act in an angry way, we reinforce that belief. Cravings are driven by an unconscious belief that we need whatever we’re craving. Consuming it reinforces that belief. The unconscious belief driving a desire for comfort is that we mustn’t feel uncomfortable. Comfort eating, sitting in front of the TV all afternoon or standing on the right of an escalator all reinforce that belief.

The opposite is also true. Whenever we act in positive, productive or powerful ways, we reinforce the beliefs driving those behaviours.

This gives us a clue as to how to unwind negative feeling-behaviour patterns. We need to repeatedly do the opposite of whatever the uncomfortable feeling is telling us to do. In our example we need to repeatedly walk past the dog. Each time we do this, the opposite message is received by our mind and the unconscious (or conscious) beliefs unwind.

The problem that arises in our example is that our subject’s anxiety will escalate. I need to first train him how to deal with that. The techniques I use to achieve this are outlined in a free webinar I offer called ‘Positive Mind Training’. This can be found at www.abicord.com/positive-mind-training

If this technique can be used to unwind unproductive beliefs and behaviour, the same approach can be used to build powerful, productive beliefs and behaviour. My free webinar outlines how to achieve this too.

Graham Price

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