September 21, 2021

Episode 5: Notice what you believe

In this episode and the next few, discover the powerful analysis frame to solve any problem you ever encounter in your life. Not a very modest offer I realize, but as you will soon see: it’s an offer that actually stands its ground.

What you will discover

  • The important difference between your thoughts and your identity
  • How beliefs physically shape your view of the world
  • Why you need to identify your beliefs - and why it's not as obvious as it sounds
  • The best way to find out what your beliefs are
  • The treacherous mistake you likely make when assessing your beliefs
  • What to do once you’ve found a limiting thought


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

You have a model of reality in your mind that mimics the way the world works, according to your understanding of it. And that's your brain constantly uses to predict what is likely to happen next.  Hi, and welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast.

I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo. Alight, so far, what I've shared with you in this podcast is some sort of an emergency response, some “first aid kit” to stop the bleeding and get you started on feeling better, getting things done and getting unstuck.

But now it's time to get into the real thing. And in this episode and the next few, what I will share with you are the blades of the Swiss army knife so to speak that you will be able to use on any and all problems that you ever encounter in your life. That's not a very modest offer, I realize, but as you will see as the episodes of this podcast unfurl, it's an offer that actually stands its ground.

So be ready to be bedazzled. So, as I might have mentioned before, your thoughts create your feelings and your feelings determine your actions and therefore your results.  Which is why it's so important to be aware of what you're thinking. And so today I'm going to teach you how to identify what you're thinking.

So first, what I want you to be clear about is that your thoughts are not you.  You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are like the playlists, while you are the Spotify app.  The playlist can play classical music or reggae music.  It doesn't change anything about what Spotify itself is as a platform, what it makes possible, what it is there for.  In the same way, your thoughts are not you.

We know that because otherwise every time you change your mind about something or someone you would change identity, and that's not really what happens.  So keep this in mind. Your thoughts are not you.  You can change your thoughts and remain you.

I would even argue that you can change your thoughts and be even more you because you stop limiting yourself and putting yourself in a little box that constrains you. But that's a topic for another discussion. So let's start by defining what a belief is. According to the dictionary, a belief is simply an acceptance that something exists or is true.

And especially, accepting that something exists or is true without proof of its existing or being true. I will go a bit broader and say that a belief is simply a thought that you have repeated so often that it sounds true. You can have a sentence in your head that you don't believe.  You can think “2+2=5” or “the Earth is flat” without believing these sentences.

For a sentence to start creating a feeling for you, you need to lend it belief. You need to decide that its meaning is true for you. Believing is not something that we usually do on purpose. We let it happen by itself.  And we will spend some time in a future episode looking at how to believe on purpose. But for the time being, we will start by looking at what you already believe.

An example of belief could be “The sky is blue” (I live on the west coast of Sweden and I can tell you that this is just a belief, because the sky is actually mostly gray or black most of the time), but a belief can be about anything.  In fact, without necessarily being aware of it, you have a model of reality in your mind that mimics the way the world works, according to your understanding of it.

And that your brain constantly uses to predict what is likely to happen next. The building blocks of this model are your beliefs. You, just like me and every other human being have beliefs about everything. You have beliefs about yourself. For example, “I'm a woman”, “I have a good ear for languages”, “I'm not good at drawing”. You have beliefs about how the world works.

“French people are often late”, “My mother makes the best cakes”, “Gravity pulls objects towards the Earth”. You have beliefs about goals and outcomes: “This is going to work”, “I'm not sure about this”, “I'm eventually going to mess this up”, “There's too much to do”, “I always get it right in the end”. And you want to figure out what you believe because your beliefs, your thoughts, create your feelings.

The best way to find out what your beliefs are, is to describe what you think about a given situation. So you're just going to take a pen and paper, and you're going to put on paper everything that you have in your head about the situation. Just write down everything that pops up in your mind as if you were describing the situation to someone else.

For example, if you're thinking about the day ahead, you might write “I have to call the tax office back. I hope that it won't be bad news. I really couldn't afford another payment right now. I wonder what my partner meant when he said, “as usual” when I said I won't have time to pick up the laundry at the cleaners. He's in a bad place to criticize me. I haven't seen him do the dishes too much lately.

I have so much to do at work right now. I don't know where to start. I can't do a good job and I hate this”. So, if those were your thoughts about the day, you could start to notice the feelings that these are creating for you. The thought “I couldn't afford another payment right now” probably creates stress and from stress, you're not going to find creative way to come up with that money.

“I haven't seen him do the dishes too much lately" probably creates resentment, which is not going to be a good fuel if you want to have a productive discussion about who does what at home. And “I have so much to do at work” creates overwhelm.

When you feel overwhelmed, you most likely don't prioritize efficiently and you probably spend a lot of time wondering what you need to do and how you're possibly going to do it instead of doing the thing. And so, as a result, you don't tackle the tasks that you have to do at work. And you still have at the end of the day as much to do as when you started the day.

So in order to identify what you're thinking; in order to write down everything that you think about the situation, the trick is to give the highlights of what you're thinking without getting sucked into each story. So you want to keep a little bit of distance and be the observer of your thoughts, and not start to tell yourself all the details and all the pros and cons and all the consequences and all the examples of what you're thinking.

I want you to imagine a newspaper with different articles. What you want to write are the titles of the articles, not all the content of each article with all of the details.  So the articles can be about completely different topics, or they can cover the same topic from different angles, and that's okay.

But if you're spending 5 or 10 minutes identifying your thoughts about the day, for example, you don't want to spend the full 5 or 10 minutes on just one article and nothing about the others.  You want to cover all the headlines of the entire newspaper. So what if you don't know what to write about? Well, the easiest way is to use prompting questions.

I'm going to give you a couple here and you will find more in the notes of the episode that you can find on my website. Examples of prompting questions could be “What's going to happen today?”, “What do I need to do today?” and “What do I think about that?”, “What are my goals” and “What do I think about the likelihood of reaching them?”, “Am I living the life I would like to live?”, “Why is that?”

“What would it mean to succeed beautifully?”, “What would I need to do to get there?”, “Why am I not doing it?” One thing that I also want you to be aware of is that our thoughts are often very simple.  They're very straightforward and they sound very mundane. They sound like you're just describing reality. So don't try to be a very analytical about this or, or to be very deep.

Just write whatever pops in your head.  And let's talk a little bit about the logistics also.  You always want to do this in writing, and there are several reasons why.  One is that seeing the thoughts written down on a piece of paper will help you keep some distance with them.  Remember what I told you is that you're not your thoughts and that your thoughts are not you?

This will help you realize this.  When you see on paper “The Earth is flat”, it helps you remember that you're not a flat-earther.  You're just a person who currently believes the thought “The earth is flat”. There is a difference.  It's exactly the same when you notice the thought “I'm not good enough”. It's not that you are not good enough.

It's just that you're a person who currently believes the thought “I am not good enough”. And there is a big difference. The second reason why you want to do this in writing is that the brain is always filtering reality. And it's only showing you what it thinks is true and important. So if your brain is telling you, “This person is so annoying”, your brain believes that this is accurate. This is true.

This is a fair description of the situation.  But in reality, “This person is so annoying” is not a fact. It's just an opinion.  A fact is something that either you can capture on camera or that 8 billion human beings would agree on. And in this case, the person themselves probably does not believe that they are annoying. So there's at least one person who would disagree.

And so this sentence, “This person is so annoying” is not a fact; it's an opinion. But when you think it, it sounds like the truth. It might seem like the truth. So when you see it written down, there's a greater chance that you might pick up that this is not a fact, and that will help you challenge it. But if you're just reviewing your thoughts in your mind, you will probably not even hear it.

Or not even notice it. And then the third reason why you want to do this in writing and not just by reviewing your thoughts in your head is because writing slows our thinking down.  We speak about 10 times faster than we write, and we think even faster than we speak. So when we write things down, we have to slow down our thinking and sort through our thoughts.

And that also helps us take a step back. And then, lastly, I recommend that you write by hand, meaning with a pen and paper, rather than on a computer or on a phone. If you don't have a choice, if it's really better for you to write on a computer on the phone, it's always better to write on a computer or on a phone than to not write at all and do it in your head.

But if you have a chance, I recommend writing on paper. And the reason why is that the hand motions that we do when we are writing has been shown to activate areas of the brain which – to do a bit of a shortcut – help us take a step back and consider things a little bit more objectively. So all of this is beneficial for you to take a step back and look at your thoughts as if you were Spotify looking at a playlist, rather than believing that you are the playlist, if it makes sense to you now.

So now that you see what you believe, what do you do next? Well, the next step, once you have written down all your thoughts, all the thoughts you have about a given situation, is to assess whether those beliefs are useful to you.  And by useful I mean are they creating a useful feeling that helps you take steps towards your goals.  And that's exactly what I will show you how to do in the next episode.

But until then, what you can do is you can take a piece of paper and a pen, or if you don't have that available and find it easier to type, you can do that electronically.  And you can write down what is the one problem in your life that you would really like to solve.  And then write down everything that you think about it.

And next week we will look at what you do with this information once you have it on paper. If you liked what you heard, you can go to my website (that's excellent writer in one word dot com) and you can get the episode notes. They're organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember. And there are additional exercises and illustrations that you don't get in the audio.

And if you really liked what you heard, you can go to your podcast platform and leave me a review. You can Google it if you're not sure how to proceed.  This helps the podcast be more visible. It means that it will be easier to find for other people who need to hear exactly this message. And it's also a great encouragement for me.

If you felt that this information was valuable, it's the absolute best way to let me know. I personally answer everyone who is kind enough to leave me a review. Thanks a lot for listening today. I hope to talk to you again very soon because you, my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want; even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops;

and even when you don't believe it – especially when you don't believe it – you absolutely rock; and you'll soon be an excellent rider. There are no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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