My wife just asked me to put up a ceiling fan. I didn’t know that was part of marriage! This was my first thought on Sunday, August 8, 2010, as I stood in my bedroom with a bunch of screws, nuts, bolts, and fan blades.
My head swirled with thoughts of how to get out of this. Certain beliefs emerged from the core of my mind. I am a white-collar worker. I don’t know how to do mechanical stuff. Being a handy type guy isn’t my forte. I have more patience with people and my clients than I do with things like ceiling fans. However, these beliefs were contradicted by thoughts such as I want to please my wife. I did spend the afternoon on the beach, so maybe now I should earn my keep. I do like a challenge. Along with these thoughts came memories of the few other times in my life when I attempted to assemble things.
There was that cold night in a coworker’s apartment, Monday, January 13, 2003. My friend and I were struggling to carry a large box containing a new treadmill into another friend’s apartment. We clumsily carried the heavy box up the narrow apartment stairway with repeated pleas between the two of us to slow down, speed up, “Clockwise is that way!” Any spectators might have guessed that we were staging a comedy show or shooting a video for the television series, Funniest Home Videos. As we approached the first landing, my friend asked while panting, “Do you want to take a break?” Wanting to appear strong and as if I had some amount of stamina, I said, “No, let’s keep going.” My friend, still panting, replied, “Well, I need a break.” I panted, sighed, and agreed. Finally, we got the treadmill up the stairs and into the apartment door. We still had all ten fingers and toes and had not dropped the box.
As we finally got the box into the apartment, I smelled spaghetti and meatballs. Our friend had made us a nice dinner as a reward for helping her with the treadmill. She asked if we would like to eat the spaghetti first or assemble the treadmill first. Wisely, I voted for assembly first as we would probably not be very good at assembling after consuming pounds of spaghetti, tons of meatballs, and red wine to boot. She brought us her tools and we proceeded to put the two sides together with ease. To my chagrin, my friend could not wait any longer to eat so we took a break. Much as I feared, he had three servings of spaghetti and drank three glasses of wine. I had half a glass and one serving. When we returned to work, he groaned and fell asleep. Consequently, I finished the assembly. We turned on the machine and she tried it out. Mission accomplished!
As I returned to the present moment in my bedroom with a bunch of tools and fan parts, I sighed with the realization that that particular memory was not helping me to prove my case but rather showed that I was indeed capable of putting together the ceiling fan. My creative and determined mind fetched another memory. Sunday, March 5, 2006, a friend called and said she just got a new swing set and she was hoping that I could come over and help her put it together. It was one of those adult models. If Nat King Cole were still alive, he might do a song called “Swing Set Built for Two” as an addendum to “Bicycle Built for Two.” When we emptied the contents of the swing set box, I was overwhelmed by the plethora of nuts, bolts, and screws of all shapes and sizes. However, we then did what few people dare to do. We read the directions. With the assistance of the directions and a power drill, the work became routine. Two hours later, her backyard shone with a beautiful swing set.
So now I had no choice but to assemble and install the ceiling fan. My memories had proven that I can assemble things. My mouth said, “No problem, just leave me alone in here and I will have it fastened to the ceiling and working in no time.” My brain, however, was thinking that I needed my wife out of the room, so she wouldn’t learn how many four-letter words are in my vocabulary if I screwed this up. At first, I dropped a couple of bolts and it was a pain getting down from the stepladder, crawling under the bed to retrieve them, and climbing back up the ladder. After that, it was all uphill and an hour later the room was decorated with a beautiful ceiling fan that provided a cool gentle wind deceptively similar to a tropical breeze.
Some people reading this book might remember a routine skit from Saturday Night Live in which the late Gilda Radnor would tell a bizarre story and conclude with the phrase, “Well it just goes to show,” after which she would state some silly and off the wall conclusion. I will say that my ceiling fan experience was accidental proof that it just goes to show that you can accomplish new things if you believe you can. Sometimes you just need to search your memories, examine the beliefs that you have developed from those memories, and perhaps revise those beliefs if necessary. This chapter will teach you how to do just that!
Which comes first, the memory or the belief? The answer is both. Your brain will form and adopt beliefs based on your past memories. However, your beliefs will affect which memories you recall and which fade. What exactly is a belief? First, let’s explore what a belief is not. A belief is not a fact. We often treat beliefs as if they were facts.
For example, suppose you believe that all people who ride motorcycles are uneducated and unemployed street gang members. You meet someone at a party who has arrived on their motorcycle and they tell you about the doctoral program they are in and how they teach at a local college. Furthermore, they and their fellow weekend warriors raised more than ten thousand dollars to fund their church’s mission program to Haiti. Suddenly, you need to change your belief about bikers.
No, beliefs are not facts. They are conclusions you have made about yourself, people, society, religion, and all other aspects of life. As seen from the previous example, when you get new information, you are forced to change your beliefs. How do we make conclusions and form beliefs? Even from infancy, we are all detectives trying to make sense of life from what we experience. If we were fed when we were hungry, if our diapers were changed when the pipes leaked, and if we were held and played with while growing up, we adopt the belief that the world is a safe place and people are good to us. However, if we do not get an immediate response when we cry to be fed, held, or changed, we adopt the belief that the world is scary and apathetic.
In grade school, we formed beliefs about ourselves. If we are good in school, we form a belief that we are smart. If we are good at sports, we form a belief that we are athletic. An athletic boy or a pretty girl will form the beliefs that they are popular and people like them. Unfortunately, there are many kids who do not fall into any of these categories and therefore form the belief that they are just average kids and will be average ordinary adults.
Other beliefs are formed by the way adults treat us. If adults make false promises, we form a belief that we can’t trust people. If we were physically abused, we may form a belief that aggression is an effective way to get what we want. Someone in this situation will also more than likely form a belief that they are bad and vulnerable. When a child is physically or emotionally abused, their impulse can be to want to hurt and even physically destroy the abuser depending on how badly the abuser has hurt them. However, they know that they can’t do that, or they will not survive, particularly if the abuser is a parent. If they were to follow through with these impulses, the child would no longer have anyone to feed
them or to provide them with a roof over their head. Their alternative course of action then is to turn their anger in on themselves and form the belief that they are just no good. They may also believe that they deserved the abuse in some way, although they can’t identify what they did.
If you have memories of not finishing things that you have started, you might have a history of self-sabotaging. It may be that you formed negative beliefs about yourself through your earliest memories. Conversely, if you have achieved your goals, have a life that you are satisfied with, and are happy most of the time, then you have formed positive beliefs about yourself and your world. You may recall from the last chapter that everyone has memories that elicit a feeling of joy when recalled. Everyone also has other memories that cause them to feel angry, sad, or anxious. It might seem logical to say that because we all have memories that carry the same emotional strings, we should all be the same in our emotional outlook on life. If logic prevailed, however, then why is it that some people are happy, successful, and confident, others are satisfied with some aspects of their lives, and still others are unhappy, miserable, sick, and fail at everything they undertake?
The answer is that while memories might trigger the same emotions from person to person, the beliefs formed from those memories and emotions will be different from person to person. Furthermore, beliefs formed years prior will determine which memories a person recalls now. For example, if you believe that you are smart, you could easily recall making the Dean’s List in college and going on to finish doctoral work. You might even remember the details of the classes you took. However, there was also the day that you were sick in a junior year and failed the final. It was one of your worst collegiate performances. You will probably not easily recall that memory because it is contradictory to your belief that you are smart.
Similarly, suppose you believe that you are athletic but not smart. Although you don’t believe that you are smart, there was one time that you earned an A on a midterm and you were relieved because now your overall grade was high enough to allow you to keep playing football. Years later, you may remember that you played ball but forget that you ever got an “A” on a midterm.
What about the personal example I provided at the beginning of this chapter? I believed that I could not put together a ceiling fan, but then I recalled memories of successfully assembling a treadmill and a swing set. In that situation, I started with beliefs that I was not a handy However, there were other beliefs that made me determined to assemble that fan. These beliefs included:
- I am a good husband, and putting this fan together is part of being a good husband.
- I always find a way to accomplish what I need to do. I like being successful.
- My wife will be happy when I am finished with this task.
- I will be doing more things around the house, so I might as well get used to handyman type work.
- With these beliefs pervading my brain, I was able to recall memories of similar situations, and then use those beliefs to successfully assemble the fan.
Changing your beliefs is not as hard as it may seem. In the following exercises, you will learn how to change your beliefs, and how to doctor your painful memories.