Believing New ThingsFeb 28, 2022
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We get to believe whatever we want. It may sound wild and irrational but it’s true. Of course, this is not to suggest that we ignore proven facts, such as in science. Yet there are many areas wherein we can choose what we believe. We can rewrite what we believe about ourselves, about our abilities, about our capacity to decide how we think, how we feel, and the life that we live.
Much of why we think the way we think is based in our past. It was formed by people, experiences or events. The good news is that what was previously shaped can now be reshaped. Intentional action must be taken but it is possible.
“We get to believe new things; especially if we are not happy or satisfied with the current circumstances or state of our life.” – Dr. Sara Dill
I’m very excited to share with you the 3rd episode of my brand new podcast, Stress-Less Physician. It’s hard to believe we’re already on Episode 3! I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, board-certified dermatologist, pediatric dermatologist and Life Coach for physicians. I’ve shared a little about myself at the bottom of these notes and I recorded a trailer for my podcast, if you’re interested in getting to know me a bit better. Through this podcast, I hope to share more about myself and, most importantly, to share with you what I’ve learned about stressing less.
If you missed my first and second episodes, I invite you to go to my website and listen to them. In those episodes, I give you insight and ideas on how to feel better and I tackle some myths about stress. Now, as promised, let’s consider how to believe new things.
What You’ll Learn
- Step 1: Awareness
- Execute a thought-download
- Choose a thought path
- Step 2: Defusion
- Create space through curiosity
- Techniques for detaching from a thought
- Step 3: Believing new things
- Find new thoughts
- Ladder or bridge thoughts
Contact Info and Recommended Resources
Resource recommendation by Dr. Sara Dill:
Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach
- Website: saradill.com
- Work with me: saradill.com/coaching
- Email: [email protected]
- Get a FREE consultation with Sara! Sign up here: saradill.com/schedule
A bit about me…
I’m Sara Dill, MD, board-certified dermatologist and pediatric dermatologist. I went through life getting straight As, following the rules, and getting into the right schools (Harvard, UC San Diego, Brown). I believed the way to be a good and successful doctor was to work hard, always say yes, and put patients (and everyone else) first.
But while I was successful, I felt perpetually stressed out, overworked and unhappy. I was always looking for that perfect work-life balance, which never appeared. So I became determined to solve this problem. I had worked too long and hard to simply accept being overworked and stressed out for my whole medical career!
I took a sabbatical from practice and studied life coaching. I completed two life coach training programs, numerous other courses, read 100s of books, and used coaching to transform my own relationship to work.
What I learned was that stress is a symptom. It all has less to do with the actual hours you work than with your thoughts about your work.
With this knowledge, I took control of my life and stopped being just one more overworked and stressed out doctor. So can you! But you don't have to take years and read hundreds of books to figure it out. I did it so you don't have to. And I’m here to help. Using a combination of coaching tools and mindfulness, I coached myself back into a thriving dermatology practice I truly enjoy. With the rest of my time, I coach other physicians on how to stress-less and enjoy their work and life more.
I’m Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stressless Physician podcast, Episode Number Three. Welcome to the Stressless Physician podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.
Hi, everyone. So today, I want to talk about one of my favorite things in coaching. I mean, I think this is really the key thing I do, which is teach and help my clients and myself, how to believe new things. I love the idea that we actually get to believe whatever we want. It sounds sort of wild. I remember when I first heard that, and it just seems sort of irrational, and untrue. Like, I had to believe the things that I believed. I mean, I was a scientist, I was a physician, and it just seemed like there’s things that you needed to believe.
And I’m not saying that I don’t believe in gravity, or I don’t believe in most of the science of dermatology, what I’m talking about are other belief systems that we have operating, that perhaps we picked up from culture, from family, from all sorts of sources. So, of course, what we believe is based on so many things, again, our upbringing, our experiences, our culture, our family of origin. Sometimes I identify beliefs I have that came from a movie or a book, in particular, maybe one teacher, or one particular experience that really shaped something that I believe to this day.
A lot of our beliefs are based on our past. And so this idea in coaching is that we get to believe new things, especially if we are not happy or satisfied with the current circumstances, or state of our life. So, the idea is really, if you want a different result in your life, you’re most likely going to have to look at what you currently believe that’s creating the result you have. And you’re going to have to decide intentionally what you want to believe, to create the feelings, to take the actions or to stop taking certain actions to give you the new results that you want to create for your future.
So, in some sense, when we are believing new things, we’re often trying to believe something that’s not yet true for us. But that’s possibly true, right? That’s going to be true in our future, that’s going to be a part of our future. The thing about believing new things is that first step is actually, you just have to become aware of what you do currently believe. I sort of like to think of it sometimes as like that old saying about the fish in water, that doesn’t see the water, it doesn’t even know it’s in water. And so coaching and self-coaching, and especially getting coached by other people is so powerful, because often it gives us the reflection, the ability to see what is the water in which we’re swimming, what are our beliefs that we don’t even realize are optional.
So the first step in believing new things is awareness. Once you have awareness, it’s very difficult to become unaware again. So awareness is huge, awareness can change everything. So you want to start by asking: what do I believe now? The way we often get access to what we’re believing and thinking is through thought downloads, and then you can see in black and white, “Oh, this is what I think, this is what I believe.”
A thought download, I’ll just define it here, is a key component of self-coaching, and coaching in general, or really any kind of self-development. It’s sort of like journaling. But basically, a thought download is a way to eavesdrop on one’s own brain to get to know what’s going on in there. It’s simply writing down what you’re thinking, maybe feeling what happened, just anything going on in your head, all of it, for a set amount of time, maybe five minutes, maybe one minute. I often start and have clients start by doing a thought download when they’re upset about something. It’s just like, “Tell me what happened, but put it on paper, tell me all the things.”
So, basically another phrase for it is like a brain dump or a thought dump. I don’t know why I don’t like that as much. But if that resonates for you, that’s all it is. It’s just downloading the contents of your mind at a certain point in time onto a piece of paper. So putting your thoughts, the contents of your mind on papers, starts to help clarify why you feel the way you do, what you believe, what your mind is focusing on. The power of seeing it in writing is intense as well, because often our brain will try to tell us, maybe later, “Oh, I don’t really believe that, oh, that’s not really what I think.” But when you see it in black and white, when you’ve written it down, or put it on your computer, when you have your thought download, and you’re reviewing it, you have a lot more power, you start to have some authority over those sentences in your head.
So, one of the first things I like to think about with awareness is identifying that I have a sentence in my head, right? A belief is a thought that I’ve just practiced over and over again, that I really believe is true. It’s probably hardwired in there, or at least wired in there. I like to think about it sometimes from a more medical standpoint. And that belief system or a belief is just neurons that have fired together a lot. And so it’s sort of like a superhighway. I live out here in California, and we have all these freeways and interstates, but it’s like a multi-Lane freeway or highway, maybe four lanes in either direction, maybe six. It’s just very easy for my brain to go on. And so the first step is just becoming aware that I’m on a highway, that I’m on the freeway. My brain just likes to get on that entrance ramp and start going. What is the destination? Where is it taking me? Do I want to keep going there? Where would I rather go? Is there another road?
These are all sort of the things I think about when I’m identifying a thought or a belief I have. Is this where I want to keep going? Do I want to keep believing this? When we start trying to believe new things, the new thought is the opposite of a superhighway. It’s like a trail in the jungle that you’re going to have to hack through. You’re going to need a machete to start to create it. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be way easier to go down the other thought pathway, the old thought that is totally normal.
So, the first thing in believing new things is to figure out what are you believing now? What is the thought or thoughts? I like to think about it a lot is like visualizing the sentence in my hand. I think I mentioned that before. I like to see the words. I think writing it down is key. So sometimes I just hold my hands in front of me and I just picture the sentence, the thought resting there in my hands.
Another thing I wanted to share is that there are some different tools that you can use to create space as well. Because when we’re very attached to a belief, when we really believe a thought, or a belief is true, or we’re used to believing it’s true. And maybe there are other people who agree with us as well, it’s very difficult to work with that thought because we’re so fused to it, we’re so close to it, it’s like it’s right up against us.
So the first step in believing new things is awareness of what we’re believing. If you aren’t aware of it, you can’t change it. The second step I like to think of is creating this sort of diffusion or creating space between us, the observer of our thinking, and the thought. So it’s almost like when we’re processing an emotion, you want to start to get curious, you want to start to think about the thought. We have this amazing ability as humans to think about our thinking. It’s a metacognitive skill. And so you can think about what your beliefs are. And by starting to observe, to turn and to think about them and write them down and to look at the words, look at the letters, you start to create some space again, between you and that thought, between you and the belief system. And that starts to give you again, more of this authority over working with it as a thing, as opposed to giving it all the power, as to just be in on autopilot.
Our mind is an amazing tool. But too often, our mind is the boss of us and it just jerks us around. And so instead, we want to be the boss of our mind. We want to direct it, we want to sort of be in charge of where we focus on and what we choose to believe. So, creating space is helpful in allowing us to start to work with our belief systems, as objects, as things, rather than as sort of like a little lovey or something that we’re so attached to. Some of this diffusion actually comes from a kind of therapy or technique that I read about called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I really love it, in that, it has a lot of tools where you can start to play around with the thought and again, sort of making it less serious, making it less big, making it less of an attachment.
Some people recommend repeating a thought over and over and over again, until it becomes sort of nonsensical. Other things you can do with a thought that you’ve identified, especially if it feels very powerful, or has a big, emotional kick for you. I like to find humor. Anyone who coaches with me knows, I think humor is very effective. So one thing you can do is to set this thought, maybe a painful thought or something that you believed for a long time, set it to a funny song. Let’s see, if you have a thought, maybe like, “I’m no good with money.” You may want to try thinking that thought in the tune of Happy Birthday, or in the tune of something dramatic—dramatic, but sort of silly.
I sometimes like to sort of think about a thought, like, “Oh, here it comes, just on time. Right on time. Here’s that thought again. Look out, here comes the drama,” not in a way of making fun of myself, but making fun of the dramatic way my brain presents this thought. Again, we never want to beat ourselves up or blame ourselves. We’re just getting curious. We’re staying in this observer role. How fascinating is it that I believe this? So interesting. So again, starting to create space diffusing from the thought, de-identifying with it, seeing it as words, seeing it as a sentence, maybe noticing the trauma, and sort of laughing at your brain, not at yourself.
So whether you start diffusing from it by just looking at the words, looking at the letters, so you start to see that it’s just this collection of consonants and vowels, I find that very helpful. I like to visualize words and sentences. Sometimes I think about if this thought or belief was in another language, would I react to it? Maybe you can notice if you can turn down the volume of that thought, sort of like an old TV or a radio in the background, that you don’t even really hear. It’s just sort of back there. Maybe it’s a little annoying, but it’s not really that bothersome. You can sort of tune in or tune out.
So again, playing around with a thought as an entity, as opposed to something that you hold near and dear. This will create some space for you, between you and the thought, or the belief system, or the multiple beliefs that you have. Often, we discover like a whole network, a whole net of beliefs that’s holding this sort of system up. And this is really where you’re going to get a lot of power.
And then the next step. So, before I go there, let’s just recap. So believing new things, the first step is awareness. What are you thinking? Then we have the diffusion, where you start to lose some of the Velcro, is how I like to think about it, between you and a belief that you’ve held or believed in for a long time. And then the third step, and this, I think, is maybe one of the most important steps, is how to believe in a new thought. How to find a new thought and how to believe it. So, I like to start with, can you start to contradict that original old thought? Can you come up with a different thought to replace it? You can ask yourself: Do I want to get rid of it altogether? Or do I just want to wiggle it around? Or I just want to change it a little bit?
So I often think about thought work. And thought work is this whole process that I’m discussing, of identifying our current thoughts, working with them, consciously disbelieving old thoughts, and believing new thoughts. I like to think about thought work as sort of wiggling a loose tooth, or trying on a new thought. Byron Katie, one of my teachers, talks a lot about trying on new thoughts, like you’re trying on a pair of shoes. I sometimes think about it as like trying on a white coat. I have some old ones, I try them on: too tight, too loose just right, feels good, not so good. So, it’s really no big deal. How does the new thought feel? Does the new thought feel more comfortable? Does it not feel comfortable? You don’t have to force a thought onto yourself. It doesn’t work anyway. So, if you identify a thought you’d like to believe, and you sort of try it on, see what it feels like, and it’s a total no, it’s a no, it’s not a problem.
So, a lot of my clients have problems coming up with new thoughts, especially if you’re in a very deep or long held belief system, something that you believed your whole life or that your whole family believes, or your culture believes. You just don’t even see it as a belief system until you start doing some of this work. It can be very difficult to even imagine what someone else can think. So, I wanted to talk a little bit especially about how do you come up with a new thought, especially if you’re doing this on your own. One of the benefits of working with a coach or being in a coaching program or with a group is that you can see other people’s thoughts. And often a coach won’t believe what you believe. So often, I think about my job as a coach with my clients, is to point out that what they think is a fact, is actually a thought. And it can sometimes be amusing because sometimes they really don’t see it. And I’m exactly the same, when I get coached by my coach, I’m pretty sure that I’m just telling them how it is. So, this is very normal.
So new thoughts. So, you have your old thought, again, I’m just going to choose, I’m not good with money, just for an example. It could be, I’m not a good doctor, or I’m not smart enough or other doctors are smarter than me. The way I like to start with it is, again, sort of based in a technique I learned from Byron Katie, she has something called The Work, which is a way of questioning one’s thoughts. And I also use something called The Model that I’ll talk about in a future podcast. Both of these are just tools or techniques to start to examine, and almost interrogate your thoughts. I sort of think about it sometimes as an interrogation, but a friendly interrogation.
So, this involves doing different opposites and turning around the original thought. So again, it’s like you’re examining a diamond from lots of different facets, right, really just examining it from here and there, up and down, all the different angles. So, I just like to start playing around with this. Again, you want to write down your thoughts, it’s so much easier and more powerful to work with thoughts and beliefs when they’re on paper, rather than just in your mind. I just start to notice maybe the thought, again, I’m gone go with “I’m not good with money.” I’m not good with money. I’m not good with money. Notice how you feel? Get curious. It’s an interesting thought. Try out the opposite. I am good with money. That’s the total opposite. How does that feel to you? You can pick a different thought. So pick a thought maybe that you’re sort of noticing you might want to wiggle around or try to find an opposite.
Typically, the total opposite doesn’t feel believable, right? Otherwise, you’d already be believing it. So, the key to finding new thoughts is often you want to find a thought, that’s believable. So check in with your body, how does it feel? If when you think “I’m good with money,” it feels better than your current thought, how does it make you feel? I’m not good with money. If you are believing that or maybe you’re believing I’m not a good enough doctor, or I’m selfish, or whatever it is. Maybe shame comes up for you, maybe insecurity, maybe anxiety, maybe worry. So just notice, when I think the original thought, how do I feel? When I try on the opposite? I am good with money. I am a good doctor. I am not selfish? How does it feel? Does it feel believable? Does it feel better? It might be different for different people as well. How does “I’m good with money” feel? And can you find any little piece of evidence for it? Any little piece of evidence that it could be true? One piece of evidence might be I have money, right? I’m not totally broke. That’s better, maybe than some people.
The other thing is you can play around with a different kind of opposite. So sometimes doing a double negative, although grammatically incorrect can be useful. So it might sound like “I’m not good with money.” Right? It’s sort of softening it, somewhere in there. Or you can find the opposite of the word ‘good’. So if your thought is “I’m not good with money,” what’s the opposite of good? For me, it would be terrible. So the opposite of that would be “I’m not terrible with money.” Can I find evidence for that? Again, trying the shoe on, trying the jacket on, wiggling the loose tooth? How does it feel? Can I find any tiny little piece of evidence that maybe I’m not terrible with money? So sort of softening the thought and playing around with it?
Sometimes it can be fun to flip it around “money is not good with me.” Does that make any sense to me? Sometimes it’s easier to do that if we have another person in here. So maybe we’re thinking the thought that our husband or wife or spouse or partner, that they aren’t good with money. We may want to just play around with that as well. So, one thing is just to do the bold opposite and try it on when you’re looking for a new thought. Wiggling that loose tooth, seeing if there’s any truth there, seeing if it feels at all believable. Can you start to find a little bit of wiggle room? Not forcing it ever. If it’s a total no. Again, no worries, right? It’s just the wrong shoe. There’s a lot of different ways.
Sometimes I like to start with, “I’m not good with money and that’s okay.” You can just tack that on. How does that feel? Is it believable? Does that feel better in my body than the original thought? Do I feel more relaxed? Do I feel more spacious? Sometimes I notice, can I breathe a little bit more? Or does it feel tighter? Does it feel warmer? Does it feel colder? Often, I think thought work and coming up with a new thought is sort of like this game I used to play as a child called warm or cold or hot and cold, where someone would hide something and you’d have to walk around and they shout if you were getting warmer or colder.
So what’s a warmer feeling thought? What direction do you want to move in? If you want to move into the thought, “I’m amazing with money, I’m an amazing doctor. I’m an amazing person, money’s easy.” What are some thoughts that I might need to believe along the way? I talk a lot about ladder thoughts, or bridge thoughts. These are thoughts that start to shift you towards what you ultimately want to think and believe, but that are just small steps, small shifts, right? It’s not going all the way from “I’m terrible with money’ to “I’m amazing with money” from, “I’m not a great doctor,” to “I’m the best doctor in the world.” So, whatever you want. Again, sometimes you have to take little steps.
And at times, I just think playing around with these thoughts, and again, noticing, does that feel like an opening in my body? Does that feel slightly warmer? We may still be in sort of a negative spectrum of thoughts and feelings. It may not be a beautiful thought that you’re sort of moving on to, it could be something like, “I’m not good with money, and that’s okay.” Or not everyone has to be good with money. But that might feel better than the original thought, “I’m not good with money, I’m terrible with money.” Maybe you try on, “I can learn to be better with money. It’s possible that I could learn to be better with money.” So again, just noticing where we can find a little wiggle room here. So trying on the opposite, trying on a soft shift. There’s no wrong answer here.
Maybe I’m not good with money. Often, I like to throw in a ‘maybe’ there as well. I’m not good with money, maybe. Sometimes maybe is another word you could throw in there to try on. I’m not good with money sometimes. So you could try maybe, you can try sometimes, that’s okay. All of those are things that are often the initial little bridge thought or shift that you could do. I’m not good with money. Can I find places that I am good with money? I know how to spend money in a grocery store, I can stick to a budget, I’ve made money in the past, I can buy some things, I have some money in the bank, those could all start to be some evidence for how you’re good with money.
I’ve gotten better with money. Can I find evidence for that? So again, starting to play around with it. And you can see how that will give you a little bit more space as well. So we want to just keep creating space, and maybe a little doubt between our automatic thinking, the thoughts we practiced, usually based on our past experience, and the thoughts we want to believe for our future and in the future. And again, I think where I see a lot of clients go wrong, is they try to have too big of a jump in beliefs, they want to go from, I’m not good with money to, I’m amazing with money. If you can find evidence for how you’re amazing with money, I would do it. Go big.
However, if when you try thinking, “I’m amazing with money,” your brain sort of shuts down and it can’t find one tiny piece of evidence, and it doesn’t really feel believable or warmer to you, then you know you’ve sort of gone too far, you’re stretching too much, you aren’t ready for that. So again, new thoughts, it’s fine to have those little bridge thoughts, little ladder thoughts one step at a time. And then you get to go practice them, right? You take them out into the real world and see how they work. Are they believable? Do they work? Do they create better results for you?
Sometimes it can be helpful to have multiple thoughts in your back pocket that can serve you in different situations, that can be very helpful. So, finding the opposite. Sometimes it’s actually really interesting that sometimes you can actually get to a point where the original thought loses a lot of its pain, and it can actually be fairly helpful. I discovered this recently for myself. I was doing a thought download, and I had the thought “I have so much to do,” and it felt terrible. I felt terrible. It was leading me into overwhelm because there was a lot of other thoughts underneath there as well. And then I finally got to the thought “I have a lot to do and that’s okay. There’s always a lot to do.” It was a very subtle shift. For me, “there’s always a lot to do” for me, feel sort of relaxing. I always get a lot of stuff done. There’s always a lot to do. Nothing’s gone wrong here. So often, it doesn’t have to be a big shift, just a change in viewpoint.
The other key is that a thought that feels good to someone else may not feel good to you. It may not feel believable. It may not create the emotion that you want. So, there’s no wrong thought based on someone else’s experience. You always have to test it with yourself. And the way you test it is you just check in, you see, how does that feel? Does it feel warmer? Does it feel colder? If you’re someone who’s not great about feeling into your body, you can just say, does that feel sort of more relaxed? Do I feel less uptight? Do I feel less tense? Do I feel less stressed? If so, that might be a thought that you want to keep.
So again, just to recap the steps for believing new thoughts. The first thing is to be aware of what you do believe. Do I think some things are facts that are actually just beliefs that I’ve practiced so long that I don’t even recognize them? That’s really where you start. Write them down, look at them as words, picture them in your hands. However you visualize things, however you are a learner, do that. But I would definitely encourage you not just to do it in your head, because it helps to be very concrete.
Next, can you sort of diffuse from the thoughts? Can you figure out ways to sort of take away a lot of the power of that thought or belief to be less triggered by it? Can you just start to see it as a thought in your head? Maybe you want to explore where it came from, if that’s helpful. But again, just noticing that it’s just words strung together, just sentences in your head, a little neuron that’s used to firing over and over again. Maybe set it to words, maybe sing a silly song, sometimes they play a little mini violin in my head, when I replay some dramatic thought, “Here it comes again, right? Here’s the drama, and then practice believing a new thought.”
And then the way you pick a new thought is to start with your old thought and go from there. Twist it around, play around with it, find an opposite, maybe add maybe, maybe add sometimes, maybe add that’s okay. And then another way, other than what we already talked about, is to wonder what is someone who thinks they’re good with money, right? Or who has the belief system that you want? What do they think about themselves? What do they think about money? You can just start to eavesdrop on what other people say and think.
But again, I just like to start with, I’m good with money. Could that be true? I’m not terrible with money. Maybe that’s true. Does that feel better? So you sort of start wiggling the thought around and then work through it. So, it can take a while for some thoughts, for some belief systems to really loosen. And sometimes you can do this work. And it’s sort of like magic. When you really see that it’s an optional thought, or you find a piece of evidence that’s so convincing that you’ve sort of overlooked.
For example, I had a client that was believing that she was an outsider in this group of other physicians, other professionals, that they didn’t really want her to belong. We tried on the thought, maybe that’s not true. Is there any evidence that she’s an insider, that she’s not an outsider, that was finding the opposite. And then when I asked her for a little bit of evidence, she realized that they kept inviting her to speak to the group, she was one of only two people that had been invited to speak multiple times. And that was so logical to her that she just started laughing, right? So often laughter or sometimes tears will be a sign that you’ve sort of shifted or that you’re ready to maybe release this to see the thought as just not true. That doesn’t mean that your brain won’t keep offering the old thought to you, right? You’ve practiced it. It’s a superhighway. But as soon as you see that you’re on that superhighway, that you’re on the entrance ramp, you just get to exit again, you just take the next exit and go back the way you want to go. You can keep redirecting your brain and keep practicing the new thought, so powerful. We get to believe whatever we want to believe. I love this idea, and I hope you do, too. Thanks so much for listening, and I will talk to you soon.
If you are a busy practicing physician, ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learning how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life. Sign up for a consult call with me at saradill.com. That’s S-A-R-A-D-I-L-L.com. It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.
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