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Incompatible Beliefs: A Source Of Great Stress In Us All
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Incompatible Beliefs: A Source Of Great Stress In Us All

Quite often our behaviour is perfectly rational in that it fits well with our rationale. But if our rationale is inconsistent, then our behaviour is likely to appear irrational to others when it seems fine to us. How can this be?

Basically, it comes down to a habit of holding contradictory beliefs, and we all do this, so don’t be too quick to think that this article might not apply to you. It almost certainly does.

Recently, I asked someone whom I will call S to answer these two questions.

1. Can you control your Child’s eating habits?

2. Can you control the behaviour of another human being?

She answered: yes, no, respectively. That is, she basically said that behaviour and or habits could both be controlled and yet not controlled. S’s child is another human being, so when she said she could control her child’s eating habits/behaviour she directly contradicted herself.

The importance of highlighting these conflicting beliefs became clear when I helped S to understand why her own mother was confused about what her daughter wanted when it came to feeding her grandchild – should he be made to eat or not?

The grandmother had become agitated as S had said two things that confused her. The first is that child/grandchild ‘is to be made to eat what is put down to him’. The second was that ‘you can’t force someone to do something, mum’.

When it was pointed out to S that she was basically saying that he was to be made to eat but you can’t make him eat, the daughter smiled and we began to look at the possible resolution.

Eventually we reasoned that rather than speaking in terms of controlling behaviour when we believed behaviour cannot be controlled, we would benefit from ways of looking at how behaviour could be influenced and informed.

But the most important thing is that S now pays more attention to her beliefs and has discovered that she often makes statements that when looked at display signs of contradictory beliefs. For example she realised she believed that the other mother’s should drive more safely than many of them do, but that she also believed they should hurry up, which makes it that little bit harder to drive more safely.

The biggest effect of all this is that S is a lot less stressed about things as her thinking doesn’t wind her up as much. She also mentioned her mum has commented on how much clearer and consistent her instructions have become.

In this case, a little bit of time spent looking at her rationale resulted in a much less stressful school run and a better mother/daughter relationship.

It really is worth trying out the simple exercise of writing down a few things that you believe then asking yourself, or another, if these beliefs are really compatible.

I’ll leave you with this. Someone once said to me that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. About ten minutes later he mentioned that he was hurt because his wife had called him a two-faced-tike (scruffy child).

Like I said, we all do this, apart from me!

Good luck if you decide to try it.


Street Talk

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