Belief Authoring: Journaling Your Way to Success
I had a devastating breakup in my early-20s. We were friends for quite some time before we started dating, and after 5 years together I believed I was going to marry this guy. When he relocated halfway across the world after we graduated college, we entered a long-distance relationship with high hopes for our future, but it all went south from there. For many months, I asked him to stay in touch more frequently to keep our connection strong, but because he was immersed in a new job, he avoided my emails and phone calls. My curiosity turned into anxiety, and my attempts to reach out were met with guilt. We didn’t communicate much, but whenever we spoke to each other, we fought bitterly. I finally cut things off with him over an email and all I got in response was a shoddy “okay.”
I was an emotional trainwreck, moping over the 5 wasted years of relationships that had done nothing but reinforce my low self-esteem and convince me that I wasn’t deserving of love. But there’s always a silver lining in the gloomy loss. As a result of that separation, I began writing my healing journal and have kept it up for over a decade.
I’ve journaled in a variety of formats throughout the fascinating years, from pen-and-paper notebooks and attractive journal cards to Evernote, Notion, and now RemNote. I’ve also varied the contents and methods, from blathering on paper to doodling my life’s journey.
I journaled to get out of suffering. And out I was. In fact, journaling has radically changed my life for the better.
Being an optimizer, I experimented a lot to find the fastest way to journal my way out of any troubles — I call this practice “belief authoring.”
What is Belief Authoring?
We might as well start by understanding what is a belief.
A human brain is a prediction machine. Cognition is all about processing vast amount of information from the environment, quickly categorizing it, and jumping into decisions. Beliefs are a set of predictions about the world. They’re a shortcut for our brain to model and make sense of the world.
Beliefs are hard to change because you have invested a lot in them.
Have you ever tried to convince someone of the opposite political belief to come around your side? Next to impossible, right? People with strong political bias have invested a significant amount of time and money into their beliefs. Arguing with their loved ones in heated discussions. Donating cash or attending rallies to defend the ideals. Revolving their social life around those beliefs. Asking them to change those beliefs is almost like asking them to invalidate their existence.
Core beliefs are hard to change because there are thousands of other micro behaviors and nuance conceptions supporting them.
When you see a door, you are inclined to reach out and turn the doorknob, isn’t it? That’s your belief influencing you. “Door is for opening and entering.” It’s a set of beliefs that are so deeply embedded in your brain, you don’t even know it until someone asks.
Beliefs are woven in a web of goals, habits, opinions, and actions. They form your model of the world and provide the mental scaffolding for interpreting external events and making judgments. The majority of beliefs were formed and held outside of conscious awareness, which may explain why it is so difficult to alter them.
What if we can change these beliefs?
Now imagine what would happen if you could live your life free of all negative beliefs. How much more resourceful and action-oriented you would be?
Back to the example of my relationship, if I felt that I was deserving of love and positive connections, I would have gone out more and been more courageous in meeting new people, which would more likely result in me finding my ideal partner.
But it was difficult to get on board with this new train of thought after a huge ugly breakup. The memories of the time we spent together kept surfacing. I was close to tears every day because I was grieving, and our mutual friends asked how things are going between us. When I was out and about, I couldn’t help but notice other lovers holding hands minding their own business while nobody took notice of me. That mini-episode of perceptions would launch me into questioning “Why did he leave?” “What did I do wrong?” And the vicious cycle goes on.
To truly convince me that I am deserving of love, my micro-anecdotes must be revised and all of these tiny events must be re-interpreted or re-imagined. Belief authoring is intended to assist with this.
Belief authoring is a journaling practice to transform old detrimental beliefs and replace them with new beneficial ones. There are so many different types of journal questions available on the internet for altering your attitude, but I believe there are three key questions you need and are most effective.
To surface unconscious beliefs — ask “What bothers me and why?”
You can’t change what you don’t see. Whenever something upsets you, the situation presents a rare chance to identify a dark thought that might be lurking behind its brow. You can catch it by asking “What bothers me and why?”
To answer the question, consider the following angles: write down a descriptive account of what happens to you that makes you feel bad emotions (sadness, anger, anxiety, and so on). Describe what ran through your mind, how you felt about it, and how you responded.
The most crucial aspect of the inquiry is why, and it’s best to ask why several times. The later answers are often more in-depth and interesting. Sometimes, I realized the reason why I’m upset is not even about the subject of the story. Other times I need to write down the entire history of the feud, as those recollections explain my beliefs and emotions.
If you’re angry or feel down about yourself, feel free to let it all out. This is a personal space, so you can express yourself freely without fearing judgments.
For me, writing it down is sometimes enough to clear up the negative emotions without needing the next step. However, I talked to several people who said that such an exercise would make them feel extremely uncomfortable. Some people might feel judgemental towards themselves when they write about how bad they feel. Some might tend to ruminate on the negative events and reexperience their agony. Don’t worry; this is natural.
If you are one of these people, here’s a tip from a psychologist from the University of Michigan, Ethan Kross. His research suggests that self-reflection would be more helpful if you can “take a step back” and view the event from the third-person perspective. When cued to view the emotional events as a “fly on the wall”, people were able to gain insights and analyze the reasons underlying their feelings. Instead of ruminating over it, they were able to reconstruct the experience in a way that provided them with closure.
The key is to bring awareness to those emotions with a curious mindset. Set an intention that the writing is to be done to understand your cognitive and emotive tendencies, not to seek to blame yourself or others.
To alter the beliefs — ask “What could have been better or different?”
This is the key step that most people don’t do with their journals. I think this step is best performed after several days of catching yourself in distress since it gives you a little bit of space to reflect on the event in a more objective light. Read through a previous entry and ask “what could have been better or different?”
There are several ways to answer this question. You can come up with a potential re-interpretation of people’s actions or a more positive way you could have responded to the situation.
I would sometimes literally rewrite my journal entry. Especially when I used harsh language and harbored animosity toward myself and others, I would change phrases here and there to give the subjects more benefits of the doubts.
I even had a few entries I kept adding on and editing for months. This iterative process is crucial because deep-rooted beliefs are very difficult to work on sometimes. Keep revisiting, chewing over them, leaving some space of time between writing sessions to find relevant information and allow creative insights to emerge.
One of the longest entries I wrote had to do with “scarcity mindset around money.” These money beliefs were formed early in life and strengthened over time, with interwoven components. My money journaling has cured loss aversion, jealousy, procrastination, and contributed to the financial and time freedom I have today.
To dig deep — ask “What other questions do I have?”
The brain is a huge network of memories, opinions, and objectives. I began to appreciate exploring the vast extent of my mind after years of practicing belief authoring, and I know this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
The most powerful instruments for self-exploration are questions. When you ask, your brain answers. I have several favorite follow-up questions I like to pose: Is this really what I want in my life? What are my options and what are their pros and cons? Is this even a problem? My journal is not only an emotion management tool, it’s also a decision tool.
I would sometimes come up with more questions by wearing different thinking hats. For example, I used to get so bothered by one of my businesses that is going downhill, causing a lot of investment loss and huge arguments among coworkers. So I’d ask “If I were the most optimistic person on the planet, how would I see through this?” Or I’d ask “If I were the biggest skeptic, what potential risks could I foresee?”
I re-read the replies I made, and I came up with even more questions; I kept asking until there were no more questions.
Sometimes, answering these questions is sufficient for me to obtain closure without taking further action. The difficulties I had with my coworkers were mostly resolved just by journaling, rather than confronting them.
Other times, investigating all angles gives me a feeling of complete confidence in my new belief and a strong resolution to commit to a course of action without fear of regrets. That, to me, is extremely valuable, because it allows me to take more calculated risks that can propel my life forward with peace of mind. These decision makings are taking place daily in various facets of my life, resulting in rapid self-evolution, which would be impossible to accomplish if I didn’t author my beliefs regularly.
Iterate and Evolve
As I got older, new adventures and challenges emerged, as well as more difficult issues to solve. The belief authoring journal has been a valuable ally throughout my life’s journey. I consider it a propeller of the upward spiral in my life since it continuously and reliably transforms limiting beliefs into empowering ones. The secret to this is to make it a part of your routine and keep revisiting it again and again until you are completely transformed. I hope that this post has motivated you to prop the window to your mind open, map your beliefs, and deliberately reshape your life.