Our Hidden Rules – How To Talk To People When It Scares You

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation in which a negative belief about ourselves (eg I know this is going to go really badly) turns out to be unfounded. When this happens we can be thrown. And we’re thrown because we subconsciously want to be able to define ourselves.

We want to be clear that we understand ourselves so that we can predict how we will show up in the world at all times. We feel this will give us a sense of certainty and control. So when we don’t respond to life as we expect, we realise we don’t necessarily understand ourselves as we thought we did.

By becoming aware of our beliefs and the rules we’re living by we give ourselves a choice to follow the rules… or not. Awareness of these beliefs and rules allows us to set up test scenarios in which we deliberately don’t follow the rules.

These scenarios are specifically designed to allow us to drop the rules and to see what happens. Positive outcomes to those scenarios help to throw original negative beliefs into question or even dispel them.

For example, you realise your negative belief is no-one likes me. The corresponding rule you’ve developed over the years is to agree with everyone in order to be liked and accepted.

You decide to set up a series of test scenarios in which you disagree with what is said just to see what happens. You find, to your pleasant surprise that you’re respected even more by your peers for not only having your own opinion but having the courage to voice it.

So if you find you have negative beliefs about yourself try this exercise:

1. Note down the scenario in which a particular negative belief surfaces (eg you went to a party or event recently, on walking in found you didn’t know anyone and were afraid to strike up a conversation).

2. Think about and note down all the beliefs that came to the surface for you (eg no-one would be interested in anything I have to say anyway; or they might ignore me if I tried to speak to someone). Notice there’s no evidence to prove either of these beliefs.

3. Then try to come up with the kind of rules you’re likely to be living by as a result of those beliefs: eg If I stay away from parties I won’t be overwhelmed or feel scared and I’ll be OK; or If I do go to a party as long as I don’t talk to anyone I won’t be rejected and I’ll be OK. So you’re essentially filling in the following blanks: if I… I… and I’ll be OK.

4. Choose a more empowering belief that opposes the negative belief but that you can relate to: eg if they don’t know me, there’s no reason for them to ignore me or be disinterested in what I have to say or a general empowering belief such as I’m always doing the best I can given the person I am right now.

5. Establish a new rule: eg If I go to every event I’m invited to it will become easier and easier to talk to people, especially because I know I’m OK and always doing my best.

6. Set up a test scenario that will stretch you without completely overwhelming you. For example, for the next party you’re invited to, decide you’re going to strike up a conversation lasting at least five minutes with at least one person. If you’re shy, five minutes can seem like an eternity, but if you know you only need to engage for five minutes you know there’s a definite cut off.

Once you’ve had your 5-minute conversation, you’re off the hook and can do what you want for the rest of the time. You can either stay at the party and repeat the exercise with more guests, stay at the party and not engage with the people around you or leave.

7. Review the outcome of your test. Does the outcome dispel or reinforce your new beliefs and rules? What was it about your test that worked? What didn’t work? What have you learnt, and what will you do differently next time?

When you have this more systematic and empowering approach to the challenges in your life, it becomes easier to begin to move into situations you generally find difficult. When you can successfully change your outcomes by taking control of your beliefs and thoughts about yourself, others and the world around you, you begin to change your life for the better.

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