This blog looks at how we shape our beliefs, frame experiences, create meaning, and judge other people and situations. Neuroscience is demonstrating more and more that we have far more control over our thoughts than we thought and many behaviours and mindsets can be taught. We can then explicitly make assumptions that are useful to us and to others, rather than make assumptions that are unhelpful or even dangerous.

The way we think

A while back, whilst considering what topic to study for my MAPP dissertation, I did some research into the topic of trust. I found that the concept of trust was perceived as a ‘game’ that has a winner and a loser. This version of trust, known as ‘game theory’ sees life and interactions with each other as a game of ‘getting one up on the other’. Quite frankly, I found this very distasteful! But then I began to see other versions of trust, such as one that is compassionate. Compassion in trust is when we want to trust because we want to do good for others, and unless we take that chance and step forward, we cannot do anything useful. Of course, the game theory version is the dominant version, but other flavours are available!

This supported my assumptions that we all see a different version of what is reality (and my dissertation demonstrated that as my participants all had a different definition of trust). But we are not isolated mountains, but interconnected beings, so despite holding different realities, we also influence one another, and so we often ‘upgrade’ our version when we obtain new information or have a new experience that leaves our old version of reality defunct. Therefore we are pliable and fluid in our beliefs.

Shaping our beliefs

Positive psychology has a number of interventions that help us shape our beliefs to become more helpful to us. Emotional Intelligence is a key area, where we can teach ourselves to experience and express ourselves with more emotional granularity. This affects the meaning we make from our experiences and whether we see things in a positive or negative light.

Strengths spotting is another core intervention that encourages us to look at ourselves and others in relation to strengths. Identifying strengths enables us to see how we and others can contribute in a positive way.

Gratitude and savouring interventions are great for realising just how fortunate we are, and loving-kindness meditation can rewire our brains to become more compassionate. Research demonstrates that when we get more curious and find out about things we don’t know much about, it expands our minds and creates more tolerance of differences.

These interventions hold a common thread of framing and reframing things in a way that creates more growth, positive feelings, and compassion for others. It’s the difference between saying something like: “That person’s annoying me” to “That person appears to be anxious, how can I help?”

Presuppositions in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Outside of positive psychology we can consider NLP. NLP is a useful method to compliment many of the positive psychology assumptions and interventions, as it too sees our minds as pliable and able to develop into healthier mindsets, using language to shape how we think. As an OD Practitioner-Researcher and Coach I have found the use of NLP presuppositions really useful in helping clients think about their beliefs.

Presuppositions are assumptions that are made about a situation, based on a person’s values and beliefs. We all have these and they help shape our judgements. They are part of the stories we tell each and every day to make sense of our lives. In NLP they help people to let go of unhealthy presuppositions.

Examples of presuppositions are:

·      Anything can be achieved if broken down into small enough steps

·      I’m in charge of my mind; therefore I’m in charge of my reality

·      If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had

·      If you want  to understand, act

·      The person with the most flexibility of behaviour will control the system

·      There is no failure, only feedback

·      Where attention flows, energy goes

You may recognise some of these NLP presuppositions as they are used across many disciplines and therapies, as well as in coaching and inspirational speaking.

Using presuppositions in positive psychology

Whatever your profession or interests, you might want to think about how you can introduce some of the presuppositions into your work to help your clients. For instance, there is a useful intervention in NLP where clients pick three cards with presuppositions on (at random), and are asked “If you believed this presupposition how would that help you achieve your goal?” You’ll be surprised how effective this is in shifting their current limiting belief to one that is helpful!

About the author: Lisa Jones completed the MAPP at Bucks New University in 2018. She is an Organisational Change and Development Practitioner, Researcher and Coach, focusing on how Leaders can build healthy relationships and connections in the workplace. She is also starting a Ph.D. early 2020 (at Bucks) on the relationship between complex emotions and close friendships.


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