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Believing does not mean that it’s true

Tim came to me because he was frustrating a lot of people by being late, changing plans and canceling appointments.

He usually explained that it was because he had a lot on his plate. In addition to running his own business, he sat on two town boards and had a large extended family, with whom he spent a great deal of time.

On top of that, he had an active social life, as well as a motorcycle hobby, which included regular weekend outings.

Tim was not only feeling completely stressed out by his busy schedule, he also felt guilty about frustrating the people around him. Even his health was suffering. Because he had changed appointments so many times, his physical therapist had told him not to come in any more, and as a result he was now coping with having reinjured his shoulder.

Of course the solution I suggested was to cut back on his obligations.

But that felt impossible to him. He compared it to “removing notes from a Beethoven symphony; which ones do you remove?”

He didn’t know where to begin.

I assured him it would be easier than he thought if he used a simple strategy to identify beliefs that were blocking him from cutting back. I asked him to complete this sentence: “If I don’t keep up with everyone and everything …”

After some thought, he replied: “I will let down many people.”

And, “Being busy reduces my anxiety.” And, “Everything I am doing is critical.”

These beliefs were so strong that they were driving his whole life.

But just because you believe something doesn’t mean it’s true.

In fact, subconscious beliefs that limit us and hold us back generally are not true.

The next step was to identify what was true in the situation, to give Tim a more realistic and healthy way to see his situation.  

Tim needed to complete the following sentence by using facts, not mental fiction. “If I cut back on my schedule …”

His answers:

“People will understand and not hold it against me.”

“I would be able to follow through better on the things I really wanted to do.”

“I would not be letting people down so often; in fact, they could count on me and maybe their stress level would go down.”

I asked him to type these answers up and and look at them once a day, and to allow the situation to resolve itself as he adopted a new way of thinking — one that was more true and worked better for him.

He could see better after doing this exercise that he had exaggerated his own importance to other people, and that made it easier for him to start cutting back on a few things.

When Tim resigned from one of the boards and cut back on a third of his family events, he quickly saw that everyone’s life continued on just fine without him. That gave him license to cut back even more. He was especially pleased with the fact that his anxieties about having some spare time turned out to be unfounded. He was enjoying unstructured time. It was a good move for him and everyone else.

Brooke Loening is a business and personal coach in Sharon. For more information and previous columns visit www.theloeningplan.com.Click here for more columns.

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