We need beliefs, they are a simplification, a rule of thumb about how the world works and what things mean.
If we didn’t have them we would have to re-invent our understanding of the world everyday.
Some of these beliefs are helpful:
- If I speak up then people will respect my honesty.
- People will be interested in what I have to say.
And some of them are less than helpful:
- If I speak up then people will criticise me
- Speaking about what I do is just bragging
What beliefs have in common is that they are generalisations. They are a distillation of past experience. What appear to be common factors in our experience are boiled down into a rule which we use as a guide to action in the future.
The good thing about a belief is that it is a generalisation. It is a simplification that usually works and saves us a lot of time when dealing with the complexities of life.
The bad thing about a belief is that it is a generalisation. There are times when it misses out the important complexities in our experience. Because beliefs are often formed at an early age they only take account of those experiences.
When our lives and circumstances move on our beliefs often stay locked in the past. It is unlikely that a belief that you formed when you were six years old will work well for you in adult life; many of our beliefs may be out of date.
Unfortunately, our beliefs are difficult to upgrade, once such a generalisation is in place we tend to ignore, distort or not even see contradictory evidence.
If we can challenge the generalisations and let the contrary evidence in, then, we can soften the belief and allow it to be updated by new information. The more accurate our generalisation the more likely it is to serve us.
You can invite yourself to relax these rules of thumb through the simple verbal technique of acknowledging possible exceptions
I am always late → I am always late, except when I’m not
He is never kind to me → He is never kind to me, except when he is
She is always late → She is always late, except when she’s not.
The ‘except when …’ part of the phrase invites you to consider times when the belief hasn’t been true. This will work well with just the the verbal technique, but adding EFT lets us loosen the generalisation and ease the way for an update in the belief in a shorter period of time.
- Test the original belief by saying it out loud, scoring it on the 0-10 scale.
- Tap the karate chop point saying “Even though [belief] I accept myself and how I feel” three times.
- Alternate tapping between belief and exception as you work through a round of tapping.
- Test the original belief by saying it out loud. How strong is it now?
- Repeat the process as often as required.
That’s it. Exception Tapping is not exactly a reframe more a loosening of the frame of the belief.
Even though I am always late, I accept myself and how I feel.
- EB: I am always late
- SE: Except when I’m not
- UE: I am always late
- UN: Except when I’m not
- CH: I am always late
- CB: Except when I’m not
- UA: I am always late
- TH: Except when I’m not
Going back to the beliefs about speaking up
Even though when I speak up people criticise me I accept myself and how I feel
- EB: When I speak up people criticise me
- SE: Except when they don’t
- UE: When I speak up people criticise me
- UN: Except when they don’t
- CH: When I speak up people criticise me
- CB: Except when they don’t
- UA: When I speak up people criticise me
- TH: Except when they don’t
The pattern of words is quite simple – the generalisation followed by the exception. The point of this process is not to change the belief directly into something more useful but to shake it enough to allow it to be updated by the person’s own experience into something that better fits with their world. There may be occasions when you are criticised for what you say, but that’s not the same as imagining, or acting as if, it’s going to happen all the time.
Here are a few more examples:
- I can’t …, except when I can
- I never …, except when I do
- I always … except when I don’t
- I must … except when I mustn’t
- I should … except when I shouldn’t
- I don’t … except when I do
This process is inspired by an idea from the brief therapist Bill O’Hanlon – www.billohanlon.com