4 Common Beliefs That Keep Many People Stuck and Unhappy

Faulty thinking is like playing the game of life with the wrong rules.

Posted Sep 30, 2020

Source: emir-saldierna/Unsplash

Human beings have an interesting ability to believe something that isn’t true and then organize their entire life around those faulty beliefs. For example, for thousands of years, people thought the world was flat. Living life with faulty beliefs is a little bit like playing the game with the wrong rules. It often causes considerable frustration and distress, while limiting your ability to be successful.

Below are four common mistaken patterns of thinking that, over the past 15 years, I have seen cause many of my clients a lot of distress.

1. I can’t be happy until my environment and the people in it change.  

Your happiness is determined by what you think.

Most people assume it is the events and experiences in their life that cause their emotions. 

My partner broke up with me—so I am unhappy.

I lost my job—so I am depressed.

My boss was really rude to me—so I am angry.

The basic framework of cognitive therapy shows us that your environment and/or the people in it, no matter how bad they might seem, aren’t what cause you to be unhappy. It is what you believe to be true about those things that determine your feelings about them. 

  • My partner broke up with me—Belief: No one else will ever love me—so I am unhappy. 
  • My partner broke up with me—Belief: He was a real loser and I am glad to be free of him—so I am relieved and happy. 

The same event, viewed with different thinking, creates different emotions. 

As a result of the mistaken belief that it is your external environment that controls how you feel, many people spend a good deal of time trying to control their environment and the people in it so they can feel good. But trying to control the outer world over which you have little control is a frustrating and losing battle. If you really want control over your emotions, focus your energy on learning how to manage your thinking.

2. I should be somewhere else.

You can only be where you are. 

Many people waste endless energy making themselves unhappy by comparing themselves to others and believing that they should be somewhere other than where they already are: I should have gone to college, I should own a house by now, I should drive a better car, I should be thinner.

The reason this is a faulty thought pattern is that we all start life from different places with different experiences, families, biology, genetics, etc. Life is not a race and we do not all come out of the starting gate at the same time. This kind of head-to-head competition only prevents you from taking credit for the achievements that you have made based on your own set of circumstances. 

3. What other people think is more important than my own opinion. 

Your opinion of you is what matters most.

We all love validation. When someone pays us a compliment, it feels great. Because it feels so good to be validated by other people, other people’s opinions often become more important than the opinion you have of yourself. This can cause you to want to bend over backward to get other people to evaluate you in a positive way. However, trying to make everyone else happy by changing who you are or what you do is a losing battle. You will eventually run into those who can’t be pleased, or you will find that pleasing one person ends up displeasing someone else. 

What matters most is that you learn to value your own opinion of who you are and what you do. This is not the same as being narcissistic. Narcissism stems from underlying insecurity and often involves seeing oneself as better than others. Liking who you are means you assign yourself and others equal value; it doesn’t mean that you disrespect or devalue someone else. 

Valuing yourself is about recognizing a very simple truth—your experience in the world starts with you. When you value yourself, you spend time becoming who you want to be, not what someone else wants you to be. When you do what is truly right for you and take care of yourself, the people who care about you will be happy for you. Those who only care about what you do to make them happy are probably not worth having around.

4. The world is divided into good and bad and right and wrong.

There is no universal right or wrong way to think about anything.

We all have preferences for how we believe the world should be and how other people should behave. This is our own personal rule book that we have developed based on our likes, wants, and values. We tend to self-select into groups who share similar viewpoints, and as a result, we can become convinced that our preferences are right and what others want is wrong. All conflict results from one person believing that another person should be different. 

But the reality is everyone has a right to have their own personal rule book and having different rule books means different points of view that all have equal merit in their own way. Even a subject such as whether it is right or wrong to kill people has many varying opinions. Some people believe it is always wrong, some believe it is permissible to kill someone who has done wrong to others in society, while still others believe it is the path to religious righteousness. 

Becoming fixated on the rightness or wrongness of what anyone is doing can create lots of negative emotions like anger, rage, and depression. What is more effective is to learn to observe the actions of others in a non-judgmental way. When you remove the labels of good, bad, right, and wrong, you free yourself from the emotional impact of situations that are usually out of your control. Try to focus on what you can control, which includes your thoughts and behaviors, regardless of what others choose to do, and respect the right of others to be who they are.