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An Essential Exercise for Examining Underlying Beliefs

Lights in hand, Joanna Kosinska, Unsplash

I used to view my thoughts and beliefs as rock-solid facts. I assumed they were indisputable, unquestionable truths. I assumed that I had to stick with them because I’d stuck with them for years. As if I was married to these thoughts, and divorce simply wasn’t an option.

Maybe you, too, cling to certain beliefs because you assume they’re facts. After all, we believe what our minds tell us. Maybe you, too, cling to certain beliefs because you just never thought to question or challenge them. You didn’t realize you had a choice.

But you do. You do have another choice. Many choices.

You can get curious about your beliefs. You can doubt and dispute them. You can revise them. You can adopt beliefs that are healthier and more helpful.

I’ve already shared one exercise from the book What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now by Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D, and Eileen Bailey. (You’ll find that post here.) Today, I’m sharing another powerful exercise, which I think can be super helpful. It focuses on conducting a cost-benefit analysis with your underlying beliefs. Give it a try, starting with one underlying belief.

For instance, list the costs of holding your belief. Next list the benefits of holding this belief. Finally, consider these questions: “Is the net cost of your belief worth you holding on to it?” “How would your behavior and feelings change if you were more flexible and shifted this belief into a preference rather than a demand?” “Does this type of thinking motivate you or create emotional turmoil?”

Here’s an example of the costs and benefits of the belief, “A dirty house means I am a bad person.”

What Went Right by Michael Wetter and Eileen BaileyCost

  • I always worry about my house being clean
  • I have frequent arguments with my partner because he is not as neat as I would like him to be
  • If I am not able to clean my house on Saturday morning, it ruins my entire weekend because I worry about it not being clean
  • It stops me from doing fun and enjoyable things on Saturday morning


  • I have a clean house
  • Visitors will think I am a clean person

Try this exercise with your beliefs. Take the time to see how these beliefs are affecting your life. To see if you still want to believe them.

As you work on changing your thought patterns, be compassionate with yourself, as Wetter and Bailey emphasize. This is a process that takes practice. So instead of condemning, judging or berating yourself, try telling yourself something like: “I prefer not using should-and-must statements, but if I do, I know that I am doing my best, and with practice I won’t use them as often as I do now.”

Remember that unhealthy underlying beliefs can be changed. You have another choice. A healthier, more helpful choice.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska.
An Essential Exercise for Examining Underlying Beliefs

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2016). An Essential Exercise for Examining Underlying Beliefs. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Oct 2016
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