A beginner’s guide to core Beliefs and automatic thoughts with 7 examples

Core beliefs are an internal navigation system that helps you navigate the world. They determine how you think about yourself, others, and the world. And they shape your perceptions and influence the way you think and act. You form core beliefs early in life through experiences and interactions with people and the environment. 

Automatic thoughts are the directions that lead you to your core beliefs. They are quick and spontaneous mental responses to certain situations or stimuli and can be positive, negative, or neutral. Your automatic thoughts affect your emotions, behaviors, and overall well-being.

Since automatic thoughts are automatic, they are also largely unconscious. So if your core belief is that people are inherently bad and incapable of being in a loving relationship, then your automatic thoughts will lead you to that conclusion no matter who you interact with.

How core beliefs and automatic thoughts interact

Core beliefs trigger automatic thoughts that reinforce those beliefs, creating a cycle that can be difficult to break. For example, if someone has a core belief that they are unlovable, they may experience automatic thoughts such as “Nobody cares about me” or “I’m always alone.” These thoughts can reinforce the core belief and lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression.

On the other hand, if someone has a core belief that they are capable and competent, they may experience automatic thoughts such as “I can do this” or “I am strong.” These thoughts can reinforce the core belief and lead to feelings of confidence and empowerment.

How to change core beliefs

You can transform your life by evaluating your core beliefs and determining if they align with your goals.

This can sound really intimidating, and if your core beliefs are holding you back, you likely, understandably, want to change them ASAP. Some disingenuous gurus take advantage of this and will tell you that you can change your core beliefs in 30 minutes. Those people are setting you up for failure.

Instead, what you need to do is take a deep breath, remind yourself that awareness is the first step (which is where you are now). Then read the examples of core beliefs in pop-culture below to get a deep understanding of how they affect behavior and outcomes.

By building this foundation, you are starting slow to go fast. Meaning that when you have a good understanding of the concepts, it will be easier for you to evaluate and manage or change your core beliefs.

Core belief examples

In the movie “The Lion King,” Simba struggles with his core belief that he is responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa. This belief leads Simba to flee his home and live a carefree life, trying to forget his past (similar to how people use drinking, drugs, casual sex and binge watching).

However, when Simba returns to his home, he realizes he must confront his past and face his core belief in order to become the leader he was meant to be.

Similarly, in the TV show “Friends,” Phoebe’s core belief that everything happens for a reason is often challenged by the chaotic and unpredictable events in her life. This belief helps her stay positive and find meaning in even the most difficult situations.

Automatic thought examples

In the movie “Inside Out,” the character Joy experiences automatic thoughts that are focused on happiness and positivity. The character Sadness experiences automatic thoughts that are focused on sadness and negativity. In the movie, Sadness is a Debbie downer while Joy is positive and sees the world much differently than Sadness.

In the TV show “The Office,” the character Michael often has automatic thoughts that are self-centered and impulsive, which leads to him making poor decisions and causing problems for himself and his coworkers. During the course of the show the audience discovers details about Michael’s childhood that have led him to have his self-centered attitude.

Example of changing core beliefs and automatic thoughts

In the TV show “The Good Place,” the character Eleanor goes through a process of self-reflection and growth. This includes challenging her core belief that she is a bad person and replacing it with the belief that she can become a better person through her actions and choices.

In the movie “Frozen,” Elsa learns to control her automatic thoughts and fears through mindfulness and self-reflection, ultimately embracing her true self and finding inner peace.

In the drama series “Downton Abbey,” the matriarch and main character Violet Crawley has her core beliefs challenged during the course of the series by her cousin, Isobel Crawley. Violet’s core belief that servants are less important than other people changes and results in Violet welcoming servants and helping them in times of need. This results in Violet’s family feeling more connected to Violet and a strong connection between Violet and Isobel. 

Key takeaways and looking ahead

Core beliefs and automatic thoughts play a significant role in shaping your perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. By understanding these concepts and learning to challenge negative beliefs and thoughts, you will cultivate a more positive and fulfilling outlook on life. 

Remember, this is a marathon, not a race. And even if you are super keen to get started, you can’t cram all of this in like it’s the night before a test (cramming rarely worked anyway).

So approach it with curiosity and with the assurance that you can and will shape your core beliefs to benefit you. When you learn new topics with ease you give your brain the environment it needs to make revelations and you’ll be in a better position to identify the core beliefs and automatic thoughts that are holding you back.

The more you learn about your thoughts, the more things are going to make sense. It’s OK to have questions, ask them in the comments below.

Want to know your level of thought awareness? Take this quiz here.

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