Ask the Pros by Angela Grace

“Who taught you that?”

At least a few times a month I will ask a coaching client a gentle version of “who taught you that?” It is a way for me to nudge my clients into thinking about why they believe what they believe and begin a process called Critical Reflection. We go through this thought process when a client bumps up against a belief or assumption that no longer fits for their life and it’s time to make a change.

Many fiction story lines have some version of Critical Reflection imbedded into the plot. A character is certain about something and then meets a lovely woman and her long-standing assumption is challenged and then updated or discarded. And, when the Critical Reflection period is complete, girl gets girl.

In general, Critical Reflection is a three-step process. The first step is to identify a current belief and determine how and where you developed that belief. Beliefs are stories we have told ourselves over and over again until they become our truth. Those stories originated somewhere and most often started with the family of origin. Most individuals rarely Critically Reflect upon their lives and live with the values that were handed over to them from past generations. Identifying those “take it for granted ideas”, rules of thumb and common sense that underlie our thoughts and actions can sometimes be difficult to ascertain. It’s just a part of who we are.

The second step is to challenge the belief to determine if you still want to keep it. Taking a long look and giving serious thought to our underlying assumption about how the world works is hard and sometimes, painful. For example, a common belief is that a certain color of skin represents stereotypical character traits. Or another example of a common (and I know personally is very wrong) belief is women with blond hair are dumb.

The third step is to change the belief to better reflect your current values. This process is a way to move past your current beliefs into a new awareness. The hope is the new awareness is a better fit and leads to better ways to think, feel and live.

Of course, easier said than done. My wife, who I adore, has a medical condition, diabetes. It is important, vital, that she exercise regularly to keep her glucose in check. Fortunately we live 40 minutes from a gorgeous state park on the shores of Lake Michigan where she has created for herself an intensive two-hour physical fitness program. She/we climb 237 stairs up a sand dune to a lookout with a spectacular view of the waves crashing onto the sandy beach, a cool red lighthouse and sparkling water. She/we walk a mile or so in the sand along the shoreline (she wants me to tell you she now has calves of steel). Everyday that she completes this routine, her glucose level remains low. Yahoo! Unfortunately, she has underlying beliefs that interfere with her enjoyment of the exercise and she feels guilty. Why? Her parents instilled the beliefs in her that if she isn’t working then she is lazy. If she is spending money on herself then she is selfish, and if she takes time out for herself then she isn’t being responsible because she isn’t working. She feels guilty that she is wasting time, gas and wear and tear on the car by driving 40 minutes over and then back again when she “should” be using her time more wisely. So here’s our conversation:

Me: Honey, did you read my blog for this week?
Wife: Yep.
Me: Did you read the part about Critical Reflection?
Wife: Yep, but it’s easier said than done.
Me: I know honey, but maybe you could …
Wife: What?… could what…?
Me: It’s about letting go.
Wife: uh-huh

So, that was the end of our conversation. What I didn’t say out loud is that resistance is normal but the process of Critical Reflection is healing.

As an author, when have you used Critical Reflection in your life? What beliefs did you bring with you from your past that needs updating? As you read this blog, what thoughts come to mind about beliefs that you still have that need analyzing and updating?

Angela Grace BCC


  1. Angela, when I was training as a Gestalt therapist, there was one mentor there who instilled in us “who told you that?” was one of the most powerful therapeutic tools we had. And it’s true. When people get really stubborn about things instead of asking them why they believe that, asking who told you that cuts through way quicker.

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  2. Thank you for the comment Alison. I agree completely. By asking ‘who told you that’ it takes the pressure off the person and places the responsibility where it belongs…on the person who instilled the value in the first place. The responsibility then shifts back to the person to decide if they are satisfied with the value or would like to update.


  3. What an interesting blog. It seems to make perfect sense to question ourselves, yet it is so difficult. I pride myself on coming to lots of realisations about the world as I experienced it and listened to voices other than those I grew up around. But I see now that that was the easy part, becoming a feminist, deciding to live as a lesbian, it just made sense so I went with it. But it is the other stuff, the deeply internalised reactions to circumstances that are so hard for me. It took seeing my actions through the eyes of my girlfriend who has been with me for three decades (and counting) to make me see some very ingrained patterns.

    For instance. I have a tendency to go over the top to please people. If someone admires something I have, I feel that I should give it to them. If someone is in an inconvenient situation, I feel that I should sort it out for them. Now that I see what I am doing, I can check myself. I can tell myself that this person does not want or expect me to give them the rare and beautiful shell I found, just because they said they like it. But here’s the rub, when I did stuff like that, it made me feel good. Somehow it reinforced my self of myself. It is not easy to let go of that. Nowadays I am less likely to just give people stuff, but, to be honest, I still find myself thinking of what a certain person might like and how I might get that for them. But I have someone to turn to turn to when I think I can’t trust my own judgement and that is a good thing.

    Thanks for the insight.


  4. Thank you for the thought through comment Jean. Thankfully, life is a process and we do not always have to get things right the first time.

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  5. Such a good blog post, with a challenging question to end. As a writer, I’d LOVE to produce an erotic/political/romantic/feminist work, but I hear at least 3 voices in my head telling me I can’t possibly combine those differing beliefs… and yet I still want to! But I’m not trying, because perhaps I’m not smart enough/a good enough writer/determined enough. And I know that’s my passive aggressive Mum’s critical voice… but it’s very loud.


  6. I’ve never thought of asking myself that question. I wonder how many beliefs (that I probably don’t even realize I hold) could be changed that way?


  7. Maybe all of them? Thank you for your comment. It is wonderful that readers are starting to think about what they believe, where the belief came from and deciding what to do with it.

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