Are you image driven or reality driven?

What’s happening in your mind when you’re in the grip of negative emotions and how do you make the best use of those situations so you can learn from them and feel better the next time you end up in a similar situation?

According to Dr Nick Hall, we don’t react to reality. We react to images or interpretations of reality.


He describes how an artist uses her surroundings to create an image but doesn’t create the image based completely on reality. She uses only what she needs to suit the image she’s creating and also adds things into the image that may not be present in reality. He suggests we do the same with the images we create in our minds. We leave things out, add things in and distort things and this process is shaped by our beliefs. This is neither positive nor negative but can have positive or negative effects on our wellbeing, health and happiness. In this podcast, I’m looking specifically at image driven behaviour that has a detrimental effect.

Although this post is titled “Are you Image driven or Reality driven”, the likelihood is that you’re both. Most of us switch between the two, depending on the situation, the beliefs and the emotional triggers involved.

How to tell if you’re image driven

  1. You will ignore or refute information that doesn’t fit with the image
  2. The negative feelings that result from the situation don’t eventually lead to something positive – such as self-reflection or making a change for the better
  3. You experience similar situations the same way over and over, making them a possible source of stress or anxiety

How to tell if you’re reality driven

  1. You seek additional information that doesn’t necessarily fit with your image. You ask questions, listen, look around to see what’s happening, test your assumptions etc.
  2. You consider your emotions with curiosity rather than trying to shut them down or experience something else.
  3. You willingly try new things to see what happens to the image and your subsequent experiences. This may involve seeking counselling or coaching, talking about the situation with the person or people involved, experimenting with different approaches to see what happens etc.

So what?

When you find yourself regularly repeating the same patterns in your life – fights with a spouse or housemate, shouting at your kids, withdrawing at work etc. – it’s worth examining the images you’ve created in your mind related to these people and events.

  • What beliefs do you hold about what should / shouldn’t ‘t be happening?
  • What are you labelling as “good” or “bad”? Could these be challenged?
  • What are you ignoring within these situations?
  • What are you embellishing or adding to your image in relation to these situations?
  • What useful information is your reaction giving you about yourself and what you value?
  • What can you do with this new information to help you manage these situations in ways that feel more productive for you and the other person / people involved?

Keeping a journal, reflecting on your experiences and asking yourself questions such as those listed here will help you make sense of how your images shape your feelings and reactions. This knowledge is useful if you decide you want to make a change as it helps you work out how best to do that.

Related podcasts

The experiencing self versus the remembering self

Where do beliefs come from?

How to challenge a belief


I am not a psychologist. The information in this blog and the accompanying podcast is based on my experience and learning and should not be taken as therapeutic advice.

When and how to challenge a belief

In brief:

When beliefs are not serving you well – when they’re causing you unnecessary anxiety or making you “less you”, it’s worth examining them to determine where they came from and whether or not they hold up against more objective criteria.

Ask yourself:

  1. Where did this belief come from – as explored in Episode 6, beliefs come from a variety of sources and we often internalise beliefs we gathered from others.
  2. What other beliefs do I need to subscribe to in order to hold this belief in place?

In detail:

Beliefs are shaped by our experiences and then go on to shape our experiences. This means your version of reality can literally be altered by your beliefs. Think of the differences between someone with a fear of heights and someone exhilarated by them. Stand them side by side on the top of a building. Same situation. Different beliefs. Different experiences.

Someone with a fear of heights might benefit from working out what the belief is that underpins the fear, the “central belief” about heights.

Where did it come from? An experience? Someone else’s fear? An association with something else? etc.

Imagine the central belief to be the centre of a spider web. It needs an infrastructure – the rest of the web – to support it. Central beliefs can’t stand on their own.  They need other, satellite beliefs to support them and hold them in place. Often the central belief feels too difficult to tackle head on so the satellite beliefs can provide a great starting point.

In the podcast, I use an example based on my own experience but here, let’s stick with the fear of heights. Let’s say your father was afraid of heights and you internalised that fear and the corresponding central belief.

What other beliefs might be required to hold the fear in place?

  • My dad is right about everything?
  • If my dad was scared, I must be scared too?
  • I use my dad’s experiences to shape my own? etc.

Whatever the satellite beliefs, they’re usually blatantly flawed and therefore far easier to challenge.

If you can’t subscribe to the satellite beliefs, you weaken the structure of the central belief and can start challenging it more consciously.

So what?

Not all beliefs need to be examined and challenged. When elements of your life feel misaligned, you feel overly anxious or chronically stressed, it’s likely there is benefit in examining the beliefs driving your choices and behaviour.

By challenging – and possibly changing – the belief, you’ll notice new choices become available to you, in terms of what is true and not true, what is possible for you and what might happen if you take a particular course of action. These could shape your experiences in new ways and lead to greater alignment with your values and stronger feelings of satisfaction.


I am not a psychologist. The information in this blog and the accompanying podcast is based on my experience and learning and should not be taken as therapeutic advice.






What does it take to be OK with not being OK?

I read Is it really OK not to be OK yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  I’m working on a podcast series about beliefs and how they shape our thoughts and actions so I  find myself wondering about the beliefs that surround “negative” emotions or being “not OK”. What are those beliefs? Where have they come from? How well are they serving us?

These aren’t questions I’m able to answer in a single blog – not when I’ve got half an hour while the kids watch Saturday morning TV! (Though, I doubt they’re questions I could answer completely even if I had all the time in the world)

What do we mean when we talk about not being ok? If I’m not ok, does it say something about me or my situation? Are my emotions the cause or merely a symptom of a problem? Are my emotions a problem at all or are they valuable clues I could use to better effect? These are questions we’d all answer differently, depending on our beliefs.

We seem to be totally ok with negative emotions in situations where they feel “justified” and, for the most part, we seem to cope with those fairly well. Death, illness and disaster can unite people in their grief and there’s something quite positive about the sense of belonging one can experience in a group going through something big together. But what happens when you’ve been sad for too long or your too sad? What happens when you can’t let go? What happens when you feel differently than others?

I wonder whether part of the difficulty we have in working out how to be OK with not being OK is that we still divide emotions into two camps – positive and negative, OK and not OK. Then we have to force ourselves to believe that negative emotions are ok but really, deep down, they’re emotions we don’t want to come into contact with and when we do, we naturally make efforts to dispense with them as quickly as possible.

For my money, if we’re going to be ok with not being ok, we have to change our underlying beliefs about emotions – maybe instead of “it’s ok not to be ok” we say “all emotions are ok” or even “All emotions have something to say. Listen.”

That has been one of the fundamental lessons I’ve had to learn in my aspirations to have a “Big Happy Life”. It isn’t always happy and that’s part of what makes the happy times happy. They have to differentiate from something in order to be experienced fully. I’m not always happy, nor would I wish to be. I learn about myself every time the dark times loom and every time I descend into them.

This week was one of my most challenging. I don’t have words to describe the emotions I felt. I’m still trying to process them. All I can tell you is that an important figure in my daughter’s life shared some information with me about how she sees me and it triggered feelings in me that I associate with childhood but can’t quite grasp or link to concrete memories. This is exactly the kind of thing that could have sparked months of depression for me but one of the lessons of Big Happy Life is to accept all that comes my way and open myself up to what my emotions are telling me. This time, instead of descending into darkness, I am writing, thinking, talking, making sense of what these emotions have to say.

In truth, I’m quite enjoying the process because I’ve wondered for a long time about some of my challenges around failure and lack of confidence and I think this situation has handed me a key to unlock some of that. It’s quite exciting!

So now I’m out of time and my children’s eyes will turn square if I don’t get them away from the TV and get active. I’m going to need to revisit this topic as there are so many additional layers and levels to consider but in the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts.


Where do beliefs come from?

Take a moment to answer any one of these questions:

  1. What is success?
  2. What does it take to be a good person?
  3. What is the most important thing family members can do for each other?

The only way to answer these questions is to tap into your beliefs.

Our beliefs drive every aspect of our lives – every thought, every action, every aspiration. Is something worth doing? It depends what you believe? Will this project work out? I depends what you believe? Should you ask that person out? … You get the picture.

Most of us get that beliefs feature heavily in our lives but few of us stop to think about where they came from or why we don’t all believe the same things.

Even more interesting than the fact that we don’t all answer the same way is that most of us would struggle to answer these 3 questions without significant time and thought because we’re not always consciously aware of the beliefs driving our choices – and most of us don’t realise that some of our beliefs are not even our own.

What are beliefs?

Arguably, this is a philosophical question and we could debate its answer for hours. For the purposes of using our understanding to shape our lives in positive ways, I like to think of beliefs as rules of thumb. They are the rules we live by and they help us decide whether things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and whether we should ‘advance’ or ‘retreat’ (not in a fight / flight sort of way, more in a “will something good or bad happen if I do this?” sort of way)

If you listened to Episode 4 (We know what to do so why don’t we do it?), you’ll know about the Rider and the Elephant. It’s worth noting that, for the most part, beliefs are the domain of the elephant.

Three sources of beliefs

Again, if we argued this philosophically or delved deeper into the theory of beliefs and where they come from, we would uncover more than 3 sources of beliefs but for the purposes of making informed choices about which beliefs to cherish and which to change or chuck, these two sources are a good place to start.

  1. Advertising / Society / Culture
  2. People in your life – parents, teachers, friends
  3. Yourself – your experiences and your interpretation of those experiences

Advertising / Society / Culture

These are the beliefs that are ‘sold’ to us. They come from the media, government, religion etc. Once we internalise these beliefs we come to accept them as our own.

People in our lives

We take on beliefs shared with us by significant people in our lives. For example, a belief I internalised from childhood was “never give anyone anything bad to say about you”. To this day, I struggle to have the courage to stand out because my instinct suggests I’ll draw negative attention – something I should retreat from. Every time I post a blog, upload a podcast or update social media, I have a little flash of fear as I push against that deep rooted belief that I’m going to accidentally give someone a reason to criticise.


Our experiences provide information about what works and what doesn’t. They provide the blueprints for future decisions. BUT. As I discussed in Episode 3, our experiences and our memories of those experiences are not the same and our beliefs are shaped by the remembering self. For this reason, it’s easy for our beliefs to feel like they’re supported with iron clad proof when in actual fact, they can be massively skewed by our interpretation of our experiences.

Why does it matter?

Not all of our beliefs serve us well. Some hold us back, some make us unhappy, some stop us from noticing the opportunities to do things differently.

Where this is the case, it’s worth examining our beliefs more closely. Beliefs are not facts and should not be treated as such.

Where your beliefs serve you well, help you make choices that allow you to improve your life and the lives of others, it’s worth leaving them in place. When they’re doing the opposite, it’s worth challenging them and working out where your beliefs came from is the first step in this process.

In next week’s episode, I’ll explore how to challenge beliefs.


Beliefs – cherish or chuck?

How is it possible that we all have such great potential yet so few of us end up living our dream lives?

As a child, I wanted to be an actress. I was going to win my first Academy Award in the year 2000 and it would be presented to me by Sylvester Stallone (Don’t ask. I have no idea!). I was 7 years old when I first vocalised this aspiration.

My parents felt that acting was a risky profession – too risky to warrant missing school to pursue – so on I went with my education until I was 18. Drama school followed, where I gained a qualification that would allow me to become a drama teacher – because acting is a risky profession – too risky to put all your efforts into it; better to hedge your bets.

I arrived in London, aged 21, with dreams of becoming a West End (I no longer wanted to work in film. I believed I was too fat.) I didn’t attend a single audition. Not one.  I became a waitress.

Yes, the odds were against me but it was my beliefs that ultimately killed my chances. Every time I had a choice, what did I pick? The safe option. Every time I had an opportunity, what did I think? ‘It probably won’t pan out. Is it even worth bothering?’ Soon enough, acting disappeared as an ambition and off I went to build another sort of life for myself.

Fortunately, I am now of the belief that we can have more than one dream life and I’m currently in pursuit of my dream life 2.0.  Again with the odds stacked against me. This time, however, when I have a choice I’ll take a risk if it means I might get a step closer to that dream. Where opportunities present, I will be bothered. This time, I choose to chuck the beliefs that hold me back. I choose to cherish just one overriding belief; the belief that I have what it takes to beat the odds.

What beliefs should you chuck or cherish?