It’s not what happens to you that shapes your life—it’s what you come to believe about what happens to you.” That’s classic Mandy Evans: a direct, easygoing clarity that rings immediately true—and then goes deeper than its simplicity first suggests. Scratch the surface of Ms. Evans’s accessible prose and you find decades’ worth of experience with the full spectrum of human fears and foibles, trials and tribulations.

Trained as a group counselor in New York City, Evans has enjoyed a rich and varied career as an educator, counselor, trainer and administrator of a kaleidoscope of programs—from church groups to sales trainings to behind-bars prison programs to Twelve-Step and recovery programs.

Mandy describes her new book, Travelling Free, as “a how-to book for anyone who wants freedom from past hurt or trauma.” Renowned author Bernie Siegel calls it, “A valuable tool for those seeking peace and direction”; Deepak Chopra says the book helps the reader gain the freedom “to use your memories—without allowing your memories to use you.”

Based on a workshop the author has been presenting across the country, Travelling Free pursues a signature theme that any serious student of network marketing will warm to quickly: how to identify and unravel limiting beliefs in order to move your life to new levels of freedom and creative fulfillment. We recently spoke with Mandy about her book and her life’s work. — J.M.F.


Mandy, what do you mean by “travelling free”?
I mean the ability to move through life without the baggage of your self-defeating beliefs—especially those beliefs formed during really hard times, which are so easy to live by without being aware of it.

 

Such as…?
When people go through a really challenging time, they’re prone to form beliefs that then form their version of reality. For example, people raised in abusive environments very often come to believe that they have been subjected to this abuse because of who they are—that they somehow deserve it, or that it’s simply their lot in life. If your reality is shaped by that belief, then you’ll tend to repeat the abusive circumstance over and over again.

Do these beliefs come predominately from childhood?
Not necessarily; we form them every moment of our lives. We all have them, but hardly anyone ever really examines them—we don’t even know where to start.

Mandy, how can we become aware of these limiting beliefs?
Obviously you’re not going to just wake up in the morning thinking, “What do I believe?” and then check out every belief you have—you’d never get out of bed!

Start by simply asking yourself, “Am I feeling some way that I don’t like feeling?” For example, let’s say that instead of going through life with a healthy, free-flowing movement of emotions throughout your being, you’re feeling chronically guilty, or you’re so prone to anger that it’s damaging your relationship. You can use emotional problems as a doorway: any sort of feeling you’re having that you really don’t like having is a sure signal that somewhere, you have formed a self-defeating belief that is simply not true.

 

So, you use your feelings as a barometer. Can it be as simple as feeling good versus feeling bad?
Absolutely; “I feel bad” is a really good clue. But it helps to find out what kind of bad, because it’s always easier to figure out a specific than a general. You say, “I feel bad, I just don’t feel that great”—and then start asking, “How come?”

You want to find out more about it. You could ask yourself, “What exactly is this feeling I don’t like having?” Our language really isn’t very good for it, but we can get closer and closer through our asking.

I just heard from a woman who started out by identifying the fact that she felt guilty. I had her ask, “What do I feel guilty about?” As she began to get clearer and clearer about her feelings, she realized that she felt guilty about the fact that her son was angry with her. She looked into that further, and discovered that to her, her son being angry with her meant that she wasn’t a loving enough mother. You can see how preposterous that could be! Children can get angry for hundreds of reasons—and most of them have nothing to do with how loving their mother is.

It wasn’t quick, because this was something she had used and lived with her entire life; but little by little, as she began to question it, her sense of guilt began to dissipate. I just got a letter from her telling me how wonderful it was being able to stand up to her son without feeling the agony of guilt. To do it lovingly, but to be able to clearly tell him, “Look, here’s where the line in the sand is.”

Simply becoming aware that this is so, and beginning to question, “What do I feel and how come I feel that way?” is a big step. As with anything—meditation, aerobic exercise, riding a bike—the more you do it, the easier it gets and the freer, the more yours your life becomes.

I so fervently wish that I could help everybody in the world simply begin to question their own feelings, where they might be coming from, and what beliefs might be shaping them.

 

Mandy, what about the more subtle beliefs? How do we recognize those? For instance, people with issues of confidence that would cause them to find it difficult to talk to other people?
The first step is simply to entertain the possibility that if I’m feeling a particular way, it might be because of what I believe, rather than the usual approach, which is, “Who did what to me?”

You see, our language is riddled with expressions that say that other people make us feel some kind of way. Even the therapeutic question, “How does that make you feel?” is kind of ridiculous—because “it” didn’t make you feel some way. Your life experience, your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams make you feel that way, combined with how you reacted to circumstances.

Here’s an example concerning confidence. I am one of the shyest people I’ve ever known. I was an unwanted child in a large chaotic family. That’s the paradigm I grew up with: I’ve always been a reluctant leader, very shy and frightened of stepping forward, because I didn’t want to be in the way. I didn’t want anybody to say something mean to me, and I didn’t want to feel more unwanted than I already did.

In my line of work, I’ve naturally done a lot of public speaking—and I would almost always go through a process of feeling terror, or horror, at what I was about to do. Before speaking I would have to go through a process of trying to pull myself together: trying to not let my voice shoot up ten octaves and have my mouth go so dry I couldn’t talk. The best I could come up with was to tell people, “Look, I’m the shyest person you’ll ever know,” and then just somehow get beyond it. This had gone on for years.

One morning, I was sitting in a church about to speak, going through my usual process—and it dawned on me to ask myself: “How would you like to feel, if you could feel any way you want?” My answer was, “I’d like to feel like a confident woman who’s been working in her field for a long time and has something good to offer.” And this little voice said, “Well, is there any reason you can’t do that?” No, of course not!—and I almost cracked up laughing right there in church. I just marched myself right up there and spoke clearly from the beginning as a confident woman who believed she had something good to share. I don’t know if I would have ever thought to ask myself this question, had I not suffered through this process for so many years. Because we don’t know we can do this. In school, nobody ever tells you, “Now, remember to check out what your belief is, when you want to stop feeling some way you don’t like feeling.”

 

Is there a formal process that you teach or recommend for people to—and I may be saying this poorly—to help them form the habit of looking at their beliefs?
You didn’t say it poorly at all—I wish I ‘d thought of it! “The habit of looking at your beliefs.” Wonderful; that’s exactly what it is.

I wrote a little book called Emotional Options that was based on a method I learned years ago called the Option Method. The basic method is to use four simple questions.

Question One: “How are you feeling that you don’t like feeling?” You get as clear as you can about it. Then ask,

Question Two: “What’s that about?” What is the feeling about? Then it gets a little tricky, because when you get that answered, you ask,

Question Three: “Why do you feel that way?” Answering that question can make you feel a little spacey, because it can feel disorienting when you challenge your own beliefs. When you change your beliefs, you are literally changing your reality. Then, once you get the answers to why you feel that way, you ask,

Question Four: “Do you believe that?” Question four will always be about a belief. Why you feel the way you feel, once you know what it’s about, will always be a belief. Then you can examine for yourself whether or not you think it’s true.

Here is another common belief that relates to confidence. You know the resentment people sometimes feel when others are successful? This is common among people who struggle with success.

I had a student who struggled with success for years; he also had a lot of health problems. He was resentful every time anyone did anything wonderful. Once, when he was going to grad school, he was talking about the other healthy young students with such a scathing tone that I kind of blurted out, “So, do you think they have your health?”

There was a long, long pause, and then he finally said, “You know, I do.”

 

How did he deal with that particular insight?
Fortunately, he has an excellent sense of humor. It was so absurd, to realize that he’d been going through life believing that healthy people had his health, that they’d somehow gotten it all and there wasn’t enough left for him. Once he’d stopped laughing and just looked at the absurdity of the belief, it began to ease up.

So many of us think in terms of there being a limited amount, not just in relation to health, but in relation to money, success, even love—as if there were a love pie, and other people got all the good pieces so that we’re left with the crumbs. Or success: When someone else is successful, it’s amazingly common for people to experience that as if the successful people somehow got yours, that there’s not enough success to go around. That’s obviously not true—yet so many of us let ourselves be influenced by that sort of belief.

 

When people discover they are being run by a negative belief, often they want to kill it off. Is that possible?
I don’t think so, because that just sets up an ongoing tension between yourself and the “negative” belief. I don’t think you can do battle with a belief, but you can certainly find out if it’s true for you or not. And if it’s not true, it goes away.

The truth is, I don’t think we’re really capable of knowing what is a “negative” belief and what is a “positive” belief. I know I’m not. I’m a great believer in “the truth will set you free.” I encourage people to ferret out their false beliefs, rather than to try and see what’s a “good” one and what’s a “bad” one.

 

Is it as simple as, once you come to the conclusion that that belief is simply not true, then it goes away? Or is there more work to be done?
Yes, once you see it, it does go away—at least for a moment. That moment when you discover that something you’ve believed—perhaps for years, and probably without even realizing it—was never true, it’s such a fertile moment. It’s at that moment that you ask yourself, “Well, what is true?” and look at how you might like to live based on that clarity, what new actions you might take.

But remember, it’s your version of reality, and your version of reality isn’t as simple as one clear statement. We have all kinds of manifestations, roots and “belieflets.” Even once you have that flash of clarity, they can come back and come back and come back. But if you establish the habit of looking at your beliefs, whenever you’re feeling some way you don’t like feeling, then you can deal with it.

It’s not so much what happens to us in life, although a lot happens, but what we come to believe about what happens, that shapes our lives. We all want to avoid pain and take pleasure. In marketing, for example: we all might want to avoid the experience of standing up to offer something you think is valuable, and being laughed at instead. But if that happens, then we’ll each have our own way of dealing with it. It will mean different things to different people. That’s the part we’re really in charge of.

 

Is there any value in knowing when and where we established the belief?
A lot of times you never do figure that out, and I don’t think that’s a problem. I think what’s important is to see if whether or not the belief is true for you.

When did that woman decide that if her son was angry with her, it meant she was not a loving mother? When did my student decide that the other students had gotten his health? We don’t know.

 

What are some of the most common beliefs you find out there?
One of the most heartbreaking common beliefs is the belief in punishment as an agent for change. We use it so extensively, and it causes so much pain and suffering.

We teach and are taught that the way to change people’s behavior is to make them feel bad; the more you want to change the behavior, the worse you try and make them feel.

So much of what we do in our society is based on that belief. We punish ourselves. I can’t think of anything more self-defeating than withholding happiness, because it’s probably the purpose of life!—to be happy and to grow and to learn. But that’s what we do: we withhold happiness from ourselves as punishment, and then we say awful things to ourselves. We do it with the intention of helping ourselves—but it’s still self-defeating.

You can follow this all the way through society, to prisons and war. We have such great faith in punishment, and so little faith in creativity, in wonder, in love.

This goes along with another common belief: if you don’t punish people, then you’ll just let them walk all over you. That’s another very common and enormously self-defeating belief. And we have so much evidence that this is not true. As we’re speaking, Jimmy Carter just won the Nobel Peace Prize; or, think of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King: these people certainly didn’t allow others to walk all over them. They stood up strongly for what they believed, and it had nothing to do with punishing as a way to enforce behavior.

Here is another very common belief: I am not lovable. I’m not good enough to be loved, I’m somehow lacking. But you don’t have to do anything to deserve love! It’s up to the lovers to decide whether they’re willing to love you or not. Here is another extremely common belief, which should be useful to networkers. I don’t know why, but almost everyone I know has this experience: while you’re doing one thing, you believe that there’s something else you ought to be doing instead. No matter how “good” you’re being, it’s not the right thing. If you’re mowing the lawn, you’re thinking, “I should be doing my checkbook.” If you’re jogging, you’re thinking, “You know, I really ought to be meditating.” No matter how good you get there’s always this nattering thing about what you ought to be doing!

 

What beliefs do you encounter around money?
That it’s bad to have it—but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want it, so that can be really tough.

There’s not enough of it—and that means, if I get some it means somebody else has to do without. It’s so hard for us to see infinite abundance—but the truth is, there really is enough for all of us.

 

What are the really great, positive, supportive beliefs that people have and that you’d like us to encourage?
You know, I think there are beliefs, and then there’s the truth—and the truth is so hard to put into words. And really, not to get complicated here, but “the truth” will probably turn out to be just another belief on the way to the truth. Perhaps it’s something like the steps to enlightenment.

I love knowing that there’s nothing better for me to find than the truth, whatever it is—and that most likely, life knows how to live itself in me. Now, you could say, these are just my beliefs. But sometimes, you believe something and you know that you don’t really know it, you just believe it. Other times, there are some things where the experience is, “I know it.” Of course, that changes as we learn from our experiences and, hopefully, become wiser.

Mandy Evans’s books can be ordered at www.mandyevans.com or 800-431-1579.