02 Nov 2022


I read the following quote from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus in the first week of my alcohol-free journey, almost two years ago and it, quite frankly, changed my life. Here you go… ‘It’s not events that shape our lives, but our beliefs about them.

If you just take a moment to take in the enormity of this one line, you will see it holds the answer to the secret of how to change the direction of your life. By changing your beliefs you can change your story and change your life.

Epictetus is sayingLife’ is what you ‘Believe’ it to be and nothing else. If you can control your beliefs, you control your life.

Similarly Einstein, said ‘The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe’. This simply means, the beliefs we create can put us in paradise or purgatory.

Psychologist have a model called the EBA Sequence. The EBA Sequence is happening all day long, over and over. We experience lots of Events, which we form Beliefs about that lead to emotions and Actions.

EVENT – Events happen to us all the time. For example, you miss a train, have an argument, someone is rude to you, you win a prize, you pass an exam, lose your glasses, someone close dies, climate change, pandemic etc. etc.

BELIEFS – You then try to make sense of these Events by forming a set of Beliefs about them based on your past experiences and explanatory style. Explanatory styles can be optimistic or pessimistic.

ACTION – Based on your Beliefs about the Event you then experience emotions that drive your Actions.

If our beliefs are negative and unhelpful the emotions produced lead to actions that cause more stress and unhappiness. Equally, if our beliefs are helpful and positive you can thrive in any situation! All you have to do is master the skill of controlling your beliefs so you feel the right emotions that trigger the right actions that support your goals, health, happiness and performance.

Life is what you believe it to be and nothing else. Control your beliefs, control your life.

There is a wonderful Zen Buddhist story that I use in my coaching practice that shows the power of beliefs can have over our actions. It’s about a woman who wants to find a quiet place to meditate and decides to get in a boat and go out onto a lake. No one else is around so she is sure she will be able to have some peace and quiet to relax.

Then, out of nowhere, she feels something hit her boat. She opens her eyes and says furiously, ‘Who disturbed me while I was meditating?!’ She is livid that someone would crash into her like that. She is ready to really let her anger out on the person who did this. However, the other boat was in fact adrift and empty!

What we learn from this story is that life is full of empty boats, which we believe not to be empty and they are crashing into us throughout the day.

If she knew from the outset the boat was empty, there would have been no problem. But because she assumed the boat had someone in it she felt threatened or unhappy – she put herself in Purgatory.

Every time we get angry at something outside of us — a person, situation, circumstance — it is not the thing that is ‘making’ us angry. It is us doing that to ourselves. We believe the boat is not empty. But these things are all just Empty Boats. The anger is already inside us, ready at a moment’s notice — or the bump of a boat — to come out, ready for a fight.

So if your default mindset is the Empty Boat you are looking at the world through a calm positive, optimistic lens. The skill is to keep looking for the good side of life, look at the world as a good place and make the default boat an empty one.

I found it useful in the early days of sobriety to say the words Empty Boat, when I felt a Not Empty Boat, aka a limiting belief or a craving, about to come on – and it reminded me of the path that I should stay on. Try it. It works.

In summary, one of the most important, if not THE most important thing anyone who is taking a break from alcohol can learn is this: believing you can never stop drinking is just a belief. That’s all it is. A false and limiting belief. And like all beliefs, they can be learned and unlearned.

My book Walking Back To Happiness The Secret To Alcohol-free Living & Well-being shows you how I did it and how you can do it.

© Copyright Nigel Jones 2022. The moral right of the author has been asserted. All rights reserved.


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