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3 Ways To Stop Swimming In Your Own S***

John Kim, LMFT
June 20, 2014
John Kim, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
By John Kim, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
John Kim, LMFT, is an author, speaker, and a licensed marriage and family therapist who goes by the moniker The Angry Therapist.
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June 20, 2014

Have you ever seen fish in a dirty tank? They look droopy and dull and float around like they have shackles strapped to their fins. Their energy is low and if you look close enough, you can see the frown on their faces. Replace the dirty water with fresh water and what happens? They instantly perk up, become active, and swim with wonder instead of with dread. Their color changes. They brighten.

If the water we swim in is our thoughts, the beliefs we have about ourselves will determine how dirty our tank is. Most of us have false beliefs, formed through the events and relationships from our story. These false beliefs turn the water polluted and murky. We doubt our gifts, get stuck in dysfunctional, abusive relationships, and limit ourselves from reaching our true potential. By pulling from our false beliefs, we begin to have a false life. We walk muted and grayed out. We become zombies.

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Here's the good news. Unlike fish, we have the ability to change our own water. Most people are enslaved by their thoughts. They don't know that they have control over what and how they think. Many don't make an effort to change their thought patterns due to fear or they don't believe they deserve fresh water. They're so used to swimming in shit. They accept it and decide this is what life will look like.

The truth is, you can clean your tank. You can wake up and look forward to your day. Smile, and actually mean it. Invest in healthy relationships. Surround yourself with positive people. Find joy. Build something. You can change your life by changing your water.

Everything ends or begins with your thoughts. And the ones you have about yourself will determine will shape your reality.

Here are three ways to be conscious of the water you're swimming in:

1. Assess whether you're filled with positive energy, or negative energy.

It's simple. You're either living or dying. You're obsessing about the future. Dwelling on the past. Holding onto expired relationships. Eating crap. Feeding addictions and unhealthy patterns. Not sleeping. Weighing yourself. You're assassinating people's character, taking hostages (making other people feel bad because you're not happy), dreading work, getting annoyed by everything and everyone around you, expelling negative energy, fighting, resisting, verbally vomiting, and seeing life as a prison.

You are filled with anger. Hope is just pretend, like Santa Claus. Your dial is turned to "take," instead of to "give." You are deteriorating. You are dark. Your tank is dirty. You are dying.


You're creating, building, investing in yourself as well as others (relationships that are meaningful to you). You're drawing healthy boundaries. You're allowing yourself to be heard. Expressing your truth. Dreaming. Not judging, expecting, labeling, or being strangled by fear. You sweat, stretch, eat real food, drink lots of water, and make sure you get enough sleep. You love hard and forgive often.

You stay present in each day and try to seek nectar in what and who is in front of you instead of chasing mirages and material objects. You don't compare. You don't tie ability to worth. You think different. Breathe. You are regenerating and evolving. You are giving. You are light. Your tank is clean. You are living.

Which one sounds like your life? Maybe a combination of both? Maybe your tank was dirty, but it's cleaner now. Or maybe it's the dirtiest it's ever been. Your thoughts about self will determine how dirty your tank is.

2. Understand the false beliefs that are shaping your life.

No one enters adulthood unscarred. Everyone has suffered while growing up: physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally, in the locker room, during high school, after your first love or more accurately loss. What you saw, experienced, how you were treated, what someone took from you, whether it was your voice or virginity, will wire you a certain way.

We live in a chaotic uncontrollable world. Parents split. Friends bully us. We get acne and gain weight and people treat us differently because of it. There's death, silence and internal scars that will never fully heal. That's just the way it is. And we will internalize our experiences, allowing events and relationships to define who we are and what we believe we are worth.

We call it coping but it's actually a form of fight or flight, surviving the only way we know how, by trying to fit in, using drugs, alcohol, sex, exercise, whatever it takes to numb us or make us feel something. We will run, hide, starve and cut ourselves. By the time we start paying taxes, our self esteem is sucked dry. Then we enter adulthood and now there's now a ticking clock. Test scores. Job interviews. Relationships. Grad school. The fight for the corner office. Marriage. Kids. Leases. Mortgages. Expectations. Depression. And of course, fear.

We begin to live in our heads. It's safe there, or so we think, and life becomes a giant cognitive distortion. This causes us to cement the false beliefs we carry as well as create new ones. We start to pull from this giant dusty cloud and our lives become telling of that.

False beliefs are created through your story. And since no one has a perfect story, everyone has false beliefs.

I'll never do anything great. I'll never fall in love. I'll never be happy. I am worthless. I owe my parents. I can't. I always have problems. I'm a victim. I'm not strong enough. Thin enough. Pretty enough. If I'm not rich, no one will like me. I'm unloveable. If I don't make a certain amount of money or achieve a certain status, I'm not a good husband, dad, man, etc.

These are a few general, false beliefs. Most false beliefs are specific to our story and may not be common. But all false beliefs directly manifest in our behavior. They'll determine the choices we make in work, relationships, who we choose to date, be friends with, how we act with our boss, parents, girlfriend, what we decide to build and invest in. Simply put, false beliefs will stunt our grown and block our potential.

We have many false beliefs playing in our head constantly. They are our sun, radiating day in and day out. The planets that revolve around our sun, our behaviors, will determine the path we will go on. What are your false beliefs? What false beliefs do have about relationships, love, men, women, work, what you can and cannot do, about your body, your art, your life, and what you believe you deserve?

Now imagine what your life would look like if you didn't have those false beliefs. How would your life be different? Who would you be with and how would you be in that relationship? What would you be doing with your life? Would your life look the same as it does now?

3. Defy your false beliefs by doing the things they say you can't.

First you must be aware of what you false beliefs are. Most of us are not. Someone once asked me, “How do I know my beliefs are false if I believe them?" Great question. We have two sides to us. A Pseudo side and a Solid side.

In plain English, your Pseudo Self is a false version of you. It was formed by your upbringing, traumatic relationships and events, ego and advertising. Your Pseudo side keeps you doubting who you are and what you can do. It seeks other people's approval. It will cause you to hide, ignore your truth, and live in a false version of yourself because it gives you a sense of security. You think that's what others will be attracted to. You're afraid the true you isn't enough. The Pseudo Self straps a muzzle on your gifts. By gifts, I don't necessarily mean talents. I mean what makes you different than any other person on this planet, the uniqueness of your being.

Your Solid Self, on the other hand, is trying to preserve your gifts, strengthen them, and empower you to live a truthful life. Your Solid Self is the eight year old you locked into a hope chest years ago when circumstances forced you to “grow up." For most, our Solid Self is a faint whisper. We push it away, ignore it. We've been doing that for so long that we barely recognize it. But it's this whisper that tells us our false beliefs are false, that maybe we are worth something. Although we may feel that our false beliefs are true, there's a logical side to us that knows they are not.

A good way to find your false beliefs is to ask yourself what you're afraid of and why. For example, say you want to get tattoos, ride a motorcycle, and do street art for a living. But your dad wants you to get married, have children, and be a homemaker. You have an amazing relationship with your father and you don't want to disappoint him. You feel like you owe him for raising you alone and putting you through school. He stuck around when your mother bailed early on. You feel like if you don't live the life blueprint he has in mind for you, you're not being a good daughter.

So you decide to go the picket fence route. And then you realize the picket fence has splinters. If we rewind and I asked you what you are currently afraid of in your life, you might have replied, “Well, I'm thinking of quitting my job and doing what I really want, street art. But I'm afraid to." Then I would ask why and you would give me a list of logical reasons like, “What if I don't make it? What if I can't pay my bills?"

But after many cappuccinos and some digging, we would learn that although those are valid fears, the real fears are coming from false beliefs. I owe my dad. If I become a street artist, I am not a good daughter. And maybe if I do what I really want to do, my dad will no longer want to have a relationship with me. He will leave me like my mom did. If you pull from these false beliefs, you may marry someone you're not really in love with, quit your art which is the only thing that makes you truly feel alive, and make choices that depress you, causing you to doubt and not like yourself. Your tank will become murky and you will be swimming in your own shit.

Once you're aware of your false beliefs, you must reframe or redefine your inner-dialogue so that the false statement becomes a truthful one. Let's take the example story above. Instead of, "I owe my father," you can reframe it as: "I feel like I owe my father because of all that he's done for me but the truth is, it was his choice to do everything he's done and that's what makes him a good father. It was not conditional. It was a gift, as much for him (he gets to be a good father and proud of his choices) as it was for me."

Instead of the false belief that becoming a street artist means you're not a good daughter, you can redefine what being a good daughter looks like. Maybe being a good daughter has more to do with how you love your father instead of following his dreams for you. By turning your false beliefs into truthful statements, your false beliefs will begin to dissolve.

The next step is to start pulling from the new definition. Ask yourself, what you would do if you believed these new truths, even if you don't. Then force yourself to execute. Get your tattoo. Take motorcycle riding classes. Have a conversation with your dad and tell him about how you feel. You will instantly feel the tug of your false beliefs. That's because you've been living with them for so long. The more you will yourself to pull from a different place, the more the faint whisper of your Solid Self will be turned up until you have no choice but to listen to it. And if you still can't, ask yourself a question. Do want to start living a positive life, or continue down this negative spiral?

The more you become aware of your false beliefs, reframe and redefine them, and start living by them and drawing on their energy, the cleaner your tank will be.

With clean water, you will be able to swim freely and rid yourself of all the echoing voices that keep creating that inner fight and blocking your true path.

When your tank is clean, you're thinking how you're supposed to be thinking which will allow you to do what you're supposed to be doing. Your radar will become sharper. Who you attract and who you're attracted to will be healthier. The quality of your life will be better. As you continue this process, you will finally discover your true value. Who knows? You may even find your soul mate and discover your life's purpose. And that will change everything.

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John Kim, LMFT
John Kim, LMFT

John Kim, LMFT, is an author, speaker, and a licensed marriage and family therapist who goes by the moniker The Angry Therapist. He runs a practice that redefines “therapy” in the traditional sense. Kim became known as an unconventional therapist who worked out of the box by seeing clients at coffee shops, on hikes, in a CrossFit box. He also believes that the internet can act as a therapeutic tool with an online community as the main space for growth and healing. He lives in Los Angeles.

Meet him here and connect with him on Facebook.

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