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Resilience - Chapter 6

Charlottesville, Virginia

May 10, 2020

Oops! Got these chapters out of order!! My bad.


Know Thyself Skill #3 of 3 - Detecting Icebergs


Detecting icebergs will help you to identify the deep beliefs that interfere with your ability to respond effectively to adversity. As you practice this skill, you probably will find that you have a core set of iceberg beliefs that affect your mood and behavior over and over again -- across a variety of situations. Once you’ve identified what they are, it’s time to shift out of insight mode and start changing the beliefs that are getting in your way.

Sometimes your ticker-tape beliefs don’t explain the intensity of your reaction to a given situation. When that happens, it’s a sign that you are being affected by an underlying belief -- a deeply held belief about how the world ought to operate and how you feel you ought to operate within that world.

Examples of underlying beliefs include “I should succeed at everything I put my mind to” or “Getting emotional is a sign of weakness.” These deeper motivations and values often drive us and determine how we respond to adversity. And since these underlying beliefs -- or icebergs, as we call them -- are usually outside our awareness, deep beneath the surface of our consciousness, we need a special skill to detect them.

Most of the “personality” clashes that occur between people are due to differences in iceberg beliefs, and these beliefs are also responsible for many of the rifts between couples. By using the skill of Detecting Icebergs, you will better understand your core values and motivations and those of the significant others in your life.

Surface Beliefs versus Underlying Beliefs

Ticker-tape beliefs are your in-the-moment beliefs about an adversity and that they drive your emotions and behaviors. You can think of ticker-tape beliefs as surface beliefs, because they float on the surface of your awareness. Even though you may not be aware of your ticker-tape beliefs in any given moment, you can shift your attention to them with relative ease and identify what it is that you’re saying to yourself.

But sometimes your ticker-tape beliefs don’t explain your reactions. When that’s the case, it means that you’re responding not to your ticker-tape beliefs but to your underlying beliefs -- fundamental, deep-rooted beliefs about who you are and your place in the world.

Underlying beliefs are general rules about how the world ought to be and how you should operate within that world. Because they’re general rules, they apply to many different adversities. And since they are general rules, once you’ve identified and challenged them, you’ll become more resilient in many areas of your life.

Iceberg Beliefs

Some underlying beliefs are adaptive; they help us to behave in ways that facilitate success and happiness. “It’s important to treat others with respect and dignity,” “Being honest matters to me,” and “I will not give up as soon as something becomes difficult for me” are underlying beliefs that will serve you well. But not all underlying beliefs are helpful; many minimize our effectiveness in responding to adversity and may even bring on serious psychological disorders.

We call these underlying beliefs iceberg beliefs because they are fixed, frozen beliefs that you don’t often consciously think about and since they lurk beneath the surface of awareness, they can sink you. Iceberg beliefs tend to be general propositions or rules for living that apply to more than the situation at hand. “The world is a dangerous place,” “People must respect me at all times,” “Women should be kind and supportive,” “A man doesn’t let his emotions show” are examples of iceberg beliefs. In fact, many people have iceberg beliefs that fall into one of three general categories or themes: achievement, acceptance, and control.


People who are achievement oriented tend to have an underlying belief that success is the most important thing in life. Iceberg beliefs around perfectionism are also common for achievement-oriented people, and they often suffer from tunnel vision, one of the thinking traps.


These beliefs revolve around the issue of acceptance, the need to be liked, accepted, praised, and included by others. People who are governed by an underlying need for acceptance are more likely to notice, and then overreact to, interpersonal slights and conflicts. Acceptance-oriented people tend to jump to conclusions and mind read. In ambiguous situations -- a boss who doesn’t say hello, a friend who doesn’t return a call -- they assume they’ve fallen from favor, which works to reinforce their iceberg belief.


People who are control oriented have underlying beliefs about the importance of being in charge and in control of events. People who have strong iceberg beliefs around control tend to have a heightened sensitivity to experiences in which they are not in charge or are not able to change the course of outcomes. Although most people find it uncomfortable to feel out of control, for “control freaks,” the experience is overwhelming because they ascribe lack of control to personal failure.

The cost-benefit ratio of iceberg beliefs is important to assess. Indeed, after you have identified your iceberg beliefs, the fundamental questions you must ask yourself are:

- What is this belief costing me?

- How is it helping me? and

- How can I change it so that I reduce the costs and increase the benefits?

As these questions imply, not all iceberg beliefs are always counterproductive and harmful. Sometimes they serve you quite well in some areas of your life but hold you back in others.

What Is Your Theme?

How would you describe yourself? Are you more achievement oriented, acceptance oriented, or control oriented? When you find yourself shrinking from opportunities, is it out of a fear of failure? The challenge for you is to develop a fine-grained picture of yourself so that you can better understand what motivates you.

How Are Icebergs Formed?

All of us, as children, develop iceberg beliefs from our families. We learn, rather than inherit, the worldview -- the core values -- of our parents. Children absorb messages from those around them about how one should behave and how the world should be.

How Iceberg Beliefs Can Hurt You

Four problems can arise from iceberg beliefs, each of which will undermine your resilience:

1. Iceberg beliefs can become activated at unexpected times, which leads to out-of-proportion emotions and reactions.

2. Their activation might lead to emotions and behaviors that, although not extreme, are mismatched to the situation.

3. Contradictory iceberg beliefs can make it hard to make decisions.

4. Iceberg beliefs can become too rigid, which causes you to fall into the same emotional patterns over and over again.


A B–C disconnect is when your ticker tape cannot explain the intensity of your emotions and behaviors.

In B–C disconnects, your emotions seem out of proportion, the behaviors seem inappropriate, and even after you’ve identified your ticker tape, you are still puzzled by your reactions. When this happens, it’s because an iceberg belief has been activated and violated. An example would be feeling humiliation rather than anger.


Many times a situation leads to the activation of more than one iceberg belief, and often they are in conflict.


The final problem with iceberg beliefs is that they cause you to experience the same emotion over and over again -- even in situations that don’t warrant it. That is, iceberg beliefs cause you to overexperience certain emotions and underexperience others. Emotionally resilient people feel it all. They feel anger, sadness, loneliness, happiness, guilt, pride, embarrassment, joy, jealousy, excitement -- but they feel these emotions at the appropriate time and to the appropriate degree. Less resilient people tend to get stuck in one emotion, and that compromises their ability to respond productively to adversity.

Why Is It So Hard to Turn Off Our Radar?

Once a person’s radar is activated, two processes -- assimilation and the confirmation bias -- make it very hard to deactivate it. If someone’s radar is on full alert then even an event that the person normally would see as positive gets reinterpreted or distorted to make it fit his or her perception of the world. This process is known as assimilation.

The second process that makes it hard for us to turn off our radar, known as the confirmation bias, is the fact that all of us are much better at noticing and remembering evidence that confirms our beliefs than we are at noticing and remembering evidence that proves that our beliefs are wrong. It’s important to remember that the confirmation bias is not happening at a conscious level. Certainly there are times when people set out to prove themselves correct, but the confirmation bias is not motivated or planned. It’s unconscious, which is what makes it so difficult to overcome.

We call this the Velcro-Teflon effect because we are Velcro for evidence that supports our beliefs -- it sticks to us -- but we are Teflon for evidence that contradicts them—it just slides right off.

How to Detect Your Iceberg Beliefs

The goal of Detecting Icebergs is to make you aware of the iceberg beliefs that are:

(a) Unwittingly causing you to overreact or react in a way that is different from what your ticker tape would predict

(b) Undermining your decision making

(c). Causing you to overexperience a particular emotion

Until you have identified the belief that is driving your behavior, you are helpless to evaluate it and, if necessary, change it. If you’re concerned about the way you react to certain events, it makes no sense to apply the change skills to your ticker-tape beliefs if they are not the beliefs driving your reaction. It’s impossible for you to gain control over your emotions and behaviors, and increase your resilience, until you have insight into what is causing your response.

Detecting Icebergs is one of the most challenging skills.

It is often unnerving to explore deeply held beliefs. But necessary. Despite initial reluctance, most participants in our workshops describe this as one of the most powerful skills they’ve learned. It helps them clarify their values, explore their fundamental beliefs about themselves and others, and finally understand personal behaviors that had confused them for a long time.

The first step when detecting iceberg beliefs is to describe the ABC. As with all of the skills, you have to begin by breaking down your experience into the facts of the situation, listing your ticker-tape beliefs, and identifying the in-the-moment emotions and behaviors. As usual, you should write this information down so you can keep track of your beliefs as they emerge.

After you’ve mapped ABC, check the B–C connection. There are three issues to focus on:

1. Check whether your Cs are out of proportion to your Bs.

2. Check whether the quality of your C is mismatched with the category of your Bs. That is, you feel sad even though your ticker tape suggests anger, or you feel embarrassed although your ticker tape is about how you’ve harmed another person.

3. Check whether you are struggling to make a seemingly simple decision.

If any of these situations is present, then it is an appropriate time to use the Detecting Icebergs skill. The most common difficulty people run into when using this skill is that they try to uncover iceberg beliefs where there are no icebergs -- their ticker tape adequately explains their reactions. If your Bs make sense of your Cs, then there is no need to look deeper.

Once you’ve established that you need to use the skill, begin by asking yourself these questions:

- What does that mean to me?

- What is the most upsetting part of that for me?

- What is the worst part of that for me?

- What does that say about me?

- What’s so bad about that?

“What” questions guide us to describe the meaning of our beliefs more fully.

“Why” questions, in contrast, tend to make us defensive. Most of us, when asked why we feel a certain way or believe what we do, feel picked on or challenged. We end up fighting hard to defend our belief or emotion rather than working to understand it. To identify your iceberg beliefs, it’s important to stay away from “why” questions and focus instead on “what” questions.

Begin with your ticker-tape beliefs (from the ABC). Ask yourself one of the “what” questions. (The order of the questions doesn’t matter, nor do you have to use them all. Choose one that feels right and explore.)

When first learning to use this skill, it’s easy to get derailed and to start trying to justify your beliefs rather than to explore them more deeply.

“How do I know when to stop?” You will know when to stop when you have the aha! experience, when your reactions no longer seem out of proportion, when the quality of emotion makes sense, or when you understand why a decision has been so difficult to make.

Detecting Other People’s Icebergs

Detecting icebergs is a useful skill to improve empathy and social connection. Many relationships suffer because the couple never recognizes the iceberg beliefs that are causing them to clash. The Detecting Icebergs skill can help you to identify your core values so that you and your partner can discuss them openly and directly.

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