Last night I was watching a recent episode of “Comic Relief Does Bake Off” with my daughter. One of the contestants was a woman who seemed completely bereft of any confidence in her baking ability. A constant stream of self deprecation came tumbling from her mouth and, unsurprisingly, she narrowly lost the contest.
For many years I had a father in law who could make pretty much anything from an old wooden pallet. He could build walls, create new doors, put up fences, lay turf. There was no end to his practical talents. My own father could barely open a tin of soup and so my education in taking care of my house was hardly comprehensive. As a result of these two men at opposite ends of the practical skills scale I came to regard myself as a hopeless case in all things DIY.
Whilst these two examples have probably resulted in nothing more damaging than a few less than inspiring cakes and the odd spectacular home improvement disaster (did I tell you about the time I used an old piece of carpet as a template for a new piece in my first terraced house but used it upside down and consequently cut out a lovely piece of new floor covering for my next door neighbour’s house?) they are examples of how we can come to believe things about ourselves and about the world which have no basis in fact and yet hold us back to a staggering degree.
The two lists of beliefs most influential in terms of the way we live our lives are those which describe how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us. Before you can think about changing negative beliefs you need to know what the beliefs are, so the first thing to do is to write them down. Here are a few examples.
- I am a success
- I am a failure
- I am a good person with lots of potential
- I am not good enough
- I am terrible at relationships
- I am loveable
- The world is a dangerous and frightening place
- The world is full of opportunity and abundance
In my example each limiting belief is balanced out with an empowering one but understanding which is closer to the way that you view yourself is critical if you want to have any hope of change.
The problem with our beliefs is that they have generally been with us since early in our lives and they come to feel, despite a distinct lack of evidence, simply part of us, and in that way immovable. But this doesn’t mean that we are stuck with them. What keeps us stuck is either a reluctant acceptance that they cannot be changed or, at the other extreme, a desire to reverse them in one easy step which might be possible intellectually but much more difficult emotionally . Change requires that we FEEL different and not just THINK different. So there is a step between identifying a limiting belief and starting to change it.
When you identify a belief you don’t like or which is getting in your way ask yourself this question, “How did I learn that this was true?” But don’t be fobbed off with “I just know it” because thats not good enough, really look back and try to discover for yourself where you created that belief, who helped to construct it, what experiences you had which carved it out. One thing is certain, you weren’t born with that belief, and so you learned it somewhere. Realising that a limiting belief isn’t a fact is the first step to dismantling it.
Often we will support the accuracy of a belief by looking at all of the evidence which points toward it. We will justify a belief that we are ‘quitters’ by listing all the times we gave up. What we will ignore or ‘discount” are any examples of times that we kept going, pushed through, survived in situations which threatened us. We are great at that, confirming what we choose to believe and so core beliefs become so hard wired that we will move heaven and earth to prove that they are true, even when it hurts.
So, just once, look at a belief you have about yourself and, after trying to identify where you got it from, ask yourself what evidence there is to refute it. This might be difficult, but there will be things that you can identify which suggest you might be wrong about yourself after all. I know you don’t want to be wrong but sometimes it’s good that you are.
When my life has been full of “should” and “must” I try and remind myself that I am simply acting in accordance with my beliefs. I tell myself something is required because of something I believe to be true. “I know I should go” Why? What is it I believe about me or the world that makes this necessary. “I know I must make the effort”. What will happen if I don’t? What will be the impact on me and the way I see myself? I don’t pretend it’s easy to overturn unhelpful thinking but it is possible if you challenge yourself in this way, deliberately and methodically.
We will usually be content to stay in pain as long as we have come to be familiar with it. I have stayed in relationships too long, stayed in jobs too long, allowed negative people to be around me for too long all because it had become easy and familiar. On reflection there have been times in my life when I endured significant pain to avoid the discomfort of change. When we test the beliefs we have about ourselves it’s like prodding at a sore tooth but knowing that leaving it alone again doesn’t make it better, and the only route to something more fulfilling and sustainably good is to go through the discomfort of having it properly fixed. Short term pain for long term gain.
In the past when I have been considering the beliefs I have had about myself which held me back I have deliberately compounded that feeling of incongruence with how I want my life to be by honestly facing up to the impact they have had on my life. I have looked at the opportunities missed, the connections overlooked, the possibilities blocked. Only through giving myself the chance to really calculate the cost of holding unwarranted and unhelpful thinking have I come to the point where change has become an inevitability rather than a choice. But it’s one final piece of work which I feel to be the most significant in putting limiting beliefs in the crosshairs.
Our ability to connect what we believe is possible in our lives with that which stops us achieving it is crucial. If you want to experience deep love but believe yourself to be unlovable, if you want to fulfill your potential but consider yourself a failure, if you want to create a life full of abundance but believe that you are not worthy of it, then it is not hard to work out how the story will end. But when these connections and comparisons are made we give ourselves a choice. We can choose to accept the limitations and damage inflicted by our beliefs and drop the dreams and aspirations that we have to live in the gloom, or we can question that which we have always believed to be true and quite possibly find that, after all, there are flaws in the argument, pinholes of light where before there were none. Once upon a time you probably believed that Santa Claus was real but its unlikely that you hold that belief now. Why is that so different and why can’t you make the same changes by examining the evidence and the consequences of not doing so in the context of your own life?
I haven’t overturned all the beliefs I hold about myself that hold me back and it’s possible that I never will. But I do have a much better idea of what they are and why they sit with me, and that gives me a power which I never had in the past, the power to push at the edges, to test myself, to feel the discomfort of challenging that which I don’t want or need and to know that when I succeed this is progress, it really is.
In finishing this weeks blog I realised another belief I have about myself. “If I don’t publish my blog on a Friday I have failed”. What nonsense, and what a ridiculous amount of pressure to put on myself for no reason other than to make myself feel less than I am. It’s incredible how easily these dysfunctional beliefs take hold you know. It’s Monday, and I hope you have a good week. I’ll see you again on Friday, probably.