Google “self-limiting beliefs” right now if you have no idea what that is. Call it pop psychology if you will, but I believe we internalize our perceptions of our own abilities and character at a young age or during formative stages in our lives, and that we carry around these beliefs about ourselves as adults. The stories we continue to tell ourselves as we move forward in life impact our personal development, careers, social lives, and even our health and wellness. Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) is a practice growing in credibility and recognition, as psychologists continue to research the connections our brains make early in life that ingrain these internalized perceptions of our own self-worth and capabilities. And the good news is that it is totally possible to rewrite our own stories and eventually discard our self-limiting beliefs, which allows us to shape new beliefs that promote our success and happiness.
Sounds woo-woo, but the first time I recognized one of my own self-limiting beliefs, a chill went down my spine. At the time, I was listening to an audio book called the Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. Yeah, I know how corny that sounds. Throughout the book, the author asks you to stop reading, touch your head, and say out loud: “I have a millionaire mind!!!” This is even more awkward when you’re listening to the audio version, because he intentionally pauses to give you time to do this. It’s like watching Dora the Explorer and feeling incredibly weird when Dora breaks the fourth wall to ask you a question and then stands there, silent, while you fail to respond. And then you feel this pang of guilt when Dora says “Great, I liked that part too!!!”
Eker describes a scenario in which a child hears his father say, time after time, how lazy and ungrateful wealthy people are, associating the rich with greed, a lack of morals, and complete disregard for the working class and poor. That child then grows up with the self-limiting belief that “rich people are bad,” which translates into “I should remain poor so I can be a good person.” MIND. BLOWN. While I’m not sure I can blame my parents for this one, I will say that I grew up somewhat poor/low income, and was quite aware of the struggle my family encountered from time to time making ends meet. And yes, I heard some grumblings about the excess and vanity of the fabulously wealthy, and the virtues of being an honest and humble lower-to-middle-income worker bee. At the same time, my parents experimented with a lot of get-rich-quick, pyramid type schemes that always did more harm than good. The lesson: it’s just better to put your nose to the grindstone and trade hours for dollars — you’ll never be wealthy, but hey, you’ll be a good person! Wow, what does being poor or even modestly salaried have to do with being a good, moral person who cares about others and wants to make a positive impact on her community? Um, absolutely nothing? This belief of mine prevented me from noticing wealthy philanthropists, business owners who made a killing while also running fundraisers and participating in social initiatives, and even just friendly and kind people in my neighborhood who happen to drive a Mercedes instead of a Honda. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but while I have done fairly well for myself in terms of earning a living and supporting my family, I’m not exactly nosediving into my wads of cash like Scrooge McDuck in his weird ass vault full of riches.
And if this is where you’re saying “yeah, but a Scrooge McDuck vault is just not realistic for you or for most of us, for that matter,” consider that you may indeed have your OWN self-limiting beliefs about money.
(And if you have no idea who Scrooge McDuck is, you have been sorely deprived. Here you go.)
Here are some more examples of self-limiting beliefs you or others may have internalized over time without realizing it:
Actors and performers just want to show off, so I’m not going to audition for the lead role in the play.
People with successful careers in STEM fields were always brilliant at math and science. I never did well in those areas, so there’s no hope I can succeed in this kind of work.
Kids who are all-star athletes are all ignorant jocks with bad grades. I will never be any good at sports – but at least I’m smart and doing well in all my classes.
And do any of these seem familiar to you?
That mom with the twins I always see in the park is perfect and glowing. I must suck at parenting because I have one kid and I can’t even get my shit together.
Stay-at-home moms are big complainers! I have to work all day – I’m too busy to care about the stupid trivialities they obsess over. I’ll never have enough time for my kids, but at least I’m doing something with my career.
My mother was really strict with me and still nags me to this day about what I eat and how I dress. I am destined to be a bad mother, and my children will resent me.
It’s not that these beliefs are never true, nor that we need to completely happy and positive about everything in our lives all of the tie. Rather, the problem is that we internalize certain ideas about ourselves and our world without ever questioning why we hold these beliefs, or whether they are actually true. And even when there is some truth to a belief about our own limitations, we usually don’t shift our focus away from that limitation so that our mental energy is freed up to hone our raw talents and natural abilities. We need to learn how to let go of the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back. That way, we can not only write new stories about our own lives, but help our young ones learn and internalize their own beliefs about the successful and fulfilling lives they will lead one day as adults.
Image via WikiMedia Commons