Rewrite Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
With the start of this season of renewal and rebirth, I have been thinking a lot about things that hinder or help our flourishing. Lately, I have been very mindful of my self-limiting beliefs; I think most of us have some. These are beliefs that we have about our own limitations that we have accepted, maybe long ago. These beliefs are so deeply ingrained that we not only don't question them, but we may not even know they are there. These beliefs are our own personal flavors of "I'm not good enough". We might believe that we are too young, too old, too inexperienced, or too uncool to be part of something or achieve something that we want. The problem is that such beliefs hold us back from reaching for our biggest scariest dreams, and we sell ourselves short.
For example, some years ago, I came to a firm belief that I am not creative. I deemed myself unable to be a generator of ideas. I came up with examples from my life to prove this theory, and having supplied the necessary proof, accepted the belief. Any time something happened that seemed to confirm the belief, I would file it away under "further proof." In situations when I noticed myself having original ideas, I discounted them as probably not very interesting.
But I was not fulfilled with being “uncreative”. I have always loved to write and play piano, for example, I love books and poetry, and creative yoga classes, and I have always been drawn to creative, artistic, musical types. Then, I came across a talk by the great John Cleese of Monty Python fame, who said much to my surprise that creativity is not a bestowed talent, but something that everyone has and can cultivate. So... it seemed I had a shot. A few years passed between the planting of this seed and the ultimate change in my belief, but something shifted as a result of that talk. I began to notice and make space for my own moments of originality. I also began to notice that part of my problem with having original ideas was that I would get tense in times when free thinking was required, the inner voice would say "You can't do this.” That thought would create a mental freeze precisely when the opposite was called for.
In other words, it's not that I wasn't creative. Rather, it was the conditioning of my mind that would throw fear my way and hinder my creativity. Self-limiting beliefs are just mind conditioning, and that conditioning can be reversed.
Is there any area of your life where you are holding yourself back? For example, is there a job you really want, but you ruled out applying for because you don't believe yourself qualified? Are you holding yourself back from trying yoga because you don't think you are flexible or patient enough? Does some part of you want to learn swing dancing, but you think yourself too uncoordinated? Have you tried meditation and decided you are not good at it? Or, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness, is there a subconscious negative message urging you to give up in some way?
Since these are deep-seated beliefs, before we can reverse them, we have to see them clearly. This might be the hardest part, and it takes time and patience. But there is a powerful practice that has helped me identify and start reversing these beliefs. I repeat it periodically when I notice limiting beliefs I hadn't noticed before, or when I feel generally down on myself. I offer it to you and I hope you will find it as impactful as I have.
Rewriting Self-Limiting Beliefs Practice.
1. The practice begins with reflection. Whatever your favorite meditation practice, use it for this first step. How are you deeming yourself "not good enough" in ways that are hindering you right now? Very likely, some limiting beliefs are sitting at the surface, and come up often in your mind. Now is the time to let them arise and see them clearly. If nothing immediately arises, give this some time; it may take several days. Pay attention also to beliefs coming up which are limiting but to which the first mind response is “Well, but this one is true, so it can’t be reversed.” That’s a limiting belief in itself.
2. Next, write down whatever beliefs have arisen for you. Make a list; a journal, if you have one, would be a good place for this, but any paper will do. Then, starting on a brand-new page, rewrite the beliefs. Be thoughtful about it: don’t just change the language to the opposite. Rather, change the perspective, and use the evidence you know you have for the opposite affirming belief. For example, to my "I am not creative", I might write "I have creative ideas all the time, and I can make more space for them.”
3. Revisit this positive list regularly so you don't forget. If the need arises, you can refine your new positive beliefs over time. Use them in whatever ways may serve you best: as affirmations, a list over your desk, a reminder tucked into your wallet. And watch these new seeds sprout, grow and blossom, just in time for spring.