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WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO UNCOVER YOUR LIMITING BELIEFS
On my stepmom’s wall she has a sticky note that reads…
Person 1: “Why do my parents always know how to push my buttons?”
Person 2: “Because they installed them.”
We learn a lot from our parents, guardians, and surroundings. In fact, your core neural pathways are set by the time you are seven or eight years old. Neuroscientist Norman Doidge simplifies this phenomenon in his book The Brain that Changes Itself by saying “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and “neurons out of sync, fail to link.” This means your foundational beliefs about life, love, relationships, success, and any other major life event are programmed before you have had the opportunity to experience most things for yourself.
Tony Robbins refers to this as your blueprint for life. Your built-in triggers, assumptions, guidelines, and rules create the lens that you perceive life through. When you think about it, your limited life experience is one tiny possibility within the plethora of possible experiences and outcomes that could have happened.
It’s hard to imagine the vast differences that would appear in your life if you had said “no” when you said “yes,” or vice-versa. Or if you had different parents, were raised in a different city, by a different religion, or if the major traumas of your lifetime didn’t happen. There is no point in wishing what is wasn’t so, but when we understand that the “story” we re-tell about who we are, where we come from, and what we have learned, shapes the way we show up moment to moment, you suddenly discover choice and control where there was once “blame” and “victimhood”.
We are programmed to learn from experience and to promote our own survival; the result sometimes being a skewed idea of what protects us from harm and what experiences are best to avoid. While our unique suppository of beliefs, ideas, traumas, relationships, and DNA create the individual experience, we also participate in a collective experience rooted in connection, an appreciation for the subjective, and an attempt at objectivity.
Science has proven (for now) the objective truths like; the world is round, gravity pulls us towards the ground, our body has natural healing abilities when in a state of calm, and our biology urges us to procreate, to live in tribes, to move and connect. But what about the subjective beliefs and ideas that are too often taken as “facts”? Is there a right or wrong way to live? Is there a religion that is more “right” than all the others? Is there a higher purpose and meaning to life? What does a successful life look like? For most of us, we have a rehearsed “elevator pitch” when it comes to these questions, simply as a result of a few conversations and a lot of repetition.
The problem is, we are creatures of evolution, and a belief that served you well when you were younger is not necessarily the belief that will serve you well into adulthood. It is important for each of us to occasionally question our rehearsed or avoided answers to the big and little questions in life.
The wise Mark Twain said, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”
Through our own experience, our upbringing, our culture, our conversations, and our own internal guidance, we have an opinion and a belief from which we stand on. You may believe there is only one person in the world that can be your true love. You may believe that success is a matter of how well known and recognized you are in your community. You may believe that a good relationship should be easy and comfortable. You may believe that some people are born with natural abilities or aptitude that predispose them to be masters in their field. You may believe that parents should behave a certain way, your friends should always be there for you, and your hard work should always be acknowledged and noticed. Maybe this has been true for you. Maybe not. Your experience and repetitive thoughts have created a belief system that you follow and perceive the world through.
An interesting thing about your brain, or more specifically, the outer-layer of your brain where your self-talk takes place – known as the cortex – is that it does an amazing job at finding evidence for what it already believes. You may know the phrase, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” In reality, our brain follows the paradigm, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
One of the most foundation shaking realizations that I had, and that I have helped dozens of my clients to experience, is that most of the beliefs you have been living with are made up, passed down through the generations, or capture a skewed lesson from an early-life situation that doesn’t mirror reality as a whole. They can be the result of a traumatic experience that caused your brain to create a neural superhighway. An ingrained and hyper-sensitive path of least resistance that will light up to avoid similar situations in the future, leaving you fearful, critical, or anxious when deja vu sets in. These beliefs can also result from repetitive negative self-talk within the realm of assumptions, judgments, and unmet expectations.
Perhaps you were told when you were young that you were too small, too weak, too inexperienced, or too slow to participate or engage in something your heart desired. Perhaps you were punished for a behavior that you didn’t commit, and although you told the truth, you weren’t listened to or believed. Perhaps you had a mad crush on someone as a kid or teen and were left feeling unworthy, unwanted, and unattractive because that someone chose to date your friend instead. Perhaps you had high expectations from someone you looked up to and were let down in a big way. These moments that are common, can dictate the way you talk to yourself, the way you show up, the way you choose to protect yourself, and ultimately you may end up reinforcing that misguided belief through a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Naturally, some of the beliefs you have suit you just fine, for now. It is the “limiting beliefs” we want to uncover first and foremost. The beliefs that keep you stagnant, fearful, closed from the world, armored from failure or heartache, opposed to others’ opinions, or negative in your world view or mindset. When asking my wise and soulful friend Kalea Mullett what her experience with limiting beliefs has taught her, she replied that these beliefs produce a feeling of isolation. They are the beliefs that make you feel alone, not good enough for what you want in life, and too much in your own head to actually engage and connect with people in an authentic and powerful way.
If there is a reaction, a habit, or a pattern in your life that is not serving you well, it’s time to let go of the belief that is keeping you there and discover the power of creating a new, empowering, and inspiring belief in its place.
When you find yourself getting stuck in your “shoulds” or expectations, carrying this moment’s disturbance into the next moment rather than learning and moving on, you have found a hardwired belief that may or may not be serving who you are. Our problems and disturbances need energy to survive, and when we are feeling sorry for ourselves in any capacity, we are spending energy to limit ourselves instead of tapping into our collective limitless power.
I had a client recently stop me as I was explaining this process to express her concern with the idea of making up new beliefs. She said, “Could this not become a gateway to naive and selfish habits as you exempt yourself from responsibility or error and always tell yourself that you are amazing and great?” This is where we practice pragmatic optimism versus naïve optimism.
The naïve optimist is a person who stays happy, blissful, jolly, hopeful, or love-struck despite overwhelming evidence that something other than pure joy is appropriate at that time. The naïve optimist avoids pain and struggle, and chooses to keep smiling in spite of the natural ebb and flow of emotions. The naïve optimist chooses comfort, low-risk, and easy directions, or jumps into risk blindly with the belief that everything will be just fine. You may have experienced such a person before, gleefully happy and full of energy for generally no apparent reason. Often resisting uncomfortable conversations by referring to the “silver lining” or changing the subject rather than holding space for someone who needs to move through darker emotions. It comes across as inauthentic and sometimes creepy. The shell of a person who is hiding their edges, their vulnerability, and ultimately, their ability to exceed a life of mediocrity.
The pragmatic optimist, on the other hand, understands that life feels best when there is a practice of contentment and happiness, yet that does not require an avoidance or denial of the struggle. To be a pragmatist means to approach each situation by assessing the truth or validity of a theory or belief based on the efficacy, the previous success rate, and the observable practical consequences. A pragmatist feels the natural ebb and flow of emotions, and chooses to respond rationally versus reacting instinctively.
So, to be a pragmatic optimist is to recognize that striving for happiness through self-study, vulnerability, and aligning your thoughts and actions to serve you and the world in the best way possible, is an ideal worth pursuing. Yet it doesn’t preclude you from feeling the depths of your struggle, the break down of a heart broken, or the pain of suffering in the world. In my view, a pragmatic optimist follows the wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche – late 1900s philosopher – who stated that suffering was not something to be redeemed from, or avoided, but to be embraced and mastered. We must risk suffering and overcome it. Suffering is the key to finding sustainable happiness.
It is our self-discipline and our ability to flow, swim, and breathe through our struggles that creates resilience, contentment, and gratitude. As Nietzsche said, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
I have lived as a pessimist, as a naïve optimist, and solely as a pragmatist. I choose to not regret or shame myself for meandering the path of life, as it was these lived experiences that have brought me to where I am today. I know from experience that when I am committed to growth and learning, when I engage in activities that purposefully bring me joy, connection, and satisfaction, and when I focus on gratitude while exploring the natural struggle of life, I feel content and passionate about the life I am living.
How to make the change:
There are several ways to coach yourself out of your old limiting belief into a new belief that inspires and elevates you, but I have found success with three avenues. One is through my yoga practice. Each time I step on the mat, I am opening myself up to the roller coaster of my self-talk, my effort, my comparisons, my judgments, and my overall mind-body connection. How you show up on your yoga mat is often how you show up in life. My yoga mat is my platform to notice, witness, breathe, let go, and expand my mind and body from being stuck in the past, the future, and mindless chatter, and into an elevated state of flow and collective consciousness.
I also have made huge strides in my awareness and uncovering by reflecting in the moment that I feel a disturbance weighing me down. When I notice a reaction that leaves me feeling icky or a sensation of fear or anxiety that manifests in short breath and closed posture, I have found a trigger that has surfaced a limiting belief. If I am not in physical danger, yet my body and mind are responding as if I am in danger, it is time to slow down, connect with my breath, and practice gratitude, self-love, and maybe a bit of self-study.
Another way is to get into the habit of reflection at the end of the day. When I take a few minutes to sit, breathe, and ask and answer a few questions about how I showed up, where I held back, where I needed courage, and what moments I am proud of, I begin to uncover the trends in my thoughts and actions that will lead me to a limiting belief that may be getting in the way of my progress.
As you can see, this takes patience and a commitment to the process. First you must adopt the practice of noticing your reactions and getting curious about your thought patterns, fears, and habits. Awareness is always the first step to change. Once you begin to notice and uncover a limiting belief, the only way to work towards letting it go is to consciously act counter to how your limiting belief would have you behave. You can do this by asking and answering a series of questions in the moment you notice your limiting belief getting in the way of your progress.
One acronym I often use is one you may have seen on a poster in a kindergarten classroom.
Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
So simple, yet I have found this acronym to be a beautiful and accessible reminder when I need it most.
Here are some more questions you can use:
Does it improve upon the silence?
What happens when I believe that thought?
What would I tell a child who was thinking this thought?
What would love have me do?
What thoughts inspire action?
What do I need to tell myself right now?
Life does not have intrinsic meaning. It is up to each one of us to discover our passions, to let go of our past or our habits that weigh us down, and to create a life of purpose by following our own mental-models of what it takes to be our best-self. As Nietzsche so beautifully put it, “If you wish to seek peace of mind and happiness, then have faith. If you wish to be a disciple of truth, then investigate.”
Experience Collective: a combination of Kundalini yoga practice with group discussion about how to integrate positive principles and practices into your daily life. To learn more about the event or to purchase your ticket, click here.
The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan