Eliminating Self-Limiting Beliefs

What self-limiting beliefs do you have that are seriously holding you back? You may have minor ones, like “I don’t look good in orange,” or “I don’t enjoy jazz.” Likely they are not impeding your ability to live your best life unless, in this case, you’re married to a jazz musician.

I am sensing a self-limiting belief that circles around my professional capacity: I can do this, but not that. It’s a sense of doubt/respect for my limits, rather than a sense of incompetence in general. But even that statement sounds like a rationalization. Laaamme.

I tell others, and often myself, to not limit your concept of what you can do and who you can be. We should not place constraints around our potential, because we can exceed even our own wildest expectations. We don’t want to venture into the grandiose necessarily either; perhaps just maintain a sense of openness to what is possible. No more, “I can’t do that,” “I don’t like that,” “That’s not for me.” Instead, try: “Hm,” “Interesting,” or “Maybe.”

Right now, I wish to intentionally shatter my self-limiting beliefs. They’re mostly on the small end now, but my theory is that if I start with small beliefs I can then tackle the larger ones. My most recent success has to do with my belief that I can’t run/don’t enjoy running. I am now running and enjoying it (it’s very early folks; don’t get excited). I love how I can see progress almost each time I run. I can run faster or longer with each workout! Though I do not have any race or marathon goals, I’m also trying to be open to the idea that I may want to do that someday. After all, I used to say I’d never go back to school.

Next I want to tackle the thing that scares me the most, ie singing or doing comedy. I think I will sign up for something this spring. They both scare the pants off me. To balance, I also wish to sign up for a class doing something I’ve always wanted to try: martial arts. I’m taking tai chi now and I’m loving it! I don’t know (another limiting belief) if I can balance all these new endeavors with the other things on my to do list this spring but I’d like to try! I have a feeling that sense of empowerment will bleed into the other areas of my life.  Join me and let’s see what happens together.

Give Thanks… For Yourself

My dear friend Mitzi is so right. We don’t spend enough time being thankful for who we are and the positive impact we have on others. Too often we are only focusing on how we fall short, we’re not enough, and what we can’t do or what we should be doing instead of stopping to smell our own proverbial roses.

Others may be better at seeing your gifts than you are.   If you cannot identify your strengths and the ways that you positively impact your world, you should A) take those strengths assessments I talk about all the time (VIA and Clifton StrengthsFinders) and B) do the Reflected Best Self exercise. This is one of my favorite exercises! Go ask 30 people to describe a time when you made a contribution. Likely it will surprise you in a very good way (see suggested social media campaign below).

I don’t struggle with my self-esteem like I used to in part because I’ve made a conscious effort to use my gratitude strength more intentionally and frequently. I discovered that, though gratitude is among my top 5 VIA strengths, it was not apparent to those around me. Effectively showing my appreciation for others and for our world also required that I appreciate myself, including the strengths that I have and my passion for creating positive change around me. To ignore the gifts I was given and only focus on my shortcomings is like telling your loved one that the sweater they picked out for you is the wrong shade of green: the blessings in my life


are not good enough. Also, focusing on the little wins during the day is rejuvenating, energizing, and generative. Best of all, since gratitude has been shown to be good for your health while strengthening relationships and positive emotion, adding one more major thing to be grateful for (yourself) can only be good for you.

I also don’t believe it’s arrogant to be grateful for your strengths and abilities. It’s not saying we’re perfect or better than others; rather we are just choosing to focus on what we do well and how we contribute, and feeling good about that.   By using our strengths and assets to improve in our weaker areas, we can even improve our shortcomings while still focusing on our strengths. What a win-win!

Dear Universe: thank you for my ability to see the best in others and to help them grow into that person. Thank you for the ability to do the same for myself.

PS – I’d like to start a social media campaign for us all to do the Reflected Best Self exercise.  Post this on your timeline:  We all need to be more aware of the positive impact we make on the world.  Please help spread the idea by helping me with this Reflected Best Self Exercise.  Comment here regarding how I make a positive contribution to the world, then put this exercise on your timeline so that others can reflect your best self back to you.

Sculpt Your Subjective Reality

Chris thinks I’m a little obsessed with the notion of our subjective reality. Recently we’ve learned about recent research that suggests that our retinas only process information in 2D and we extrapolate the 3rd dimension. Interestingly, some (bizarre) new theories in physics even suggest that our whole universe is really 2D and may exist in parallel with other universes.


No wonder I can’t stop thinking about it.  How can I think about anything else?

The first point of information is just disconcerting and disorienting, that most of what I see is an illusion/extrapolation. The second is literally mind blowing and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it/them. Unfortunately, I’m not even remotely smart/educated enough to understand the theories or their basis. Let’s just say for a moment, that there is a small chance that they are true. (The joke is on us that Renaissance man was maybe right about the flat earth.) Combining the theories, in various proportions of believability as you see fit, still have us conclude that we are really only perceiving a very small fraction of reality.

I’ve written previously about how our brain also distorts that fraction of reality as it travels into the brain, and then once again as we recall the memory.   What’s left seems to be only the faintest echo of what is our real world.


The good news is, reality as we know it is predominantly determined by… us.   I think this is really great news because if I am creating the vast majority of my reality, then I can make it what I want. Why would I create frustration, anger, loneliness, or deprivation in my world when it is literally my choice?

Our thoughts and beliefs become our reality. We know that to be true (I feel I’m unlikeable -> I don’t try to interact with others -> they don’t like me).   Positive things also become my reality when I’m open to them, I believe them, and I set my internal stage to nurture them (I have much to be grateful for -> noticing good things -> feeling joyful and positive -> better performance, mood and relationships).    Given that an ever-larger percentage of our world is subjective, we have the power to modulate and sculpt that reality more than we think.

I don’t want to allow the notion of our subjective reality to lure me into complacency, however. Much in our world is beautiful and amazing, yet we also have much to improve. I will continue to work hard to improve our world and our lives while also holding the notion that there is little of our world that I can really comprehend. How do I know good from bad in this subjective reality? My mind plays tricks on me; thus my heart/gut will be my guide in this crazy thing we call life.

This Holiday, Give The Gift of Acceptance

Recently I wrote about your Gut-Wrenching Truth, and how acknowledging and stating that truth helps to liberate and build intimacy. Naming my truth allows me to see the connection between my beliefs and reactions and then communicate them, challenge them, evaluate them, feel them, and respect them. Identifying and naming my truth is a form of acceptance: I own it, it is mine. I feel this way because of my truth, not because of you.

In contrast, beliefs that remain subconscious tend to control my reactions like hidden marionette strings.  I am a slave to my beliefs, while I blame others for my captivity.

Taking ownership of my truth means getting acquainted with all aspects of that truth, even the parts that are less than true. For example, a gut-wrenching truth may be that I want to be seen as smart and competent so that people will accept/love/respect me.   However, there is a huge assumption in this truth, i.e., acceptance/love/respect comes from being smart and competent. Understanding that my truth is neither universal nsleepingsantasor absolute means that I can start to understand the illogic of my truth and start to take down my belief.

Taking ownership of my truth also requires I go to a deeper layer: I want to be seen as smart and competent so that I will accept/love/respect myself. Feeling unloved/unaccepted by a loved one is painful, yes. Feeling unloved/unaccepted by myself is devastating.   Accepting myself and my gut-wrenching truth in its raw, unreasonable, illogical and painful way, permits me to accept someone else’s raw, unreasonable truth. I can empathize and commiserate with your flawed humanity (oxymoron, that) because I share it. I live it. I feel it. I am it.

Someone may share their raw, unreasonable truth with you. Rejecting it means you reject yourself and your humanity. Accepting and loving that person, as they show you their gut-wrenching truth, is a way of loving and nurturing yourself, flaws and all.   What could be a better holiday gift?

My Internal Eden

If you were a cartoon character, what would be within the thought bubble that floats above your head? (“She looks like an Umpa Lumpa in that dress.”)

If you were the protagonist in a novel, how would the author describe your emotional state? (“The rage started to build inside him, until it exploded with a yell and a rainstorm of bullets.”)

As a child, I would sometimes narrate my thoughts and feelings as if I were an author writing a biography or cartoon strip.   Definitely a weird, out of body experience at any age. (“I know.  Right?”)

But a useful one. This ability to detach and observe thoughts and feelings with some objectivity is actually a great skill and tool. When I’m caught up in a negative emotion, such as anger, frustration, fear, resentment, or despair, I can feel totally consumed by them. The thought bubble/author exercise is helpful to take the steam out of the feelings so that I can articulate and understand them. Once I find some objectivity, I usually find the situation is not as bad as I think, I start to understand my role in it and/or I gain clarity on what I need to do.

Detach and observe is also really important in our daily lives since we often carry an undercurrent of thoughts and emotions that we may not be aware of. For example, in the previous few hours before you sat down to read this blog, what would be in the thought bubbles floating above your head?   Is it a constant outpouring of thoughts in some random confused jumble? Are you obsessing about a particular idea or situation? Or is it mostly a blank slate except for what you’re doing or about to do in the moment?

Likewise, what is the external author saying about your internal emotional state in the past few hours? Is it a blank slate? Or, is something brewing in there? Are you aware of it? Or is it silently controlling you like some Machiavellian mind control experiment? Or are you actively creating positive emotion, such as gratitude, awe, love, and excitement (hopefully you’re intentionally doing the latter, since you’re reading this blog)?

Is there a relationship between your emotional state and your thought bubbles? Is one feeding the other and causing the quality of your existence to grow in a particular direction?

Probably, yes. There tends to be a strong interplay between the two. The questions are: Which direction is it going and what are you doing about it?

In my past I’d usually feel like I had no control over my ticker tape thoughts and internal emotional state. Those thoughts were truth and reality. Those emotions were caused by you, and you are making me feel this way.

I know now that the quality of my emotions and thoughts are within my own power and sphere of influence. I liken this work to gardening. If I don’t attend to my internal world, then I tend to grow a lot of emotional weeds that lead me to destructive or unproductive thoughts and actions. If I have a neutral internal world but starve the plants by not fertilizing them with positive emotion, then my thoughts and actions may be stagnating.   However, if I remove weeds and fertilize regularly then I’ll grow flowering emotions and my thoughts and actions will follow suit.

That’s how I create my own inner Eden. (“She felt a sense of satisfaction hoping that readers might benefit from this lesson.”)

Three Years of Silver Lining Blog

133 countries

133 countries

My October 30, 2015 blog was a sort of Back to the Future blog where we reflected on where we were and who we were in what we might call the ‘distant’ past. Similarly, as we approach the third anniversary of the Silver Lining blog, I can’t help but look back to the time that the blog was created.

The blog began after I had an ‘Aha’ moment while helping a friend and colleague work through some concerns. She said, “you should do this for a living Susanna.” I had always poo-poo’d such suggestions, but for some reason, on that day, the words clicked. I decided then that I needed to start sharing my thoughts and stories with others in a more formal way. Some time later, the blog was born.

I was in a different stage of life in November, 2012. My youngest was still at home but getting ready for college and the empty nest was looming.   I had only just heard of positive psychology and was still in the exploration stage (I would argue that I still am!).   Soon, I will decide I should go back to school and get coach certified and seriously invest myself in a subject is the basis of all the intentional and accidental growth and improvement I had ever experienced.

Only time will tell where this path will take me.

Right now, my work is a source of inspiration and joy for me as I now feel I have the foundational education and skills to really be effective and impactful in this work. Though I love being in the positive psychology training/coaching/teaching space, the reward of feeling that the work is making a difference in the lives of others is unparalleled. A small shift in perspective, knowledge or attitude can make all the difference in terms of how someone feels about themselves, their relationships, their work or their life.   That I can contribute to that in any way is a privilege beyond description and I’m so grateful to have the ability to make that difference for some people.

And yet there is so much more to learn.

Obviously, I don’t know where the next 3 years will take me or anyone else. I imagine the blog will continue to evolve since I certainly will. Regardless of whether you’re a regular or drop-in reader, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and your own journey with me for these 3 years. After all, every adventure is better when shared with others.

Silver Lining wordle

Silver Lining wordle

Your Gut-Wrenching Truth

I spent much of my life with a pretty superficial self-awareness and self-expression with only occasional incursions to find my deep truth. However, I ignore the ongoing undercurrent of my truth at my own peril.

What do I mean by my truth?

I think of my truth in 3 levels. The first level is in my head and is something like: I want to lose weight so that I can look good and feel good. It’s pretty safe to say the truth in my head to anyone I might meet regardless of their response.

The second level is in my heart and is something like: I want to lose weight so that I will feel attractive. I probably wouldn’t tell a heart truth to a stranger in the checkout line but probably I’d tell my friends even if their response might hurt my feelings.

The third and deepest level is in my gut and is something like: I want to lose weight so that my husband will find me attractive and so he won’t leave me.   This type of gut-wrenching truth I may not admit even to myself because the belief itself is devastating. (Note: I want to differentiate “a personal truth or belief” from a fact, since husbands generally don’t abandon their wives when they gain weight.)

Though our truths seem to fall into the same general categories, we feel our personal truths are more frightening or devastating than someone else’s. For example, these truths may be “I need to be/am not feeling (loved, lovable, respected, heard, relevant, attractive, smart)” or I don’t want to be/am feeling (invisible, irrelevant, abandoned, unsafe, lonely, incompetent).” They act as a dark force inside us when they remain hidden from our consciousness, and we feel completely alone.

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do

And they settle ‘neath your skin

Kept on the inside and no sunlight

Sometimes a shadow wins….

It’s hard enough to admit these truths to myself; it’s even harder to admit them to someone else, especially if they are sparking these feelings. When we fail to acknowledge or challenge those truths, we become a slave to the dark force. Those feelings tend to fester and intensify as we feed them with the belief that we are somehow irrevocably flawed. In a relationship, the dark force can cause chaos and conflict. Shining a light on those hidden beliefs makes them less powerful.

….Don’t run, stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live

Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is….

Sharing truths with others takes another level of courage, yet takes illumination to the next level. A really devastating belief should perhaps first be shared in the safety of therapy. The therapist can either guide the couple through the conversation or help prepare an individual to have the conversation elsewhere. Most of us must learn the skill of how to communicate our truths, which is really the definition of intimacy: “into me see.” When you discover that you are loved or accepted even with/because of that messy truth, there’s nothing in the world better than that.   When you are willing to see and lovingly acknowledge someone else’s truth, there’s no better gift than that.

….Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out

Honestly I wanna see you be brave

– Sara Bareilles, Brave

This blog is dedicated to my sweetheart, Chris, who makes me feel Brave.

Echoes of Your Former Self

Couple of weeks ago, we hit a sort of milestone that only the media could catch: we arrived at the “distant future” date of October 21, 2015 that protagonist Marty McFly time-traveled to in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II.   The media focused on where writers were on- or off-target with future technology in things like communication and transportation. Instead of the technology, I’m interested in that vision of the future as a reflection of our former selves.   Do you remember who you were in 1989 when you were envisioning that future? Were you excited, disappointed, skeptical or amused by this depiction? What does your reaction say about your former self? How does that compare to your current self?

The opportunity for this backward reflection is one of the many things I love about my job. On occasion, our alumni return and tell stories about when they were students. To me, it feels like time travel.  One day they graduated and poof! here they are, years into the future with a story to tell of the past. That story provides a reflection of our former selves, either as individuals or as an organization. Some of the things they found meaningful I may not recall at all. Things that I thought were monumental did not even register on their radar.

However, through these stories I can feel the old (younger) Susanna speaking to me in some way. She is either saying, “You have been consistently you for decades. Your beliefs and values carry forward, even to this day,” or she says, “You’ve made some mistakes which you may not have recognized at the time, but you’ve grown and matured.” Occasionally there is the, “Oh shit. I’ve been doing that my whole life and never realized how that impacted others,” in which case I end up with a long overdue apology. Some versions of myself are downright noble or prescient, qualities I may only recognize in hindsight or through the lens of another. Others are, well, not.

We need not wait for reminiscent volunteers to get a glimpse of our former selves. In the Reflected Best Self exercise, you ask  current and/or past acquaintances (30 is recommended) to share what they see as the best in you. This powerful exercise shifts what is often an overly negative and critical self-image into one that is more consistent with or balanced with how you’re actually viewed.

Whether solicited or volunteered, these remembrances are gifts of perspective that help us to understand who we once were and how we’ve grown over time. They may also help us to understand the person sharing the memory including their perspective and motivation.   If nothing else, they’re a fun trip down memory lane that allow us to savor our shared past. Perhaps a new exercise akin to the gratitude letter: share a fond memory with someone whom you admire or who has helped you.   You can both bask in your shared history, reinforce your relationship and help that person grow their own sense of growth and accomplishment. Thanks reminiscers!