What Self-Limiting Beliefs Are Blocking You?

Throughout my lifelong quest for self-awareness and self-improvement, one of the most profound realizations I had was that my self-perception is not necessarily accurate or true. After all, I reasoned, no one knows me better than I know myself. You all are not aware of my inner world and so there are limits to how well you know me.

The good news about that belief is that there are wonderful things about myself that I was/am unaware of.  In the bad news department, I had (and still have) big gaps in my self awareness, not all of them good.

In other words, self-awareness is always a struggle. We always have blind spots and biases about ourselves and our world, and learning to be more conscious of those assumptions, then challenging them, for me has been a source of wonderful discovery.

Last blog I wrote about fixed versus growth mindset. Mindset is such a basic and fundamental self-belief that we tend to take for granted. I’m not sure if this is generally true, but I think that my mindset tends to have another valence; I view myself as ‘good at’ or ‘bad at’ certain skills. If I’m good at, I tend to believe I can learn and grow those skills (growth mindset). But if I’m bad at, I tend to believe they’re fixed and immutable and my skill can’t change (fixed mindset).   Do your self-limiting beliefs tend to fall into domains like mine?

Now, I’m challenging my fixed mindsets, the skills that I believe that I’m bad at which happens to be predominantly in the artistic/creative endeavors. Like any good learner, I signed up for classes.   Over the past year, my girlfriend Anne and I explored a jewelry class, a cooking class, and a paint nite. A fairly intoxicated gentleman told me that I had painting talent, but not sure how well he can see after his 3rd cocktail.

Fortified with a small success, I decided to tackle my biggest fears: singing and acting. My dear friend Lisa and I signed up for singing lessons together. Our goal: to sing a duet. We figured that combined with the tap dance classes we once took together, we might be able to do a little Lucy/Ethyl number (I’ll be Lucy…). I also had a personal goal to strengthen my voice, both literally and figuratively. I didn’t have any inebriated observers raving about my talent, but I did learn that I can hear a tone and capture the tone with my voice. Not very well, but with enough practice I can sing a small song hitting most of the notes. A great growth mindset lesson: with enough effort, I can learn to do it! Just don’t ask me to sing for you.

My next task was to take an acting class. Fortunately my fearless friend Anne again joins me in this adventure. We had a quick lesson and then we try it out. The first performance is casual and impromptu, but the second time we get videotaped. Yikes. Despite the fact that part of my job is public speaking, I’ve never wanted to see myself on tape. Video playback was not optional in this case, so we had to watch our performance. Double yikes. Anne and I laughed until we had tears rolling down our face. Our teacher complimented us and made some suggestions about how we can pursue some amateur acting gigs. And he wasn’t even drunk. This, I can also do.

Tackling my two biggest fears/self-limiting beliefs has felt liberating. Those negative beliefs were each a tiny weight on my soul, and they are now lifted. What other beliefs are limiting me and weighing me down? Usually, I don’t question myself when making a statement about “I can’t…” but now I stop and refute it. It’s almost like a challenge now. “I can’t” turns into “I will,” or “I can.”

Now that’s empowerment.

 

Photo credit

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I Yam Who I Yam

This blog is about self-awareness and growth. The premise here is that by understanding ourselves and our world, we can grow to be more satisfied, content and fulfilled.   Or can we?

In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford, explores this question.   According to Dweck, our sense of our ability to grow and improve falls on a spectrum from fixed (can’t make changes) to growth (can improve and learn).   People don’t tend to be either/or but rather somewhere on the spectrum depending on the context. For example, I may have a growth mindset when it comes to my skills, talents and relationships but fixed when it comes to my athletic ability or intelligence. I may believe in your ability to improve your analytical skills but not in my ability to paint.

Being aware of where we’re fixed or growth-oriented is important. Imagine that I have a fixed mindset about my ability to communicate with others. Perhaps I’ve always been told that I’m a natural communicator, brilliant, and that I should go into a communication-oriented profession like mass communication or journalism.   I will rely on that talent to get me to the goal. However, when my talent starts to fall short of what I need to do to be a star, if I have a fixed mindset then I am going to feel inadequate and my sense of identity as a fantastic communicator will be threatened. Either I’ll become anxious and depressed or I’ll blame others who are threatening my sense of my genius instead of blaming my own inadequacy. Perhaps the target will be my boss, or talented colleagues or subordinates who question my talent directly or implicitly. Any type of criticism will be devastating and so I’ll react defensively to less than positive feedback. I won’t work hard at improving because that is evidence that I’m not the genius I thought I was. In addition, my brilliant ideas are sufficient, so don’t expect me to follow through with any action.

In contrast, if I have a growth mindset, my talent is just a foundation for development.   I will look for ways to improve and work hard to do so. Feedback and input from others tend to be more welcomed since it’s viewed as a way to grow and learn.   I am also not threatened by or jealous of others who are talented because I don’t need others to be low to feel good about myself. I have a sense of humility since I know I’m not ‘there’, that I’m a work in progress but getting better all the time.

As you can imagine, the growth mindset tends to create success over the long run since it fosters improvement over time. Growth oriented people are also more resilient and tend to be more successful in relationships as well.

Note that I have been careful to use the word ‘growth’ instead of ‘change’ because growth implies that you still are who you are. You’re not trying to become someone else, just an improved version of yourself; you with upgrades.     However, if you’re reading this blog, you probably are of a growth-mindset when it comes to your psychological and emotional self, unless you’re just looking for resources for others who ‘need to change’.

Being growth-oriented in this domain may not mean this is true across all areas of your life. Perhaps take a few minutes to reflect on where in your life you are growth vs fixed in mindset. Challenge your beliefs about whether you can change or grow in your fixed areas, and think of your effort as a positive, constructive approach. Make a plan to learn and improve in those areas. Find role models who have done so successfully as your inspiration.

One of my projects this spring has been to challenge what I’ve called my self-limiting beliefs, which are really fixed mindset views of myself. In my next blog I’ll share with you some of my efforts to improve my mindset and the effect that has had on my self-concept.

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The Sense of Being Human

What does it mean to be human? As the planet’s most intelligent species (we believe), sometimes it feels that our thoughts define who we are. Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now and spiritual guide, would say that our thoughts do not define us or our humanity. Instead he argues that we can only sense our true selves once we look beyond our thoughts. After all, we are still human when we finally shut off our brains.

Tolle also recommends that we focus on our “inner body,” or the sense of the energy being that inhabits our physical self. It’s something you must feel and sense, not visualize or imagine.   I had a sense of my inner body for the first time when, a number of years ago, I tried a meditation where you focus on feeling parts of your body, one limb at a time. I realized during that exercise that I spent most of my day, actually most of my life, ignoring to how it feels to inhabit my body. In fact, when I first started this body-meditation exercise, there were some parts of my body that were hard to feel at first, demonstrating how disconnected I tend to be.

It doesn’t seem being in our body should feel so weird, but perhaps you’ve had the same experience?

Consciously taking note of being in my body for the first time was an adventure. I notice random bursts of energy, sort of like a chill or tingling, that course through my body fairly frequently. I also notice that I tend to carry a lot of tension around my chest and neck area. I must specifically relax my chest area to most effectively sense my inner body, especially my heart region. When I do, as Tolle suggests, it’s a delightful but unusual sensation that’s somehow hard to maintain for very long.

There has also been more discussion about biofeedback and heart rate variability (HRV) as a method for improving your energy, health and cognition.   You can intentionally improve the quality of your HRV by being aware of your heart and then imagine breathing slowly through your heart.   For those of us who are in our heads most of the day, shifting attention to a body part (yeah, even our heart!) feels like a huge paradigm shift.

Focusing more on the corporeal side of the human experience actually makes me feel more human.   I’m not just my thoughts, nor am I just my emotions. I’m not just my body either though I tend to take that for granted. There’s an awareness that underlies all of those parts of me that I usually am even less in touch with than my body. That awareness is quiet, wise and connected to the wider world. I have to go digging for her, and sometimes I cannot access her at all, but she’s worth every bit of effort that I invest in noticing or connecting with her. She is larger than my problems, thoughts and feelings. She is the divine within me that connects to all else.

This greater sense of connection has been the primary benefit of my spiritual journey.   In the past, as a practicing atheist, I couldn’t even conceive of this phenomenon. Yet now that I’ve developed an appreciation and practice for connection, I find that it’s a sense that provides me a sense of peace and inspiration.   It also makes me more aware of that interplay between body/mind/emotion/world/universe. Just like realizing I should start using the right side of my brain, why not access and appreciate my connection to everything else? Somehow realizing that I’m just a tiny piece of it makes me feel more complete.

 

Note: Dear friends, you may have noticed that I’ve taken the spring off from blogging. I needed some time for reflection and rest, and I believe I am now ready to share with you my recent journey. I hope to get caught up on yours!