I love this line from Jack Nicholson. It sums up our daily lives in so many ways.
What do you believe to be true about yourself? Our beliefs are assumed truths – we have made these internal statements about ourselves, we’ve invested years of emotions into believing them and making them true. They have been with many of us since childhood, shaping us, defining us, and limiting us.
Unless you have spent some time reflecting on your life, you’re probably not aware of how these limiting self-beliefs have come into being, how they’ve limited your growth. They’re often hidden, developed to protect ourselves from future pain. We experience something painful, and to protect ourselves, we create these generalisations, these “truths”, about life. And they’re wrong.
Over time, and with unconscious practice, we embed these beliefs, and in turn, they affect our perceptions of people, events, and experiences. Our beliefs end up influencing and directing much of what we say, think and do.
Let me give you an example. I have an older brother, Dean. He’s my best mate. We used to fight and argue, as all brothers do when growing up. I remember one occasion, I was around 6 or 7 years old, and Dean had hit me in an argument over something. There I was, smaller brother, crying, embarrassed and ashamed (as toxic masculinity had already taught me that “real men” don’t lose fights, or cry). I felt powerless – that was the limiting belief. The behaviour that it taught me was that I couldn’t stand up for myself. Hit the repeat cycle a few times (and, as I said, we were like all brothers) so we did, and I went around believing this for years. I allowed this belief to come into existence, to shape my thinking, to direct my life. The meaning I attached to the event – nobody else said: “Hey, Alec, you’re powerless. Now run along and feel like this for the next # years”. The behaviours I adopted reinforced my beliefs, so I ended up creating my own self-fulfilling prophecy.
How did I break my limiting self-beliefs? Here are the steps I followed, and I am certain they’ll help you too:
1. Spend some time reflecting on yourself, and identify any limiting self-beliefs and the behaviours you’ve adopted as a result. Do you avoid certain situations, or people, as a result? How does the belief affect your behaviour – are you more defensive, or aggressive, because of the belief?
2. Investigate where these beliefs might have come from. The roots of limiting self-beliefs can be surprisingly simple; an interaction with another individual, or an event in your past that helped to cement these beliefs as “truths”.
3. Think of moments when these beliefs have been shown to be incorrect. We look for evidence that supports our beliefs so that they remain true. I encourage you to seek out evidence that contradicts these beliefs. Re-evaluate situations, interactions, and find times when you have behaved differently to the limiting belief.
4. Write out more empowering beliefs. You have identified the limiting beliefs, now actively plan out how you’re going to replace them with positive, empowering beliefs. Use the evidence from #3, ask yourself what behaviours you will choose to have instead of those automatic responses.
5. Challenge Limiting Thoughts. Old behaviours are habits – automatic responses. Wait for the first thought (reaction) to subside and then choose (action) your behaviour. This is tough – you have spent years investing in, nurturing, and developing the behaviours around your limiting self-beliefs. You won’t be able to bin them in one day. It will take conscious effort and time. Practice, make progress, don’t expect perfection. Remember, it’s a journey.
6. Journal. As with almost everything to do with personal development, keeping a journal will help you keep track of your progress. It will help you identify patterns and triggers (situations or people who press your buttons). Write down about the immediate thought (reaction) and the behaviour (action) you chose instead. What are the positive outcomes in your life as a result of the change? That will drive you to keep at it.
So, choose to handle the truth. Just because you (like me) have spent years living with limiting self-beliefs, it doesn’t mean that you have to keep making the same mistakes. Choose affirming, positive, empowering beliefs, take charge of your behaviour, and enjoy the benefits.