There are things we know that we are really good at and other things we realize we may not be so good at doing. Each of us has our own gifts, strengths and weaknesses. We learn about these gifts through trial and error, repeated attempts and failures. Some things we learn and improve ourselves upon, others, perhaps not quite so much. This process is quite natural and is all a part of learning and growing. In fact, these failures and learning these limitations often provide the foundations for future growth and success as we begin to build on strengths and focus our efforts in other areas.
While these attempts and failures are healthy and normal, they do establish limits and open horizons for us. This process helps us form our core beliefs about ourselves and who and what we are. In addition, we learn our skill sets and build upon them.
However, there are other beliefs, limiting beliefs that are learned or self-imposed. Consider the simple act of dancing. As children, especially infants when they learn to stand, dance as soon as they hear a beat. As they get older, they continue to dance, and as the saying goes, 'they dance as if no one is looking.' They dance for the sheer joy of dancing. Then something happens. They get older, they get more self-conscious, and even worse, someone tells them they look silly dancing or that they can't dance. At that point, all dancing stops. The child believes they can't dance, they believe they look silly trying, and they stop. The sheer joy of dancing often may never be experienced again as they fully subscribe to the limiting belief that they cannot dance.
A similar thing happens with singing. People sing in their cars, in the shower, and anywhere when they are alone and can't be heard. They may like singing, but won't often risk the ridicule of not singing well. Yet, all children sing. They sing loud, they sing with joy in their hearts, and while there may not be many Andrea Bocelli's or Ella Fitzgerald's out there, they still sing with great joy. Then something happens. Someone, sometimes even a parent, tells them they can't sing. At that point, the singing stops too. The sheer joy of singing, without reservation, as they did as children may never be part of their experience again. As adults, we are limited by a belief. What is tragic is that belief may be a false belief. Maybe we can dance, we may even be good at it and we could learn to be better. Maybe we can sing, we may even be good at that too and could learn to be better. Instead, our limiting beliefs have gotten in the way.
So what can we do about it? To begin with, we need to think about not what we do, but what we don't do. As we are big fans of making lists and checking things off, this is one instance where making a list is extremely helpful. There are three things we can do.
- Make a list of those things you do not do but think you might enjoy doing if you were better at it.
- For each of those items on the list, state why you don't do it or haven't tried it. These items reveal your beliefs as to why you can't or haven't done something you might want to do or try.
- For each of those items, state where that belief came from. Was it self-imposed, or just a belief that others imposed on us and we, for what ever reason, failed to challenge?
It is easy to see how an item like singing could easily make the list. We like to sing, but don't. We haven't tried it because we believe we are not good at it. Why? Because someone told me I wasn't good at it. Now in order to regain the joy of singing, I may just need to try and ignore the comments of others. Perhaps I need to take a lesson or join a church choir and others will help me learn to sing better. In any case, I regain the joy of singing!
If these limiting beliefs are so harmful and restricting for somethings as simple as singing or dancing, how damaging are they in other aspects of life? Think of the following statements. You aren't good at math, science, art, writing, (fill in the blank). It's a good thing you're smart, implying that you're not very pretty. It's a good thing you're pretty, implying you're not smart. You can't wear that outfit, it's for thin people. You can't play that game, you're not big enough. You get the idea.
Ages ago, when the European men dominated men's gymnastics, it was often stated that the Asians, Japanese and Chinese in particular couldn't do gymnastics well. They couldn't ever be good at pommel horse because their hands were too small. Fortunately for the Japanese and Chinese gymnasts, they didn't subscribe to that limiting belief and went on to dominate men's gymnastics.
These limiting beliefs can be crippling to our body image, career choices, self-efficacy, happiness and ultimately our enjoyment of life. With these three simple steps, we can move beyond these limiting beliefs and achieve more of what we want in life.