A Coaching Power Tool created by Barclay Schraff
(Health and Wellness Coaching, UNITED STATES)
Some people think they can, and some people think they can’t, and they are both right. Unattributed adage
Potential vs. Limitations
Have you ever faced a problem and been told, “It’s all in your head.” This adage carries a lot of wisdom. Our thoughts hold great power over how we see ourselves and the actions we take. But just because a thought has crossed your mind, does that mean it holds truth? In his book, Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson asserts,
A belief is no more than an opinion you’ve developed loyalty to.
Perhaps you’ve always felt you needed to lose a few pounds. This feeling may stem from your grandmother’s fondness for pinching your cheeks and calling you “chubby,” while reminding you that all of the women in your family are “well padded.” Or do you immediately dismiss the idea of running a 10K with your son because you are much too old! Maybe you hesitate to drive new places fearing you’ll get lost due to your “terrible sense of direction.” Each of these examples illustrates a deeply rooted, self-limiting belief we might hold about ourselves. “Deeply rooted” because we have accepted the notion as part of who we are for a very long time and we have incorporated into our sense of self. It is an underlying belief because it exists beneath the surface, below our awareness, unquestioned. “Self-limiting” because this belief is holding us back from reaching our potential. It affects our self-esteem and can shape the choices we make.
Other types of limiting beliefs arise in the area of how we “should” be living our lives. Maybe you’ve agreed to chair the fundraising committee for your church, not because of your talent at raising money, but due to the guilt you feel if you decline. Did you fail to add your voice to the heated discussion at the last employee meeting because you didn’t want to appear pushy or opinionated to the group? The above examples illustrate underlying beliefs in action. You believe that you “should” volunteer for the church, and keep your opinions to yourself. Or should you?
A third type of belief stems from our emotions. Though we may like to think we are rational human beings who consider each choice thoughtfully, many times we simply react. Fear is often the emotion that drives us. Someone may claim they cannot speak in public. In their mind, they are simply not able to do it. Perhaps they’ve tried and failed, so now they have labeled themselves as someone who can’t. They do not go so far as to say, “Speaking in front of others scares me!” or “I don’t like public speaking.” The emotion is dropped from the equation, and is replaced by “can’t.”
Being a victim is another common way that we allow our emotions to define us. When we concentrate more on the injustice or unfairness of a situation than on constructive and active ways to improve it, we are playing the role of the victim. Perhaps you feel ignored and even unloved when your grandchildren don’t take the time to call you or send emails with news of their lives. By extension, you judge your children for not raising their own with better manners. Yet by initiating a correspondence with your grandchildren, picking up the phone to have a conversation with them, you would be taking positive steps towards cultivating a deeper relationship.
Left unexamined, beliefs that you allow to negatively define yourself, your attitudes and actions can be crippling. Self-critical thinking tears down your self-esteem and weakens your effectiveness as a person. The feeling that we “should” lead a certain life leaves most of us wracked with guilt, as we can never live up to expectations of perfection, especially when the expectations are not our own. When we let our fears and insecurities run wild, our reactions can leave us mired in negativity and blame.
The crux of the matter is that you believe that these perceptions of yourself are true. You’ve held them throughout your life, and they are incorporated into who you are. They’ve never been challenged. Yet looking at them objectively, each type of belief described here is a self-imposed limitation. Not only are they untrue, they are not necessarily fixed.
How can we unmoor from these limitations? Whether we realize it or not, we use our limitations to create a safe haven. This space is comfortable because it is familiar and it provides us with justification for non-action. Yet when we choose to move past the thoughts that limit our effectiveness and happiness, we open up to our potential. The unknown is always a little frightening, but isn’t it also exciting? We must be ready and willing to explore what we want and what could be. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Growth and personal effectiveness begins with self‐awareness. Little by little, we can begin to question our motivation and when it doesn’t serve us, we will see it as an opportunity to shift perspective. We will explore the alternatives using thoughts like, “can” “want” “what if” and “perhaps.” We will take charge of the direction of our lives as only we can.
Realize that someone else’s opinion of you is only that, their opinion. How do you see yourself? What are your strengths? What is most important to you, and how does it show up in your life? What can you do to cultivate the things that are meaningful to you, and the things at which you excel?
Where does the word “should” show up in your vocabulary? Ask yourself whose voice is telling you that you “should.” Is it simply negative self-talk, or an angry parent, a belligerent boss? Examine the source, and trade the limiting words for thoughts of hope and potential.
Finally, when feeling victimized, ask yourself who is in charge. In the words of Don Miguel Ruiz and The Four Agreements, don’t take anything personally and make no assumptions. For example, as the disappointed grandparent you might want to look at the assumptions behind your feelings. Could your grandchildren’s silence be explained by factors other than a lack of warm emotions or simply bad manners? As an adult, you might ask yourself what kind of effort you have made toward the younger generation. Have you modeled behavior of curiosity and love toward them? Have you reached out to them, or have you assumed the children are not interested? Instead of seeing the limits surrounding your relationships, imagine the potential for love and connection and do your part to make it happen.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make the world.
Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha