I would not consider myself a world traveler or a writer even as I sit here in Koh Russey at the Alila Resort in Cambodia, writing a blog. How weird is that? Well, it's way less weird than you think. These are limiting beliefs that I have about myself. Here is how it usually plays out:
I am not a writer.
No one will want to hear what I have to say, and if they do, they will pick out all of the imperfections in my thoughts and writing, and I will look foolish.
There are better writers. I don't deserve to call myself a writer. Sometimes I wonder why I try.
I am not a world traveler.
World travelers can whisk off on a moment's notice, and I have too many responsibilities to do that.
I have traveled out of the country less than eight times. I can't call myself a world traveler. Please!
I know. I hear you grumbling. "Yes, you are Karen! Don't say that about yourself. Look at all you are doing and all that you have done!" Oh, I know. That is how powerful our limiting beliefs can be. They can take what is true and real about us and make it disappear like Band-Aids when you have a three-year-old.
My limiting beliefs are not limited to writing and travel: work, my athletic pursuits, money, relationships. I find them in many areas of my life. How about you? Do you have limiting beliefs? I suspect you do. We all do.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
They are the things you believe to be true about yourself, about the world or about others that hold you back from saying hell yes to the things that excite you, otherwise known as your true purpose (For the record, your purpose can change many times over your life!). For example, you are an accountant. You have always wanted to do stand-up comedy. You're hilarious. But you tell yourself that you can't do stand up comedy because there are some funny ass people in the world and you are not one of them. Maybe people wouldn't like your kind of comedy. Numbers and spreadsheets are cool. But when you think of doing comedy, you feel something: part fear, part exhilaration. However, you are an excellent accountant. It is safe and comfortable. So you convince yourself you should probably stay with that. If you find yourself saying I can't, I do/don't, I am/am not, I will/will not, I should/should not, or others will/ will not, you might need to check yourself. Those statements are the perfect cover for limiting beliefs.
Limiting beliefs are your brain's way of keeping you safe. They extinguish the flames of vulnerability that flicker in your heart, and they keep you in comfort zones where things are predictable. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as anything that involves risk, uncertainty, or the potential for emotional exposure. That pretty much covers everything that is outside of our comfort zone. Let's face it. The best shit happens outside our comfort zones. No one says, "Geez, I am sure glad I stayed on the couch watching Grey's Anatomy again and didn't try that new hiking trail," or "I'm so happy I didn't go to graduate school. That would have been lame to study something I love." That is, of course, unless Grey's Anatomy lights a fire in your heart. If that is the case, I apologize for the reference, but our limiting beliefs try to keep us on the couch of our lives.
Imagine running toward what your soul wants. Now imagine running toward what you desire with a pair of concrete boots? Sounds exhausting, uninspiring, and unsafe, right? We are more likely to stay in one place with oppressive limiting beliefs shackled to our ankles. That, my friends, is precisely what limiting beliefs do to us. They keep us comfortably, uncomfortable. We repeat and reinforce old stories, years in the making, through our choices and thoughts. Ever feel anxious, sad, disappointed, or unsettled and have no clue why? Yeah. Me too. You're locked in a mental battle between your limiting beliefs and your desire to do the badass stuff you keep buried underneath them.
How Do Limiting Beliefs Work?
Limiting beliefs make you feel the same fear you feel when you're actually in danger, like when a creepy dude is following you down an alley. When your brain can't see the outcome of a situation, it sends a tsunami warning to your body. The mind cannot distinguish the difference between something new and different, and something genuinely deserving of a full stop. Fear responses to vulnerability served an awesome purpose when we needed the physiological effects of fear to protect us as a species. It can be a terrible pain in the ass when you want to try soul expending things like starting a business, writing a book, or carving out time for your yoga practice or fitness pursuits.
How many times have you wanted to try a class, take a soul-inspiring journey, or learn a new skill and thought, "I shouldn't do that? It will take time and resources away from my family." Spoiler alert: You, my friend, are your most valuable asset and theirs. But when you don't karate chop your limiting beliefs and do what your soul is calling for, you are only giving people you love part of your story. Think about your favorite book. Come on. Imagine it. Now think about reading it halfway through. It's okay, but meh. It's hollow. Disjointed. Incomplete. That is you when you stay stuck and tangled in your limiting beliefs. We all want to be seen and to share our unique gifts with the world. That requires vulnerability.
Limiting beliefs are a temporary solution to fear and pain avoidance. I hate to break it to you, but using limiting beliefs as a smokescreen to avoid the uncomfortability of vulnerability makes it impossible to see the big magic in front of your face. Limiting beliefs disconnect us from the trueness of who we are. They put a big, thick glass ceiling on our self-awareness and happiness. They cut us off from everything that vulnerability allows us like love, joy, passion, purpose, creativity.
We form limiting beliefs throughout our lifetime. These nasty buggers are created by our experiences, inferences, and deductions, and by accepting things we see and hear as truths. We develop this from our family of origin, school, friends, society, and now, social media. We are bombarded with information from a very early age, and we begin to integrate that information into the fabric of our being. Have you ever been listening to the radio and a song comes on from high school? You haven't heard Poison by Bel Biv DeVoe in 27 years, yet the words fly out of your mouth with no effort. That is how limiting beliefs work. They burrow into the recesses of your mind and become truths about you. Then you spend your life looking for moments, experiences, and people who will mirror that belief.
The good news is you can replace the song. You have to be willing to trade in your cassette tape for streaming music.
Brave: The Vulcan Grip for Limiting Beliefs
I would love nothing more than to say, "Here, follow these simple steps, and your limiting beliefs will cease to have power over you!" I would be a millionaire if I could figure that one out. But our lives, our history, and our limiting beliefs are as individual as our fingerprints. So learning to put limiting beliefs in the back seat is different for every person.
However, we all have a vital tool: bravery. Have you ever seen Star Trek? Spock uses a pinch grip at the base of the neck to render people unconscious. It's called the Vulcan Grip. Bravery is like the Vulcan Grip for your limiting beliefs. It doesn't get rid of them. It just makes them useless. No superhuman strength or a cape required. No phone booth to transform into something you are not. You already have it inside you.
I hear you, "I am not brave." Au contraire. You are. Bravery is feeling vulnerable and afraid and moving forward anyway. Have you ever told someone you loved them? Brave. Have you ever created a special dinner or handcrafted a gift? That is brave. Anytime we share ourselves with the world; we are brave. Every moment you authentically show up, you are performing an act of bravery. Sometimes it's brave to get out of bed. It is brave to smile when you're happy and let yourself cry when you're sad. Brave exists in so many little moments every day, but we tend to focus on the moments that our limiting beliefs try to sucker punch our brave in the face, not the moments that our brave is in direct alignment with our desires for ourselves.
Think of one thing you want to say hell yes to right now? Think of the soul-expanding shit! What ignites a fire in you? What is outside your comfort zone, but right where you want to be? Now, what turns hell yes into no way? Are there some legitimate challenges? Maybe. There could be obstacles, but what are your limiting beliefs about this thing that your soul is craving? What is the story you keep repeating over and over again in your life? Where have you seen to before?
We don't usually want things: a better body, a published blog, money. We want to say hell yes to feeling things: confident, smart, safe. Bravery allows you to ask the question, "What do I want to feel?" instead of stating everything that you don't want to feel. Use your brave and connect to yourself, to ask the profound question. Bravery allows us to look at that and not turn away. That in itself will subdue your pesky limiting beliefs like Spock. What do you want to feel, and how can you take one small step toward that feeling?
My limiting beliefs were self-fulfilling prophecies. "I am not a writer," permitted me not to write. By not writing, it was true. World travel is reserved for the worthy, free-spirited people, not people like me. A cornerstone of my story and belief is that self-indulgence is selfish. That limiting belief has held me back so many times in my life. Writing this blog is my brave move to hush the old stories and limiting beliefs of inadequacy because I want to feel like I am sharing myself, my thoughts, and my passion with the world. This trip to Cambodia is the salve on old wounds of not-enoughness because I want to feel strong, confident, and capable of navigating uncharted waters and challenges.
You are not as broken as your limiting beliefs will lead you to believe. You don't need fixing. You need brave. Pull those limiting beliefs into the light. Honor their intention of safety. Thank them for their service and then grab them by the neck and render them useless.