Rooting Out Self-Limiting Beliefs
As small children many of us were read the story of the little locomotive that thought it could. It's determined effort to climb a challenging mountain was meant to teach us to believe in our possibilities.
Encore entrepreneurs are like that little locomotive. They have a steep grade to climb with their startup. Their success will depend in no small measure on their personal systems of belief and whether those beliefs empower them or limit them.
In this article I want to take you through five clusters of beliefs that determine how we behave. My goal is to put you in a position to evaluate your beliefs to see which ones empower you and which ones actually rob you of power and potential. But before we begin, I want to highlight a sneaky characteristic of beliefs.
Beliefs Masquerading as Facts
In our thought process, beliefs rarely present themselves as beliefs. Instead, they masquerade as facts. Have you ever heard people say things like, "I could never be a good public speaker," or "I'm just messy by nature"?
Notice how these statements sound like statements of fact. In reality, neither of them is factual. They both state a belief. What they actually mean is, "I believe that I could never become a good speaker." And, "I believe that I can't be tidy and organized."
Moreover, by masquerading as facts, these statements imply two things. First, they suggest that "this is who I am." And second, "Because I'm this way, there's not much that I can do about it." The second statement even says, "I'm messy by nature." If I'm messy by nature, I must simply accept it. Right?
As a result, because we mistakenly treat such statements as facts, they serve to disable us. They rob us of power and potential to change and improve.
After all, I cannot readily change what I am. Or I may not be able to change it at all. Speaking personally, I'm in my late sixties, soon to be 70. I'm a father and a veteran. I'm powerless to change these realities.
So when beliefs mask themselves as "I am" statements, they are particularly insidious. They leave us feeling that we are at the mercy of "what I am."
Restate Your Beliefs, Reclaim Your Potential
But we regain our power and potential once we see such so-called "facts" as mere beliefs and then reword our self-description appropriately. Notice the difference between saying, "I could never learn to be a good public speaker" and saying, "I've not yet learned to be a good public speaker."
The first wording expresses a belief. The second states a fact. That is, I truly do not have a mastery of public speaking at present. But inherent in this second statement is the possibility of developing that mastery. With this simple rewording we replace a disabling belief with an empowering perspective.
Whenever you hear yourself making "I am" statements, learn to self-edit for a moment and ask whether you are stating a fact or a belief. Do this especially when an "I am" statement points to some limitation in your capabilities or options. Only when you remove disabling beliefs do you maximize your possibilities.
Covert Self-Limiting Beliefs
And keep in mind that "I am" statements don't necessarily always use the words "I am" explicitly. On the surface "I could never become a good speaker" does not sound like an "I am" statement. But as we saw above, it's a covert way of saying, "I am unable to become a good speaker."
Also be aware that disabling beliefs frequently have other disabling beliefs running underneath them. Earlier we recast "I could never be a good public speaker" as "I've not yet learned to be a good public speaker."
This simple rewording will not empower us if we are adding the parenthetical thought (even unconsciously), "And I could never learn to be good at public speaking, either."
This second disabling belief is undercutting the effort that we've made to get rid of the first disabling belief. Be prepared, therefore, to work through your disabing beliefs layer by layer. In all likelihood they have been running unchecked in the unconscious mind for decades. So it may take a bit of work to ferret them out and identify them.
Five Clusters of Beliefs
And where do you go looking for disabling beliefs? In five clusters.
- Beliefs about space. (Example: Until I have an office of my own, I can't start my business.)
- Beliefs about time. (Example: I don't have time to plan.)
- Beliefs about self. (Example: I could never enjoy cold calling.)
- Beliefs about others. (Example: If I hold people accountable, they won't like me.)
- Beliefs about the world. (Example: A small company like mine doesn't stand a chance.)
Disabling beliefs can be hiding in any of these five closets. The more closet doors you open and the more you examine what's inside, the better you position yourself to surface disabling beliefs and replace them with enabling perspectives.
Dismantling Disabling Beliefs
How long will this process take? Quite a while. After all, how many years did you spend building up your inventory of disabling beliefs? You may dismantle them more quickly than you built them up. But it won't happen overnight.
So the place to start is by asking yourself if you truly believe that it's worthwhile to spend time ridding your psyche of disabling beliefs. I don't assume that everyone believes that such an endeavor is worthwhile. If you're one who is content with your disabling beliefs, then I apologize for taking up your time with this article.
On the other hand, if you are tired of disabling beliefs holding you back, I would suggest that you start with examining your beliefs about self. That's where the greatest number of self-limiting beliefs are probably lurking.
Start paying attention to how you describe yourself to others and to what you say about yourself to yourself. When you hear self-limiting language in your statements, take note of what you've said. Then reword them as we have with the examples above.
I should add that not all self-limiting statements are beliefs. Some are indeed facts. At my age I will never be a gold medal sprinter in the Olympics. Still, never take self-limiting statements at face value, no matter how "factual" they may first appear. Always probe them to see if they are in reality some covert belief.
Once you develop the discipline of self-editing your statements about self, you will be surprised at how many of them are debilitating beliefs masquerading as facts.
And once you've gone through the closet which stores your disabling beliefs about self, move on to explore your beliefs about others, then your beliefs about the world, and finally your beliefs about space and time. Closet by closet, belief by belief, build and enlarge your sense of possibility. Like the little engine who thought he could, refuse to let limiting beliefs stop you short of the mountain top.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on August 28, 2014.