Our beliefs about ourselves exert a very powerful influence over how we conduct ourselves, respond to challenges and make decisions. Someone with a belief that she is smart and resourceful is more likely to meet challenges with greater confidence, and a higher probability of solving the problem successfully. She will also experience less stress and anxiety in general, confident in her belief that she can figure it out. On the other hand, someone with a belief that figuring things out is difficult, is less likely to be an effective problem solver. This person will also likely experience a lot more stress in her life, as she constantly braces for things to go wrong.
Our beliefs can constructively empower us to take charge of our lives and situations, or they can negatively impact us, limiting our ability to function effectively and be happy. Most of the time, we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what our underlying beliefs are about ourselves. Our beliefs, like the invisible puppet master, lurk beneath the surface of our consciousness, directing our every move. Like a puppet, we are unaware of the puppet master’s control
Usually, feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration or depression that persist no matter what we do to alleviate them are our first inkling that things are not right. We can’t explain them, neither can we control them. We start to ask questions of ourselves: should I change my job, or maybe even my career, or should I go for more massages to relax, or do I need a vacation away from my spouse and kids? But we can’t figure out the answer.
Achieving success does not necessarily inoculate us against self-defeating beliefs. While these beliefs don’t block your path to success, they can play a crucial role in undermining you.
Kendall is a young and driven executive on the fast track, she has received multiple promotions at a rapid clip, and now has been given substantial P&L responsibilities. She has outstanding academic credentials and work reviews. Yet Kendall feels like a fraud, that she needs to run harder to justify her position to herself. She is exhausted at the end of the work day because her anxiety levels are so high. She cannot fathom why she feels this way.
Working with Kendall, and encouraging her to list out her beliefs about herself, it surfaced that she believed that no one deserved to have her kind of success at such a young age. She felt a great deal of unrecognized guilt about her success, and that it was not deserved. Kendall grew up in a small city, and while her parents had attended the local college, they never aspired to leave their home town. Her parents were hardworking middle class people who believed in hierarchy and earning your place at the table, rewards only come with time and hard work, and never at such a young age as Kendall had succeeded
While her parents’ circumstances probably influenced their beliefs, Kendall is in a very different situation from her parents. She lives in a big city, her qualifications far exceed that of her parents and her employer is a multi-national company offering her enormous opportunities.
Despite the significant differences with her parents, she held a belief that was outmoded, not relevant to her circumstances, and interfered with her ability to function effectively.
It was a real “aha” moment for Kendall to recognize the limiting and harmful nature of the belief, and worked to re-write her belief. The belief had caused her to frequently question if she deserved the good things that happened to her, driving both subconscious guilt and visible anxiety. She realized that this self-limiting belief was arbitrary and caused her unnecessary stress. The new belief Kendall wrote to replace the old self-limiting one declared that she is smart, competent and effective, and that when she does good work, she is entitled to the rewards. Kendall’s anxiety levels started to fall, and she found that she could relax and enjoy her weekends and even take some short vacations, while continuing to excel at her job.
The mischief and havoc that self-limiting beliefs can cause in our lives is substantial. Neutralizing them becomes urgent! Try this exercise: list 3 beliefs about yourself that empower you and then list 3 beliefs that have generally disempower you from pursuing your goals and dreams. Write down how each of these 6 beliefs have influenced your responses and choices. Remember that what you may have considered being realistic may be a self-limiting belief.
The author coaches smart women on life and career. You can read more about her work at www.donnameyer.org