You’re actually better than that. Truly.
"I'm just bad at conflict." My client shared that with me today during a session.
I asked, "So you're bad at conflict?" I asked.
She elaborated: "I mean, I have always avoided fights and any unpleasant situation, or anything I thought would make me uncomfortable."
"Wow. So you ALWAYS avoid any and all conflict, is that right?" I had to ask. She dialed it back a bit and admitted that there had been times when she was able to address conflict in her life.
What I heard, and what I wanted to probe a bit more with my client, was what appeared to be a limiting belief she held about herself. I define a limiting belief as any statement that starts with "I can't" or "I shouldn't." These statements tend to be entrenched opinions we have held about ourselves for a long time. And they can get in the way of us being as successful as we can be.
A trick I learned to identify them is when the statement is accompanied by the words "always" or "never." Very few things in this life are always or never.
I believe that limiting beliefs are probably the number one issue that comes up in career coaching, at least in my practice. They are often the cause of why someone wants to find a new job; scrap their current career and look for another one; or why they aren't moving ahead in their company or career path and are frustrated. And I am betting a lot of cases of career burnout could be linked to a limiting belief (or two!) someone holds about themselves.
Limiting beliefs come into our lives in a variety of ways and through many people. I'm updating the workbook I created to help my clients identify and heal their limiting beliefs about themselves. Here are some of the new questions I came up with to identify your limiting beliefs:
Thinking back to your childhood, what were the stories that your parents or siblings always told about you?
For me, my parents and brothers told this story about me every holiday we got together. “Andrew came home with his hair chopped off and looked awful. When we asked him why he cut his hair, he said, 'I didn’t cut my hair, the ducks down at the pond cut it. I mean, they bit it off.' So the ducks cut his hair! Hahahaha!"
Not so funny, however, was that I was left with a limiting belief that I never tell the truth, I always lie. That idea certainly got reinforced in my home life. But, how about those limiting beliefs that affect you, years later, in your professional life?
What experiences from school - kindergarten to high school - have you brought with you into adulthood that still causes you pain? How have those affected how you behave in the world?
For example, I was a bullied kid growing up. My response was to clam up and not talk, not even acknowledge anyone was around. I don't want to throw a pity party for myself, but this experience did a number on my self-image. What I brought of it into my professional life was a fear of meeting new people and having to engage with them.
As someone in marketing, that was a problem. Part of my job was to drum up business for my employer by calling on local businesses. I had to staff trade show booths and go to networking events constantly.
What I said to myself, what my limiting belief sounded like was, "I'm just awkward around people. I don't fit in. People must think I'm weird. I'm terrible at networking."
So can you imagine my success rate with networking and calling on businesses and staffing trade show booths with that limiting belief stuck in my head? It wasn't great. Don't worry; I used the same exercises in my workbook that I take my own clients through, and they worked for me. While I am still a work in progress, life is a lot better!
What jobs or projects do you avoid at work?
Another one of my limiting beliefs was, "I am terrible at math." I learned that one from my well-meaning second-grade teacher, who told me, after it took me nearly 30 minutes to complete a sheet of 20 math problems, "Well, you're just better at reading!!" As a result, at work, I avoided having to work on budgets or anything to do with numbers. And when I was forced to work with numbers, I consistently made dumb mathematical mistakes. My excuse? "Oh, I've always been bad at math."
What to do, what to do?
So I tell my clients that to handle a limiting belief you either have to tell it to shut up or re-write the script.
How, exactly, do you tell yourself, "Self, shut up"? One simple way is to pay attention, very close attention, when you become aware of yourself telling yourself some negative belief you have about yourself, shout out, "Shut up! Shut the EFF up!"
More likely, you'll say it to yourself or whisper it but with the same intensity as if you truly were shouting it. Then replace it with a better thought, "You're better than this, you're actually freaking amazing! And don't forget it!"
An even better thought would come out of re-writing the limiting belief and make it a powerful belief about yourself. Kind of turn it on its head. Sometimes it’s as easy as just saying the opposite of what your limiting belief is. For example, using that limiting belief I used to have, “I am bad at math, or, I’m no good at math.”
My new powerful belief could be as simple as, “I am good at math.” Or, I might say, “Math comes so easily to me.”
Imagine what kind of life you could be living right now if you changed every one of your limiting beliefs? What could be the impact of that?