I’ve been listening to Invisibilia, a podcast about thoughts. How they work, what they do, how dependent we can become on our own ideas even though often what we think isn’t true at all.
That doesn’t stop us from adhering to them. To following these unfounded ideas and beliefs. We even act out of them. And that behavior creates tangible results. Results which we then hold up as evidence that our idea was true all along. When all along it was probably just a really bad idea.
Here’s how it works: once a teacher or parent or other grown-up suggested you weren’t all that good at math (or dancing or reading or dressing or whatever). You took this in, and repeated the thought to your friends on the playground as the reason why you only got 4 out of 5 on the quiz. And you super-charged these thoughts through repetition inside your head and out. And these bionic thoughts became a belief.
Holding tight to the belief that you were math poor, you didn’t take many math classes nor did you practice math a whole lot and so you didn’t improve much. When you got your mediocre math scores on the SAT you had plenty of evidence that yes, indeed, you do suck at math. When it reality, you just chose to behave on your belief that you were bad at math, and you stopped doing the things you needed to do to get better. What if you had believed instead that you were pretty good at math? Or even took on a growth mindset that you could improve your math skills and get better? That belief would have certainly created a different experience.
We do this with everything. We build entire lives around our beliefs big ones and little ones. Ideas that we picked up from the playground, those that were instilled in us by others, those we chose to create and take on ourselves. And we let them unconsciously and unchallenged play out in our lives. Even if they weren’t helpful. Even if most of them are faulty.
On Invisibilia the reporters interviewed Daniel Kish, a guy who is technically blind. He doesn’t have eyeballs in his sockets. Yet he hikes, climbs trees, rides bicycles and does everything else he wants because he was never taught that blindness was a limitation.
He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to climb trees or hike or bike. So he learned to do those things and can “see” his way through by making clicking sounds with his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Kish uses the clicks like bats use echo-location as a kind of sonar to identify the locations of obstacles and objects. And he teaches others how to do the same thing.
But the biggest obstacle he encounters isn’t the at the edge of the unseen precipice, it’s found in the beliefs others hold about what it means to be blind. We are socialized, taught, to believe blind people can’t do what Daniel Kish does.
What we believe, what we learn from others and ourselves and hold tight to, determines in large part what we’ll do and explore and feel. But it doesn’t have to.
With awareness we can tweak our beliefs about our own capabilities and twist and mold and shape them into beliefs that support us, move us toward a life of passion and possibility. We can follow our curiosities – no matter what our parents say – and discover the beliefs that will inspire us. Those that are helpful. Those that stand for possibility rather than limitation. We can pick those.
When Daniel Kish was a kid, nobody told him blind people weren’t supposed to be climbing trees. So he climbed them. Later, when he was older he met plenty of people who freaked when they found out he was riding a bike. But it was too late. By then, he’d already installed the belief that he could ride.
Take a minute to consider the limiting beliefs you buy into. Here’s a hint, they often start like this:
You are too [insert your limitation of choice] short, fat, old, tall, skinny, white, black, dumb, smart.
You are too much or not enough.
Often, it’s the very labels we are given that lead to limiting beliefs — a lady doesn’t act that way, girls can’t call boys, men don’t cry, successful people don’t quit their jobs, women are too bossy, men are so aggressive, you’ll never make a living as a writer, yadda, yadda, yadda.
What labels do you hold? What limiting beliefs have you bought into?
Now, let them fall away, pick a belief that supports the life you want to live.
Then, get moving.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But, geez Louise, living with limitation isn’t easy either.
And, when you identify the ideas that are keeping you down, you can choose a new one and begin systematically choosing behaviors that support better beliefs.
‘I can’t lose weight,’ becomes ‘I make healthy choices for my body and can become fit.’
Then, instead of buying the chips and dip, you’ll behave from that belief and buy the yogurt and over time your new behaviors will create tangible evidence to support your new ideas.
But here is the clincher. It’s not enough to think about this stuff. You’ve got to be brave enough to act on those thoughts.
Stop living from a place of socialized, learned limitation. Stop behaving from the beliefs that are holding you back. Instead, get on that bike. Start peddling a new direction even if you can’t see where you’ll end up.
Seriously, if a blind guy can ride bikes, don’t you think you can figure out how to write the book, or learn the language, or try a new workout?
I know you can. You can thrive through anything. In Wednesday’s post, I’ll tell you how I know that for sure.