“With all the work you’re doing, you will make a good coach one day.” When I heard these words it caused me to pause for a moment. There are two ways I could have taken these words; as a compliment or as a judgment. What I do with this simple statement is totally up to me. There are times I would have taken such words, thanked the person for them and used them to limit beliefs about myself. I would start doubting my abilities and skills. Good news – This was not one of those times!
This got me thinking about how easy it is to create limiting beliefs. With just a few words it is possible to plant a seed and accept beliefs that just simply are not true.
A couple weeks ago I witnessed one of my coaching clients move an audience by telling his story. It wasn’t just any story, but one of overcoming adversity at a level most of couldn’t understand (including myself). I know he worked very hard in the two weeks leading up to the conference, and he was very nervous before his talk.
This client was giving this talk after I challenged him in one of our coaching sessions. From the moment I issued the challenge, I knew in my heart he was going to shine. Moments before he was on, I reminded him of a cardinal who flew into his previous coaching session. I simply said “Remember the cardinal? That’s who I see here and it’s time to shine my friend!”
He moved the audience in a way I’ve never witnessed before. There were many people, including myself, who were moved to tears by his story.
A teenager brings home an instrument from school, with excitement and enthusiasm about learning to make music. Like anyone learning a new instrument, the sound isn’t as pure as you’d like it to be. The parent jokes about the noise and equates it to a wounded goose. The message in words such as these is to tell the budding musician they don’t have the talent to make something beautiful.
The impact of this message is the student stops bringing the instrument home. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sax, trumpet, clarinet or percussion … you only become good with music through practice. Having a belief that people don’t want to hear you play will likely result in you losing any passion for playing. In this case, the student did his best to continue playing but outside of school rarely practiced out of fear of being heard.
There are far too many examples in business, of cultural traits which for the sake of trying to get better outcomes … actually create limiting beliefs in people. For example:
- Performance management processes which focus on the person becoming better at following a process or delivering rather than their growth as a person.
- Intolerance to errors in particular in creative processes such as software development
- Governance, signoffs and other controls which only serve to control and fix problems encountered at some point in the past, rather than focusing on the growth of the people moving forward
- People being told “there’s no place at work for emotions” as if we humans can detach from them and leave it at the door
It’s only a few words
Limiting beliefs, saboteurs, gremlins … come in many different forms. It might be a story you’ve been telling yourself for a very long time, which has you believing you’re not good enough to do something. It could also be a domino effect, where your belief around one thing has impacted other parts of your life. It might be something you tried and failed at, and without the right support, you simply gave up. Regardless of what you call it, or how you wove it into your story, the impacts can be significant.
How things impact us individually, is as individual as the recipient. All of my life experiences, good and bad, will have me looking at a situation different than you, and I may respond to something in a different way than you. What seems inconsequential to one of us, may form a limiting belief in the other.
Limiting beliefs come in all forms. I may give up a little bit of myself and what’s important to me. I may stay in my comfort zone and not chase the things which are important to me. I may give up on something I really want to pursue.
I’ve really noticed how just a few choice words can have such a dramatic impact IF I chose to accept those words. If I used the words of another I might have started to believe I’m not a good coach at this time. With what I’m sure was a joking comment from a caring parent almost stopped a child’s musical ambitions (thank goodness that wasn’t the case). With just a few words, I helped my client step around his limiting beliefs (assuming he still held some in that moment) and totally rocked the audience with his talk. Imagine what could have been different if I said something like “I hope you do OK”
Always a great question to ask. Why would people make comments such as this, and why would they help someone create a limiting belief about themselves. My personal opinion is they don’t actually mean to do it. When we judge another or put someone down, whether it’s accidental or on purpose we’re actually reflecting what’s true about ourselves. The lenses we put on are formed by us and not by someone else, and so we are seeing others through what is really true about ourselves.
In most cases, I believe people always want to do good things in life. They want to have a positive impact on the people around them, they want to inspire others, they want to generally do a good job. I don’t believe people leave the house in the morning thinking “today I’m going to cause someone pain, or to get them to stay in their comfort zone rather helping them do something amazing!”
It’s too easy though to help someone create a limiting belief about themselves and cause them to not go after bigger things.
Creating bigger beliefs
I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, and I know I still hold myself back with limiting beliefs. We all do as it’s just a part of the human experience called life. It’s important, however, to start building the muscles to see these limiting beliefs for what they are. What I know is when I can see them I can be at choice about them, and choose whether I’m going to hold them a bit longer or get rid of them and do something bigger (guess which one I do more often these days).
Here’s some thoughts about how I see my limiting beliefs for what they are. It can be tricky, especially if it’s a story I’ve told myself for a very long time as they can feel very real:
- Only hang out with people who see you bigger and better than you see yourself. Why would I hang out with someone who tells me I might make a good coach one day? I’m a good coach now, and like any skill we pick up I also know I will continue to grow as a coach.
- Notice the assumptions you are holding about others. What I’ve learned about assumptions this past while is they are almost always wrong. They are almost always my messiness, and in holding on to them I’m really creating some limiting belief about myself.
- What other people think of me is none of my business – I’ve said this before in posts, and I’ll continue to say it. When I’m living my life on purpose I know there will be people who don’t agree with me. If I change direction to satisfy them I am not living my life with my purpose which I refuse to do anymore.
- Build your awareness muscle. The quicker you can see your limiting beliefs, the quicker you get to choose what to do with them.
- Never stop believing in yourself and your ability to choose something bigger. You may find a limiting belief which is deeply engrained and you’ve carried for a very long time. It may feel like it’s just the way it’s always going to be. What I know is how wrong those feelings of helplessness are. You will always be able to put down a limiting belief.
What I want for you is that you never stop believing in yourself. Never loose your thirst for a bigger and better version of you to show up every day. Never let another’s words quiet your song as I know when you let it be heard it’s a beautiful sound!
A brilliant piece Mike. Thank you. Well done.