Painful issues are a part of life. Everyone at some point in their lives has been hurt. Maybe you lost a loved one or struggled when your parents divorced as a child. These things can stay will us but sometimes it’s the little things – an infinitesimal moment in which we learn a negative belief about ourselves – that stay with us for life.
Most of us will have been told at some point in our lives that we can’t do something. It’s usually a parent, teacher or childhood friend who tells us that we are not good at something in an offhand comment, completely unaware of the damage they have done. It could be something as simple as being told we can’t sing, draw or dance as a child. It could be an adult casually telling us we’re a bit dumb or chubby. Whatever it is, this flippant remarks can plant a seed of doubt in our minds that can grow into a whomping willow.
The issue is, a lot of the time the things we are led to believe about ourselves are not actually true.
A Limiting Belief Around Weight
In my case I was led to believe from a young age I had a weight issue. The truth is I have never in my life been considered overweight on the BMI. The idea that I was overweight was one enforced on me by my parents, who due to their own limiting beliefs around body image and self-worth, were concerned that I would potentially become very overweight, then struggle with myself esteem and go on to live a lonely, loveless life. In their minds when they told me I should “avoid peanut butter” they were doing so from a place of love..
Technically, the weight issue was theirs as they were the ones who created and enforced it. But nonetheless their need to remind me that I “should not eat so much candy” inevitably made me feel like I was already overweight and that I should feel ashamed of myself for even liking candy. This led to bursts of starvation and food obsession, followed by binge eating and self loathing. All of this at the ripe old age of 10.
By allowing someone else’s belief to become my own, I went through my tweens and teens feeling bad about myself. By 12 I was purging. By 20 I was just plain starving. If I’d had greater self esteem, I could have simply shrugged my shoulders and moved on, confident in my self perception. Instead of hiding away in baggy clothes and spending my summers sweltering in long boardshorts, I could’ve rocked the bod I had by wearing whatever I goddamn liked. I’d have known that regardless of my size, I am valid and I am a fucking unicorn.
A Limiting Belief Around Creativity
My friend Megan was told at a young age that she wasn’t creative. This was possibly because she was very good at maths, writing and everything else that was easily graded or marked. It was obvious to see how clever she was when it came to logical subjects, but creativity is something that can’t be graded.
She was pushed into the subjects in which she clearly excelled but was not often encouraged to try creative subjects. She was taught to perform well and she did however there was little room to simply test the waters or try new things.
I was 12 when I met Megan. I knew of her because she was the 24 champion of New Zealand. If you weren’t born in New Zealand, you may not know that 24 was a maths game that became very popular through kiwi schools in the early 90s. The basic gist of the game is that you have a deck of square cards which have 4 numbers on them. A small group of kids sit in a circle around a one card and the first kid to make these numbers equal 24, using any equation, places two fingers on the card and says “got it”. They then have to explain their working to the group. If they get it right they keep the card. The kid with the most cards when the deck is finished is the winner.
24 was kind of a big deal in 1995 and so Megan was basically a Maths celebrity. This was huge in my mind because maths was not my strong suit at all. I was in love with art and story writing and performing one woman plays to my cat.
I, and many others, made the same assumption about Megan. If she’s that good at maths, she cant be very creative. She has a logical mind. That’s where she excels. She was surely too good at writing essays to also be good at fiction. She was too good at science to bother pursuing art. She was mathematical, not creative.
So when we, her friends, laughed at her attempts at drawing, she learnt to laugh along with us. But in doing so, we were perpetuating her own limiting beliefs around her lack of creative ability.
Little did we know that creativity doesn’t require a membership card. Nor does it strictly relate to art. Being artistic is not the same as being artistic. There are a million ways to show your creativity. Like Louise L Hay explains, you can be a creative gardener, cook or even bed maker.
It wasn’t until her late teens that Megan realised that she not only loved writing fiction but she also enjoyed the process of drawing and painting. She followed her curiosities and allowed herself to enjoy the process. Today Megan is a published author who paints almost daily.
Limiting Beliefs That Self Perpetuate
Funnily enough, while Megan was living with the belief that she was not creative I was dealing with the belief that I was not good at maths, so therefore, dumb.
While I enjoyed art I did not enjoy maths. It bored me to tears and no matter what I did I could not get the hang of it. I preferred to paint and draw and write poems. When I was 10, my teacher, aware that my mathematical ability was below average, sent me off to do a back up class in the afternoons with another group of kids who were also struggling. The trouble was that the afternoons were when we usually did art class.
I’d sit in my second maths class of the day feeling miserable. My head throbbed as I tried to make sense of concepts that I could not understand – and did not care to. My heart ached for paint and paper-mache. But I knew what they were telling me. Or at least I thought I did.
Art is a waste of time. Your talent in that area is not important to us. Stop spending so much time painting pictures and you will be a better person in our eyes.
I did my best. I worked hard memorising times tables and mastering the basic rules of sums. My parents even bought a video training programme so that I could study at home after school. Everyday. So after school instead of painting I watched my maths videos and did the exercises, determined to do better, to make my parents and my teachers happy.
However, no matter what I did, the maths wouldn’t take and now every time I sat at my desk to paint my heart felt full of anxiety. This is bad. I heard in my head. Painting is a waste of time. It makes you a bad student.
Looking back this makes me so furious! I am still bad at maths. Terrible in fact. I still find no joy in using that part of my brain. But guess what? I don’t have to. If at any time in life I need to do some quick maths I can pull out my goddamn phone and use the calculator!
By the time I reached high school (yep, you guessed it!) I was still bad at maths. But now I was also average at art. My creative advantage had dwindled.
I was placed in a low level maths class, which was widely known as Cabbage Maths. When others learnt that I was in this class they started making jokes about me, saying that I was ditsy and dumb. I played into this joke because I genuinely believed the fact that I was not great at Maths meant I was dumb. So, if I got average grades in others subjects – like science or social studies, what else would I expect – I wasn’t very smart, remember.
By the age of 15 I’d pretty much given up at school. I went to class but I did the bare minimum and failed more tests than I passed. It was easier not to try – what if I tried my best and still failed the test? That would mean I really was dumb and my belief would be justified.
The only subjects I did well in were the creative ones. Not surprisingly, I excelled at painting, sculpture, photography and film studies – all the subjects that I let myself believe I could master.
The limiting belief that I was not smart led me to assume that was what other people thought of me too. I’m became highly sensitive of anyone undermining me or implying that I was not intelligent. I tried my best to appear smart, to “fool” others into thinking I was clever. But if anyone ever questioned something I’d said I would get mad and upset. Because not only had they made me feel stupid but they’d obviously seen through my ruse.
This limiting self belief made taking feedback on my work very hard because I saw every critique as someone telling me I was stupid and that my work was bad. If someone gave me grammatical corrections, they thought I was dumb. If someone explained something in great detail, they thought I was dumb. If someone rolled their eyes at me, they thought I was dumb. In my head, I was a dumb person trying desperately to appear smart. Smart enough to be taken seriously. Smart enough to matter.
It wasn’t until years later when I took a Menza test on a whim, scoring highly, that I realised that intelligence comes in many forms. There’s mathematical intelligence and then there’s thinking creatively. Sure my mind may not remember how to do long division and my brain may ache at simply trying to carry the ones, but when I want to, I can learn something new. I taught myself basic coding skills when I started blogging. I learnt how to edit audio footage for my podcast, then I figured out how to convert sound files. I even managed to write a 85,000 word book of fiction. So, turns out I’m not dumb after all!
What are your Limiting Beliefs?
My experiences are not rare. Most of us believe things about ourselves that limit us in ways large and small. It could be a simple belief that if you are not great at something then there’s no point in doing it. Or it could be that just because in high school you didn’t have a huge group of friends that means you ‘have trouble making friends’. On the flip side I knew a girl who was very popular in high school, so went out into the world with the belief that she was better than everyone. This ultimately led to people disliking her.
It’s these preconceived notions passed down to us that we need to shake off in order to be free. It takes deep self reflection to realise that we hold these limiting beliefs about ourselves and it takes constant work to prevent ourselves from playing into them.
Limiting Beliefs and The Law of Attraction
When we let these old beliefs play like a vintage vinyl in our mind, we are sending these messages out to The Universe. We are literally vibrating with the energy of what we don’t want! The only way to stop these beliefs from perpetuating, is to change our thinking.
Once we identify them as limiting beliefs that are not actually true, we can consciously choose to inherit new positive beliefs.
What limiting beliefs do you have about yourself? Where do you think you learned them and what belief would you need to learn to turn the old belief around?
Food for thought!