Brain studies have proven that childhood experiences make a lasting imprint on the subconscious mind. That includes things that we witness or hear about, people and circumstances that we encounter, and everything we are told by others. All of that becomes so deeply ingrained that even when we aren’t aware of it, those deep impressions have a strong influence over us for the rest of our lives.
That can be good news or bad news. There are valuable learning experiences that serve us well, but then there are also influences that keep us stuck and unable to move forward through life. It all depends…
We all have negative thoughts and moments of doubting ourselves, and we may sometimes face situations that make us feel afraid. That’s to be expected on occasion.
The problem occurs when we are being subconsciously driven by these unwanted thoughts and emotions. They are in control, and we don’t even realize it. We are a victim of our own “limiting beliefs”.
What Is A Limiting Belief?
Are you familiar with the famous flea training story?
As Zig Ziglar tells it, fleas do only two things – jump, and ride dogs. To train a flea you just put it in a jar, and put a lid on the jar (with air holes of course!). The flea will jump and hit the lid of the jar. Repeatedly. Jump – bam! Jump – bam! Jump – bam!
The flea may do this for an hour or more, but eventually he’ll come to believe that jumping as high as he is capable results in pain. Well, he’s still got to jump because that’s what fleas do, but in order to avoid pain he’ll stop jumping quite so high.
At that point your flea is trained. You can remove the jar lid and the flea won’t jump out. Why not? He is still capable of jumping high enough to get out of the jar. However, he can’t escape the jar now because he no longer understands the difference between a real limitation (the lid) and a self-limiting belief (jumping too high equals pain).
Sad, isn’t it? The only thing that has changed is that the flea has altered his behavior because of his limiting belief. Because of that, he is now trapped in the jar for the rest of his life.
“If we see ourselves or believe ourselves to be a certain way, we will act in accordance with that belief, whether it is true or not.” ~ Dr. Robert Anthony
In his book Beyond Positive Thinking, Dr. Robert Anthony explains it this way:
“All our experiences have led us to believe certain things about ourselves. Whether these beliefs are true or not really doesn’t matter because if we accept them as true, then they are true for us. If we speak our word long enough, it becomes law in the universe. Pronounce your limitations vigorously enough and they’re yours. Whether your beliefs are true or totally insane, if you accept them, then that’s what your life will be about.”
What Limiting Beliefs Are Holding You Back?
Answering that question is key to breaking through to the life you really want. A great test is to make a “Can’t” list, a list of what you “know” you can’t do and why. Complete the following sentence for everything that comes to mind:
I can’t ____________ because __________________________.
Pay attention to what comes after the word “because”. That’s your own little inner voice telling you that there is a reason this is impossible, and that’s what keeps you from being open to any possibility. If a great idea hit you over the head you would instantly dismiss it because you have already decided it’s hopeless!
What Are Some Common Limiting Beliefs?
The list is endless! To give you an example, here are a few that relate to money:
- Money is the root of all evil.
- It’s not right for me to be rich while so many others have nothing.
- If I didn’t work hard for it, I don’t deserve it.
- All rich people are __________ (greedy, corrupt, selfish … fill in the blank).
Get the idea? Now look back at your “Can’t” list. Most of our limiting beliefs have to do with somehow feeling one or more of the following:
- useless (it isn’t worth the effort because it won’t work anyway)
- worthless (I don’t deserve it)
- blameless (your situation is always the fault of someone or something else)
If that sounds a little dramatic, remember that we acquire many of our limiting beliefs as children. These thought patterns are lifelong “habits”, deeply ingrained in us, and most often they are operating on a subconscious level.
For lots more examples and information on limiting beliefs see my article Limiting Beliefs, What They Are and How To Stop Them.
How Do You Take Back Your Life?
All you have to do is learn to let go of what’s holding you back.
If you’re ever going to move forward in your life, you first have to figure out exactly what kinds of early life experiences are still having an adverse affect on you as an adult. That’s not as simple as it sounds, so let’s start with a few basic examples.
What kid has never felt afraid?! Growing up is pretty scary. What if you fail that test? What if the other kids laugh at something you say or the clothes you’re wearing? What if nobody asks you to the big school dance? What if you ask that cute girl and she says no?
Unfortunately, some of the things we feared as children actually happened. There were times that kids did make fun of you, or you tried your best but still failed an exam, or you got your feelings hurt and your heart broken.
Whether it was failing at something or feeling humiliated, your fears were validated. Worse, your brain then filed that away as “proof” that you should be afraid. As an adult you wear that fear like a bullet-proof vest, and it prevents you from ever taking any risk or even from stepping slightly outside of your comfort zone.
Quite often, procrastination works just fine for kids. You can mow the yard, or you can go play ball with your friends. For a child that choice is a no-brainer.
Of course the pay-off is only short-lived, and you’ll probably get yelled at, but it’s worth it. You know the consequences, but in a child’s mind it’s not too hard to shove them aside in favor of living for the moment.
Doing that often enough makes it easier and easier to dismiss the consequences of your own actions. You develop a habit that, over time, becomes addictive.
The problem with bringing that into adulthood is that you’ve got a lot more on the line. Procrastination can have devastating effects on just about every aspect of your life, from your relationships to your career to your finances.
Even if you had the best parents in the world, chances are you got a little damaged growing up. Their intent was to protect and to teach you, but from your standpoint it felt more like being constantly examined, judged, and criticized.
Stop that. Don’t touch that! How many times do I have to tell you? Shame on you. What will people think?! I told you so. You should have known better. What were you thinking?!
This isn’t about blaming your parents. It’s about understanding what you internalized as a child that no longer serves you. As an adult, no one is in charge of you but you. Only you have the right to criticize you.
The problem is that those echos from the past are still loud and clear in your head. You don’t realize where all those put-downs are coming from, and you don’t think to question it because your brain has accepted them as fact. When such a negative thought arises, you believe it is true.
Those are just three examples of childhood experiences that can be damaging. One other, and perhaps most important, is living a passionless life.
The fortunate few discover a skill or talent in childhood and turn it into a fulfilling and successful career. More often though, we either never have an opportunity to explore any paths that bring us joy, or we lose sight of them under the day-to-day pressures of making a living. Instead of seeking out what would fulfill us on a deeper level, we end up settling for whatever comes. We live by default, because we have given up.
If any of the above strikes a chord in you, congratulations! You’re already on the right track because you won’t be so easily deceived in the future. Instead of accepting all those negative thoughts as true, you now know to stop and say wait just a minute. Maybe that was true one time, a long time ago, but is it really still true now?
While that is a great start, don’t assume that you suddenly have it all figured out. Remember that we’re talking about what’s going on in your subconscious mind, so sometimes the answers aren’t always straightforward.
You may not know yourself quite as well as you think. You might even reach a conclusion when in fact, the truth is pretty much the opposite!
Don’t get in a rush. Practice being more mindful of the negative thoughts and feelings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Start questioning them and see if you can discover their origins. If not that’s okay. Just question their validity. Is this something that is really true about you today? Really?
For much more help on this topic I highly recommend these excellent books. They are all in my personal library, and I have read most of them more than once:
- “There is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self-Hate” by Cheri Huber
- “Beyond Positive Thinking: A No-Nonsense Formula for Getting the Results You Want” by Dr. Robert Anthony
- “The Secret of Letting Go” by Guy Finley
- “Power Vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior” by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.
- “The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose” by Janet Attwood and Chris Attwood