One of the ways we humans try to make sense of the unknowable is to make things up. We are meaning making machines, it’s how we move in the world.
Often this works for us, especially when the meaning is empowering. Beliefs like people are essentially good, or I am capable of giving this a go give us a framework to live more freely. They are not objectively true or untrue – they are lenses through which we can navigate our place in the world.
Sometimes though, the things we make up are not empowering, but we feel them to be true. Beliefs like I lack confidence, or I can’t make a difference here, or I can’t write, or It’s hopeless, or I’m ugly are examples of these. By any objective measure these are made up assumptions or interpretations, but we don’t hold them as such, because we believe them to be TRUE. Over the years we have nurtured these beliefs, fed and watered them, gathering evidence and data points to prove their validity.
With cultivation, beliefs become mindsets, and like an operating system humming away in the background, we’re not even aware of how they are shaping our life. Limiting mindsets start when we’re young. We are unformed, like sponges, so our mental models get developed by the environment we are in. Even casual comments can trigger limiting beliefs that are still alive decades later. We are told we can’t do this or that, that we are the quiet one, or the sporty one, and over time this gets to be the way it is. The origin of the mindset gets lost, but the operation of it lives in us and in the decisions we make.
I have been working with this my adult life. Like you, as a child I swallowed a lot of beliefs about myself and what I might be capable of, and didn’t know how to question them. I developed limiting mindsets as a result, skewering my world view and sense of self. I looked at the world around me and saw so many lives of desperation and unfulfilment. I felt hopeless because it seemed my life too was destined to be unhappy and thwarted. My mindset was one of “it doesn’t matter and I don’t matter.” It took courageous choices and deep work to identify this mindset and transform it.
To live a life of joy, acceptance and impact, I had to give up my belief that it didn’t matter and I didn’t matter. This took some time because I had so much proof that this belief wasn’t a belief but the TRUTH! I needed to come to wholeness about feeling not taken care of as a child and the powerlessness that entailed. I needed to craft a new meaning that empowered me and set me free. I developed new mindsets and looked for how these might also be true.
I know so many brilliant people who are tripped up by their own limiting mindsets. If this locked and submerged human potential weighed something, it would be so heavy it would sink whole countries! If it was a colour it would be the colour of dull, grey smoke. If it was an animal it would be the saddest chimpanzee locked in a cement zoo.
Coming into awareness about the limiting mindsets we have is an act of love. It asks that we give up the familiar, the comfortable, or the thing we are right about, for a new possibility. As French Nobel Prize laureate André Gide wrote “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
I encourage you to go underneath the blockages that limit you. Be curious whether a mindset has hijacked your sense of what’s possible. Identify it. Acknowledge it. Ask what might be available to you without this mindset. Choose a new mindset that’s more empowering, and play around with it. But most of all, do this with tenderness. Loving this part of yourself allows for expansion. Seize the courage to leave the shore and move toward the vast ocean of your enlarged life.