Years ago I worked with a man who would regularly berate his car when it refused to start. The car, an ageing, rusty land rover, would frequently be on the receiving end of physical blows and shouts of admonishment rained down upon it by my colleague in the belief that the car would somehow be shown the error of it’s ways. The ritual would last for five to ten minutes until the perpetrator stood back, kicked off his steel toe capped Wellington boots (I kid you not), placed his hands on his hips and stated “That told it”. Now that’s belief. As we say up north, “There’s nowt so queer as folk”. He truly believed that this strange and irrational behaviour impacted upon the car’s performance.
Laugh as you may at this story, sometimes we can all be guilty of harbouring weird and wonderful beliefs about the world we inhabit. Ok, so I’m not suggesting that you are someone who kicks and shouts at their car believing that you’re persuading it to perform like a Ferrari, but there may be an equally erroneous belief about yourself that you’re holding on to. Perhaps you think it’s ok for everyone else to be assertive, but not for you? Maybe you think it’s wrong to say no to requests from co-workers? friends? family? Like it or not, what you believe about yourself determines how you perform, what you think you’re capable of and ultimately what you get out of life whether it’s the career, relationship, income or lifestyle .
Years of research into human behaviour tells us that we all have blind spots or ‘schotomas’ things we can’t see or keep missing no matter how hard we look at ourselves. Perhaps you were told something about yourself as a child, by parents, teachers or some other authority figure. Were you told that you were clumsy? Not ‘academic’? That you were ‘plain’ or lacked talent in something you loved? My experience of working with hundreds of people (yes, even clever people like you) tells me that not only is this list endless, it also bears no relation to reality. These words or labels, often carelessly uttered, with little or no thought, can lead to years of inaccurate self assessment, ultimately leading to a belief that one single opinion from long ago is actually the ‘truth’ about who you are and what you’re capable of. We (along with the latest research in psychology and neuroscience) say a very big ‘Pah.’ to that.
The strange thing is, once that we’ve been told something about ourselves (especially as children) we’re prone to hold on to it. We become selective perceivers, looking for evidence to prove that we’re right to believe the inaccurate things we do. Psychologist Carl Festinger calls this the cognitive dissonance principle. Our subconscious is unable to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time so any evidence that suggests we might be wrong to cling onto these inaccurate labels is conveniently pushed to one side. We literally become blind to it. If I tell you that you are ‘Clever’ when somewhere down the line it was implied you were ‘the average one’ and somewhat lacking in the cerebral department who do you think you’ll be more likely to believe? You’ll find a reason to discount my comment, just as you’ve been doing for years when anyone tells you the same thing, so that you can continue to believe you’re not. That’s selective perception. Once you get something into your head, it stays there and when you’re sifting through all of the stuff that the world presents you with, you’ll only pay attention to the information that proves you’re right, however misleading it might be.
Something to think about;
So my question for you is where are your blind spots? What talents, skills, abilities or characteristics might you have overlooked? Take some time to really think about this one and examine some of the beliefs that you have about who you are and what you’re capable of. Where do they really come from?. Are they serving you or holding you back? To move forwards and create the changes you want in life you’ll need to reexamine them and decide whether they’re a true reflection of who you are now or just someone else’s outdated, dusty opinion.
Where’s the Evidence?
If your beliefs are getting in the way of the kind of life you want, the next step is to ask yourself, ‘is that REALLY true?’. Look for evidence that proves the old belief is wrong or outdated. Remember you’ve been ignoring this kind of evidence for years so it might take a while to spot it at first. Be sure that you are being 100% honest with yourself when it comes to any evidence you might be overlooking. Letting go of these beliefs and leaving your usual way of thinking might feel uncomfortable at first but ultimately, it’s liberating.The next time you catch yourself reaffirming those tired old scripts about who you are and what you’re capable of, stop and ask yourself “Are you absolutely sure that’s true?”. Start to create a new bank of evidence, from events and situations that prove the opposite of the old belief, painting a brand new you picture of yourself, a canvas that truly reflects exactly who you are now as well as where you’re headed in the future. And there next time you think about saying ‘Yes’ to others and ‘No’ to yourself? Give yourself permission to do what you really want to.
And on that note I’ll leave you with the following thought from Patanjali (c. 2nd century) India.
‘If you desire a glorious future, transform the present’