Every single one of us has a limiting belief lurking around. “You’ll never be good at sports”. “You’re rubbish at running”. “You are SO unfit”. These were mine. Like most beliefs they were shaped by others. Sometimes explicitly but mostly implicitly. Like when I was begrudgingly picked last for the hockey, netball and athletics teams. Each year my experiences of school sports reinforced a negative self-image about my physical ability. As the dreaded annual sports day arrived, I vividly remember the hushed silence as no-one from my class volunteered to run the 10,000 metres. We were doomed to “lose” if we didn’t enter all the races. I knew I hadn’t entered anything, and I didn’t want to let the team down. I quietly approached the teacher after class. “How much training would it take for me to run it?” I asked her. “Don’t worry about it!” she replied dismissively and shepherded me out of the gym hall. I interpreted her tone to mean it wasn’t worth her time to help train me. I was a lost cause. It was a waste of effort. The team, again, didn’t want me. Her mindset was fixed about my running ability and, from then on, so was mine.
In stark contrast, we were blessed with other wonderful enabling teachers. Our music teacher invited kids to pick up any instrument they liked. In her eyes, everyone had the potential to be a musician (even a multi-instrumentalist) given the opportunity. Whilst my English teacher ran a lunchtime poetry club almost exclusively to feed my obsession with writing cheesy haiku. These experiences left me thinking “I can write” and “I am a musician”. At times my internal saboteur tries to undermine my confidence. However these enabling beliefs are still hanging around twenty years later. I know that the more I write, the more I learn about writing (and what people like to read!). I have what Carol Dweck describes as a “growth mindset” when it comes to these skills.
Last weekend I finally said goodbye to the cluster of limiting beliefs about my fitness when I completed the 10k Race for Life. Sure I didn’t break any records. That was never the aim. I made it round in 72 minutes and raised nearly £200 for Cancer Research UK. I even clocked up an additional 8 miles of cycling getting to and from the race track. As I ran I couldn’t help thinking “Look at me now. I’m not unfit. I’m fit enough!”. In that moment I crystallised the new enabling belief I’ve chosen for myself: “I’m fit enough to do the sports I enjoy”.
But it isn’t enough to just think a belief or say it out loud. Our true beliefs reflect the things we do, rather than what we say. We must ACT. Every day last year I gradually built the foundations for my new belief by cycling to work. Without realising it I started making what Susan David calls “tiny tweaks” in her fantastic book ‘Emotional Agility’. David introduces us to three different tweaks we can make to “walk our why” or live our values.
Habit tweaks: I swapped my handbag for a bike pannier. If I wanted to drive it would take me extra time to repack everything back into my handbag. Suddenly this became a little disincentive to drive when I got the urge to. It was now easier to pick up that trusty waterproof bag and hop on the bike.
Motivation tweaks: Mile after mile I began to want to cycle to work. Believe me I didn’t develop saint-like willpower overnight. Instead I started to see benefits to commuting by bike that linked directly to my values. Like the fact I could spend time with my partner, enjoy a dessert, and still get in shape for my wedding, rather than spend evenings in the gym. Or I could dodge the rush hour traffic and arrive somewhere feeling positive, rather than feeling anxious about being late. My choice to cycle gave me more power over my life and that power kept me motivated, even when it rained.
Mindset tweaks: I began to meet different colleagues in the bike shed and changing room. We swapped geeky tips about the best cycling overshoes, and exchanged stories about our ride in. I even helped start a campaign for improved changing facilities. No one called me ‘newbie’ or made me feel like an outsider. I was an equal and a small but significant shift occurred. I went from “cycling to work” to being “a cyclist”. I was fit enough to do the sport I enjoy.
What beliefs do you hold about yourself?
Which ones are enabling?
Which ones are limiting you?
Need help to recognise and overcome limiting beliefs?
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