Have you met Your Worst Enemy???
Dr. Madan Tripathy
Yes, that is the question. Have you met your worst enemy?
Don’t say me you have none. It just does not happen. Even if you make me believe that you are the most innocent person & the nicest person in the town, you never enter into any conflict or disagreement; still there will be someone who had fought with you or betrayed you or cheated you or let you down or disrespected you in public or talked in your back (of course, badly) or at least turned down your request and caused you pain or anger or hate. Whether you deserve it or not, there will be people out there who do not like you, who are envious of you or your position/reputation, who are resentful towards you and who would like you to suffer. Everyone has enemies; only the count differs. That is the truth of life. If you still say that you do not have any enemy, then I dare say – you are a character chameleon.
But, the big question is have you met your worst enemy? Or even do you really know who is? Without much ado, let us meet him (or her) now & now itself. Sit in a comfortable position, inhale & exhale slowly for five times, now open your eyes, go slowly towards the nearest wash basin, wash your face and gaze into the mirror. Done it? Now, your worst enemy is right in front of you. Perplexed? Any takers?
Yes, you are your worst enemy, more particularly your Limiting Beliefs. If your life has not turned the way you wanted, it is because of your limiting beliefs. The greatest challenges in life come from deep within us. There could be occasions when you hesitate to grab an opportunity coming your way because you are doubtful about your suitability. There could be instances when you allowed others to make important decisions for you just because you were unsure about your own capability. Could be in a meeting or discussion, you sit throughout without opening your mouth to express your opinion because you feel it is not worth or you may be a laughing stock or others know better. Did it ever occur to you that you could have gone for a better education, a more satisfying job, a challenging assignment, a healthier relationship or even a happier and more-fulfilling life; but you were inhibited by some invisible force (which you sometimes identify as Lady Luck)? But, the invisible force is not outside you. It is deep within you; it is your Limiting Beliefs that deters you to achieve in life what you are otherwise capable of. Doubting our ability has a tell-tale effect on our chance of success. As rightly said by Alibn-Abi-Talib, “He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare; and he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.”
But the crux of the issue about Limiting Beliefs is that most probably you even don’t realize that you harbor them, let alone admitting it. They are buried deep in our consciousness and guide our actions, even without our knowledge and we become a prey to them without even understanding about it.
The Circus Elephant
Let me take a simple example. Have you ever noticed how they manage to prevent a circus elephant to run away? No cages, no iron chains. It is just held by a small rope, one end of which is tied to its front leg and the other end to a small wooden peg hammered into the ground or a metal plank. Is not it strange? How can the mighty elephant of 10ft tall and 5000 kg weight, capable of uprooting a tree with a whisker, can be held a prisoner by a name-sake rope and a wooden peg? Strange, but true. The reason is unbelievably simple. When the elephant was a baby, its trainers have used the same size of rope tied around its leg, the other end tied to a metal plank. This was strong enough to hold the baby elephant. Having failed in all its attempts to break away, eventually it had realized the futility of its attempt to break the rope, uproot the wooden peg and run away. Obviously, it had stopped trying. Over time, the elephant had grown in size and power, but its belief system unfortunately had continued to stay. Because it was conditioned to believe that breaking away is impossible, no attempt is ever made to escape. So, the elephant is not in fact held by the small rope; it is held prisoner by its conditioned belief. That is the power of belief.
Sounds sense. The question now to ponder before us is, are we like these Circus Elephants? What are our ropes and peg? What is holding us back making us prisoners?
What are Beliefs? How are they formed?
Before discussing about limiting beliefs, it may be prudent to talk about Belief Systems & how they are formed. At the outset, I better quote Halligan- “Everyone knows what belief is until you ask them to define it.” Though all of us have Belief System encompassing a wide variety of matters, most of us are unaware about it and have not really bothered to know what they are and how they are formed
Beliefs do not arise from thin air. Right from our childhood, we collect different facts and evidences through our personal senses, own observation, experience, interaction with others and environment. Our brain, as a natural process, looks for meaningful patterns in the information that pours into it through the above channels. Then the brain infuses those patterns with meaning, which helps explain why things happen in a particular way. These data, the patterns with meaning ascribed to it are stored in our sub-conscious mind, which are the largest information sponge and the greatest store-house. As time passes, more and more information get fed to the human brain making it busy to organize and categorize the incoming information, simultaneously retrieving and scanning the ever-growing vast collection of information already stored in our subconscious mind (which is also the greatest data-miner), compares and contrasts, analyses & rationalizes to make sense and guides our perception of what is happening and also about the world around us. This perception, in turn, guides our subsequent thinking, decision making and ensuing behavior. This systematic way of storing information & patterns, retrieving the data and developing a method for making a meaning out of new information and understanding the happenings around us, is known as Belief System. Brain constantly looks for confirmatory evidences to reinforce the beliefs and most of the time blinds itself towards contrasting evidences. We can visualize Belief System as a filter through which incoming information gets filtered. Most of our belief systems act positively for us and help us navigate through life. However, since belief system evolves like this, it can’t be guaranteed as a rational process. There are rational beliefs and also irrational beliefs.
Please do not misunderstand that Belief System is static. It is not. As we mature into adults, our analyzing ability & understanding ability gets improved. As such, most of our belief systems get updated and changed as a natural process as we move through life. If our belief system would have remained constant, we would have not been able to learn crawling, walking, brushing our teeth, tying our shoe laces, going to school, reading, writing, making friendship, driving a car, falling in love, taking up a job etc. etc. For all these leanings to happen there was updating of our belief system systematically & continuously.
But, it also is a fact that some of our belief systems, which are formed early in life supported by strong emotion are so powerful by reinforcements again & again that it becomes difficult to change, and we continue to consider them as truth of life. It continues to remain in our subconscious mind till we make conscious attempts to change it. Moreover, belief system is not constant for all the people. It is different for different people, though some of them may be common. For example, if there are two individuals having beliefs as “I am a fighter” and “I am a loser” respectively, they will act in absolute different ways to a challenging situation.
What is generally agreed that belief is more or less like knowledge; the difference being knowledge is objective whereas belief is subjective and more personal. Knowing something to be true is quite different from believing something as true. Though beliefs are about reality, but it is not reality itself. It is the perceived reality. Beliefs are ideas which we think to be true and act or behave in ways that are consistent with our belief system. Belief System acts as guiding principles to provide direction and meaning in life. They determine to a large extent how we interpret new events and experiences and behave in various situations in life, most of them even without a conscious & critical thinking. They influence the decisions we make in life and also the decisions we fail to make. In essence, they impact us in every conceivable way.
A limiting belief is a false belief arising out of an incorrect conclusion about something in life and limiting you in some way. This could be about yourself or about others or even about your surroundings.
The best example of limiting belief I have come across is what is known as “Glass Delusion” and recorded in the research journal “History of Psychiatry”. This describes about the belief of many people in Europe during the late Medieval period, around the 15th to 17th centuries that they were made of glass and were likely to shatter into pieces with even the slightest of contact. Such a belief ensured that people took great care even to avoid human contact, lest they might be shattered. Obviously, such a belief is false and stupid as human beings are not made of glass; but was perceived to be real to the European people then. While we laugh at such a baseless false belief like Glass Delusion, we need to ponder if at all we harbor any false belief, may be of a lesser degree, may not be centered around physical contact as was the case, but may be centered around our emotions. May be something like a belief that I will be shattered and die after a break-up.
Limiting beliefs are false beliefs arising out of incorrect conclusion about something which deters us to think, say or act in ways that is inhibited by them. In the process, we do not act in the way we are expected to do and fail to lead a fulfilling life.
Limiting Beliefs are very often about our self and our self identity. They are those little voices within you that convince you that you can’t be / do / have something. Self-limiting beliefs are irrational, illogical and false perceptions about ourselves, which we have accepted as reality.
Some Examples of Self-Limiting Beliefs
Generally, our limiting beliefs are centered around our irrational perception about our own image (I am or I am not statements); or about our ability or capability (I can’t statements or I have not statements); or about what we do or don’t do (I do or I don’t statements) or about what perceived rules, norms or values require us to do or constrain us to do (I should or shouldn’t and also I must or mustn’t statements). A list of some typical self-limiting beliefs is given below, which are by no means exhaustive, but only illustrative.
- I am stupid
- I am a loser
- I am a failure
- I am unlucky
- I am too old/ too young / too fat / too weak
- I am not smart enough
- I am not trained / experienced enough etc.
Or some beliefs like
- I can’t sing because people will laugh at me
- I can’t talk now because people may think I am a fool
- I can’t do —— because of ——–
- I don’t have sufficient time
- I don’t have enough resources
- I don’t have competent people under me
- I don’t have the support of my seniors
Or some beliefs like
- I procrastinate too much
- I take a lot of time to understand
- I only advise / guide, but ——
- I only handle the —X—- part of the job
- I don’t listen to people attentively
- I don’t ask for my requirements, because I may get rejected
- I don’t trust people because I have been betrayed in the past etc.
Or some beliefs like
- I should not express my opinion in the meeting because it may not be liked by my boss.
- I must not differ with the views of the group, lest ——
- I must obey the instructions of my seniors, even if they are incorrect.
- I must not try that as I am bound to fail.
- I should not pursue my dreams, because I am not sure about the outcome etc.
There could be many more. The list is just illustrative. You can add your own self-limiting beliefs to the list. These are seemingly innocent statements which we often say to ourselves every day, both consciously and unconsciously; without really understanding the harmful effects they can create.
Yes, I have self-limiting beliefs. So what?
I better quote Anthony De Mello – “There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to questions them.”
We are our worst critics. For example, if you have a belief that you can’t do something, then most probably you will not be able to do it. Instead of attempting for success, all you actions will be diverted towards how to avoid failure. When your fear of failure becomes your guiding force, it will limit your abilities and accordingly chances of success. Self-limiting beliefs, may be conscious or unconscious, may be founded or unfounded, act as barriers in our progress. Self-limiting beliefs are like self imposed prisons. They hold us back from taking chances, to grab opportunities in our way and keep us focused on negative aspects of different situations in your life. Self-limiting beliefs tend to keep us in our comfort zone. If by any chance we attempt to go out of it, with the very first difficulty we face, we take a leap back to our comfort zone for fear of failure. Moreover, our self-limiting beliefs act as filter to filter out information which does not match with them. For example, if you have a strong self-limiting belief that you are a loser, then even if you do excellently in some front, it could be rationalized as this is no achievement and anybody could have done it. Self-limiting Beliefs hamper our self-confidence and limit our potential and affect our risk-taking abilities. I dare say that but for the limiting beliefs which hinder us in our road to success, about 90% of what we want to achieve, could be achieved. Your self-limiting beliefs are capable to totally ruin your life. That is the power.
As said by Stephen Richards – “You have two voices, one that only you hear, and another that you speak out loud with, so others hear you. Regardless of what you actually say with your mouth, what matters is what your inner voice says, for this is the one you listen to the most.”
However, Self-limiting beliefs are not always our own creation. It can come from our own life experiences, other people’s behavior (controllers, bulldozers, backstabbers, whiners, gossipers, brown nosers, complainers etc.), negative work environment, ever changing world view, media frenzy etc. It also can arise from social conditioning – our upbringing & also surroundings. It also can be inherited trait. During our formative years, our well meaning parents, our teachers, our seniors do compare us with other friends, our siblings and mention to us time & again our short-comings as observed by them. All may be with good intention, of course. But, what happens is that our short comings pointed out to us like I am not laborious, I am not hard-working, I am not intelligent or smart enough etc. get ingrained in our subconscious very deeply as our self-limiting beliefs and even convictions, which becomes pretty difficult to change.
The Story of Tiny Frog
I don’t know the author of the story, but it is very interesting. A bunch of tiny frogs once decided to have a competition to climb up the tallest tower in the town. News spread far & wide about the uncommon competition and the scheduled date. Curious people, hardly believing that the tiny frogs could really make it, gathered in large numbers to witness the interesting competition. One by one, sizable number of the contestants also assembled at the bottom of the tall tower. The crowd cheered the contestants. Now, the competition began. The frogs started climbing the tower. Excited crowd went on shouting- “Hurrah, Go on, Hip Hip Hurray”. After some time, one in the crowd shouted – “The tower is too tall. They just can’t make it.” “It is impossible to make it to the top” – shouted another. Another in the crowd shouted – “Look! They are too tired. There is no chance.” In their anxiety & excitement, soon most of the crowd shouted – “They will all fall down.” Now, BUMP, fell down one of the frogs. Bump — Bump—-, fell two more. Bump—Bump—Bump—-Bump—Bump, fell down five more. One by one, all the frogs fell down, except one tiny frog, which was still going higher & higher, as if oblivious of what is happening down below. Lo & behold! It reached the top, gave a triumphant croak & looked below with pride. Amazing! Is not it?
Everyone was waiting for him with bated breath to know the secret of his success. Once he came down, everyone surrounded him and asked him how he alone could manage such a great feat, when others have failed. It so transpired that the winner was deaf. The secret is he did not have the self-limiting belief, as he was not able to listen to the pessimistic shouting spread by the on-lookers.
The crux of the matter is that pessimism & limiting beliefs are fired from all directions at us by people with whom we interact, our family, our peers, seniors, media, surroundings and life in general, like bullets (and most of them are even without our knowledge); by which we are repeatedly confronted with our perceived shortcomings. And we get hit strengthening our self-limiting beliefs in the process. Then, what should we do? If we try to dodge the bullets, we probably can succeed to avoid a few, but avoiding all of them is next to impossible. We get hit by some, if not all.
What is the solution?
The solution lies in making us bullet-proof; removing the root-cause of our self-limiting belief. And fortunately, it is entirely doable.
As we have discussed earlier, self-limiting beliefs are not truths, they are perceived to be true by us. In other words, we have agreed, either at conscious or subconscious level, that they are true. So, stop agreeing. It is that simple. Is it so?
It is easily said than done. If old habits die hard, old beliefs die really harder. These things seem daunting to change. The first hurdle is we are not even aware of all the self-limiting beliefs we harbor within us. The next hurdle is our mind does not switch from negative to positive belief of its own. We have to do the same consciously & deliberately.
First, acknowledge that you have self-limiting beliefs. No use going ahead till you agree. Then, do understand that you are not your self-limiting beliefs. You are distinct & separate from them. Think again & again that you are more powerful than them. If you like, it is possible for you to control them rather than them controlling your thought, action & behavior. If you have the power to create them, you also have power to transform them or even quash them.
Then, sit coolly and make a list of all the self-limiting beliefs you have. This itself will take several sessions, because you will not be able to identify all in one go. Whenever a negative thought comes, try to identify the root cause and note it down. Then, try to replace this with a positive believe.
Once you do this, 50% battle is over. When you spot & mark where your self-limiting belief is, then you can begin to conquer it. The rest is a matter of time only.
Published in the October, 2017 to December, 2017 issue of IMPEL INDIA, A MAGAZINE OF “INDIAN FEDERATION OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION (R)-INFOST”, Bengaluru, India