Picture this. Two colleagues at work are given a challenging project. One holds the belief “I can learn what I want to learn.” The other holds the beliefs “I am not good enough. I am a fraud.”
Who do you think will do better?
The learner will approach the project with excitement. She will be confident, assured and eager to begin. She is not afraid of asking questions, does not feel threatened by getting others involved or exploring ideas.
The one who believes he isn’t good enough will act as if he isn’t good enough. Since that belief is firmly rooted in his subconscious, he will tackle the project more apprehensively, perhaps procrastinate or be unwilling to ask for help in case he gets “found out.” He will more likely interpret events in ways that are consistent with his belief of not being good enough. “There I go again, I knew I couldn’t do it. That’s just who I am.” As time goes by, he’ll continue to find ways of proving this to himself.
“Believing in yourself” is not just an everyday mantra. Who we believe ourselves to be significantly affects how we live our entire lives.
Thinking Leads to Doing
Did you know that by the time you were in kindergarten many of your self-beliefs were already in place? They could be positive and foster self-esteem, such as: I am creative. I am loved. I am responsible. Or limiting and negative: I am stupid. I am unwanted. I am a klutz.
Whether positive or negative, these “I AM” core beliefs held at the age of 5 or 6 can influence you throughout your entire life. They can be “Life Sentences.”
We are constantly repeating these life sentences in our heads, even when we aren’t aware that we’re doing it. Our subconscious mind works to make what we consciously believe to be true, actually come true.
What you think you can, you can. And what you think you can’t, you can’t.
It is critical to understand this because eventually our life sentences become our beliefs and values, affecting the way we think, act and ultimately, shape our lives.
Our life sentences are also strengthened and weakened by the attitudes we reflect on our children, loved ones and colleagues.
Think about it.
Kids are like sponges. If you are constantly saying that “Money is hard to earn” or “It’s the little things in life that count,” you’re children may grow up defining themselves by these statements.
Or if you have negative beliefs about yourself, you’ll have a hard time appreciating the sweet compliments your husband gives you, which can make him feel negative in turn.
Identifying Your Life Sentences
Our minds are constantly buzzing with a deluge of self-talk. Many of them are positive affirmations that drive us forward and others are negative statements that hold us back.
Oftentimes we get sidetracked by the things I can’t do, I shouldn’t think, I mustn’t try. By constantly allowing yourself to believe in a negative statement, you end up limiting the number of great opportunities you could have in your life.
What are the positive life sentences that you carry around?
What are the negative life sentences that you carry around?
You’ll have to dig deep to identify your life sentences. Here are some questions to help you sort through the self-talk deluge:
- What are the things I love to do and why am I passionate about them?
- What things were my parents constantly saying to me growing up?
- What is stopping me from achieving my goals?
- What negative attitudes do my friends and colleagues routinely share when I’m around?
Getting Rid of Those Pesky Limiting Beliefs
One of the hardest things to go through is finding out that something you believed in all your life has actually been a source of negativity for you. Holding back from excelling at work because you believe you’re not capable of achieving more, may be a sign that something is limiting you from your full potential.
Although our beliefs are formed early on, it is possible to grant yourself a reprieve. Phil Bizon, a Personal Performance Coach and writer, identifies 10 steps to changing a self-limiting life sentence:
- State a belief you have that stops you performing at your best.
“I can’t do this presentation at the meeting.”
- Write down the self-talk that goes with this belief.
“I’m too shy. I’m not good at public speaking. I never give good presentations.”
- Describe the comfort zone this places you in.
“Giving presentations scares me so I pass on opportunities to do these.”
- State the opposite of your limiting belief.
“I can give great presentations and feel excited whenever I give one.”
- Write down the new and positive self-talk that goes with this belief.
“I can overcome my fear of speaking in public. I am more than prepared to do this. I will be fine.”
- Describe the new and expanded comfort zones this places you in.
“I am eager to show my expertise to my colleagues. I can overcome any challenge given to me.”
- Think about how it would feel like to have this new belief.
“I feel happier, more relaxed, invigorated and excited by the work I do.”
- Picture how you would behave when you have this new belief.
“I give presentations that lead to increased sales. I seek out new opportunities at work regularly.”
- Constantly repeat a positive affirmation that you can do this new belief.
“I am a great presenter and present with confidence”
- Take a walk and act as if you are living this newfound belief. Live it every day and soon you will become your new positive life sentence.
Choosing to live with positive life sentences can be difficult, especially when you’re regularly faced with negative situations that bring you down. Determine a challenging situation, action or decision you’ve been putting off and ask yourself what life sentences will be most helpful in what you need to achieve.
Every day we make hundreds of choices about what behaviors to notice. In any workplace or home setting you can choose to notice cooperation or un-cooperation, initiative or procrastination, persistence or resignation, responsibility or irresponsibility.
So choose carefully when you decide what life sentences to pass onto yourself or others. Make sure it’s one that shapes the life that you want to live.
*This article first appeared in my column for Working Mom Magazine
Image from Crestock Royalty Free Images
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies.
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