Have you tried to change/ improve an area that you have been poor in for a long time? Maybe you are a poor communicator, or you are disorderly. If you have tried, you must have figured out that it is hard to create sustained change. This can be made worse if there seems to be a part of your brain that keeps on reminding you that you are the same poor communicator you were despite the changes that you have made. This saboteur prevents you from realizing all the gains you have made by maintaining your attention to your mistakes hence strengthening the same beliefs you were trying to change. This annoying reminder is caused by limiting beliefs. These are beliefs that we develop about ourselves, that are not true, that prevent us from achieving our utmost potential in a particular area in our lives. They are developed when our initial contact with the environment results in failure or disappointments. They are further strengthened if the failure resulted in real/ perceived public embarrassment. They serve to protect us from psychological pain that results from failure, but they also prevent us from trying again resulting in us not realizing our true potential in that given area. Repeated failure results in the strengthening of these beliefs making it harder to try again. Our lizard brains do not realize that many factors can result in failure such as lack of enough preparation, lack of the right equipment, having a bad day, or simply events outside our control. The lizard brain feels the pain of failure and registers the simplest explanation it has; ‘I suck at this,’ without looking at all the factors that led to failure.
One might argue, what is the point of going searching for old wounds and started scratching the scab? But the work of Carl Jung shows that just because the wound has a scab, it does not mean that it has healed. For the wound to properly heal one must continuously remove the scab, a painful but necessary process. That part of us that we repress when we form limiting beliefs on ourselves does not go away. Instead, it stays in the unconscious and finds the most inopportune times to haunt us. Hence his popular saying, if you do not make the unconscious conscious, it will influence you and you will call it fate. Jung believed that metaphorically speaking, one does not reach the heavens without first passing through hell. That is, one cannot realize their highest potential without facing the ugliest part of themselves, their shadow. These limiting beliefs form part of the shadow. If the arguments of Jung are not convincing enough, one can argue that by overcoming our limiting beliefs, we gain more power. The will to power is an instinct we share with even the simplest forms of life, the virus. The will to survive is after all the will to power. It is the basis of survival for the fittest. Power can be obtained in two ways; self-transcendence and mastering of our environment. Overcoming our limiting beliefs is a form of self-transcendence that boosts confidence in ourselves hence we are better positioned to master our environment and hence survive. If the two arguments are not convincing enough for the value of overcoming these limiting beliefs, a third can be made. imagine you had a person that you had a person you loved and cared about, say a child, who had the same conditions as you, including your beliefs, who you had complete authority to force them to do what you want. For their best interest, would you force them to overcome these beliefs, or would you let them maintain the status quo even though you know they can be much better than they are? If you would for your child, is it not worth doing it for yourself? In the words of Jordan Peterson, you should treat yourself as a person you were responsible for caring for.
Once you have discovered your limiting beliefs, it is important to realize that pain is a powerful teacher. This means that the beliefs you developed under pain will not disappear just because you realize that you have them. The saying that Rome was not built in one day is suitable for this situation. You are not going to change limiting beliefs that you have had for probably half your life in just one day or a week. You are not going to change them just because you want to change, you will have to put in the work. But don’t be discouraged, you have one important weapon on your arsenal, neuroplasticity. That is the ability to change the structure of your brain, literary, that is the wiring of neurons. You must remember one thing; neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that fire out of sync, don’t wire together. The working of neurons can be likened to the working of muscles; that is the more you use a muscle the stronger it grows, the vice versa is also true. To change the wiring of neurons takes time, just as developing muscles takes time. To change your limiting beliefs is to change the neural pathways that are activated when you engage in the corresponding activities.
Imagine you believe you are a horrible dancer, and you can never learn how to dance. You don’t expect to just wake up one day and go to compete at East Africa got talent, that is not how it works. It may be true that you are just a horrible dancer and there is no hope for you, but a more likely scenario is that you never developed the skill. The latter scenario is good news for you, if you want you can take time and develop the skill. But you have an extra obstacle to overcome; your limiting belief that you can’t learn how to dance. Overcoming such limiting beliefs is, in my experience, more difficult than developing the actual skill.
There is truth in the saying that actions speak louder than words. Indeed over 2000 years ago Marcus Aurelius realized that we measure our worth and that of others through actions. Your faith can be better summarised as what you act out rather than what you say you believe. When there is a conflict between our words and our actions our brains tend to believe we are our actions. This is the basis of the do-good be good strategy of behavioral change. The success of the strategy has been documented in reducing teenage pregnancies and school dropout rates. The same strategy can be used to eliminate our limiting behaviors and unlock the whole new world of unexplored potential. Let us return to our example of a horrible dancer. Imagine if he decided that he will practice a single move each day until he gets it right. He will still believe he is a horrible dancer, but the key difference is that he will be a horrible dancer who can do one move right. Over time he will have practiced so many moves and mastered some complex sequence of moves that the belief that he is a horrible dancer will no longer make any sense to him. By acting out the dance moves he can improve his skill in dancing and at the same time create new neural pathways that eliminate his limiting belief that he is a bad dancer. Maybe he might never get to East Africa Got Talent but at least he will enjoy his favorite song a bit more by dancing. Making the first dance move can have the domino effect of him enjoying his favorite song a little more which in turn can lead to little more positive emotions leading to a little less neuroticism leading to a little more productivity leading to a promotion he would have otherwise never gotten. Through self-transcendence, our dancer can master his environment a bit better and so can you. This, in my opinion, is a worthy pursuit.