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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.

March 25, 2022

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