Self-limiting beliefs

“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s an inside job, stupid.


That’s a bit strong, but it’s true.

True because I say it? No, because it is: you stop you because you think it so. Unbundle that little sentence and that’s at least acknowledging something that many people fail to see (“It’s just the way ‘I’ am”).

Let me be clear, this isn’t a case of noticing your self-limiting thoughts — e.g. “I’m not good enough” — but moving beyond the noise and asking (at least) the following questions:

1. Why are these thoughts so repetitive?
2. Can I stop these thoughts?
3. Why not?
4. Why are there times when my mind is quieter than at other times?
5. Why do I so often believe these thoughts?
6. Who is it who notices these thoughts?
7. What is it that notices these thoughts?
8. What would happen if instead of arguing with my inner critic, I invited the question, “Are the thoughts true?”

I know that’s an awfully long list and reads like the Who’s Who of narcissism but, trust me, you’re not going to make any progress in your life where so many thoughts hold you back from being who you were born to be, unless you undertake a deep process of self-inquiry. And before you start ye old finger-wagging and telling me I’m in no position to tell you what to do with your one and oh-so-precious life — which I accept by the way — remember this: very few, if any, thoughts are true. The moment you adopt that shield, you’ll find that life becomes a lot easier.

One tip. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, write down whatever it is that’s getting in your way. Avoid the temptation to write everything down, but instead stick to the one or two things you can’t get out of your head. (Right now there’s an awful lot of angst about managing life and work which seems intent on deforming our soul — but that’s just a personal reflection. Yours could be entirely different and be relational, economic or societally driven.) Once you’ve written it down, stand back from your jottings, read the thought(s) out loud and invite the question about the truth of the thought. Keep doing that, not to go full circle when you answer “yes”, but to understand if it really is true.

To make this even easier, let me give you an example. The thought arises that says, “I’m worried about losing my job.” The first thing I’d query is which ‘I’ is it that’s answering the question. The ‘I’ that’s your name or something bigger? The ‘I’ in I am? But for now that’s not really the point. The point is you know that “…losing your job” is only a thought. It’s not true — the thought that is — but instead what makes your feel uncomfortable is the lack that arises in ‘thinking’ what will happen — the “What if?” — if you were to lose your job. Again, not to be too prescriptive, but bring yourself back to the present. Right now. Here. If you look again at the thought, you’ll quickly realise (I hope) that (a) it’s not true and (b) unless someone has given you a letter, spoken to you or sent you an email informing you of your redundancy, you’re still employed. Oh, and you’re still alive. Isn’t that amazing? Sorry, that’s not meant to be a silly thing to say but to try and put into perspective that life is life, and a job is a job.

Of course, I’m giving you a greatly simplified version of the process that I often undertake with a client but hopefully you can see the direction of travel with the process. To be clear, I’m not saying that the thought isn’t important but I do know that as soon as you invite the questioning above, your innate wisdom will kick in sufficient to challenge so much of what you long took for granted and is getting you into so much trouble.

In summary, don’t be afraid to test your thoughts by self-inquiry. If you don’t like my questions, use your own, but remember it’s an inside job not out there. Actually, just sitting still in a quiet place and observing the thoughts arise and letting them pass can be as powerful as any amount of self-inquiry. (This is the essence of meditation.)

And no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t think this remotely Woo Woo but a necessary part of keeping the veil up on our ego-infused lives that, in case you’ve forgotten, has gotten us to this exalted place, namely a place where more and more people feel anxious about the life they lead or the one they’d like to lead.

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