Do you ever dream about who you could be or what you could do in your life? If you do, are you making plans to be or do all those things; or have you told yourself not to be so silly? This week's tip is about how we create the gap between what we want and what we believe we can have. It's adapted from a chapter my book, Finding Square Holes.
The Chicken Eagle
There was once a farmer who found an eagle's nest while out rock-climbing. In it were three eggs, and giving into temptation he put one of the three eggs into his rucksack and took it home. He placed the egg in the hen house, and one of the hens sat on it.
In time the egg hatched, and the baby eagling emerged into a family of chickens. The eagle grew and learnt how to be a chicken; how to cluck, how to scratch the dirt for food, and how to flap and fly for a few yards before crashing to the ground. At no point did it occur to the eagle that it was anything but a chicken.
One day, late in its life, the chicken eagle looked up at the sky and there, souring effortlessly high overhead, was an eagle. Our chicken eagle gazed in wonder at the power, at the grace, at the magnificence of this creature, and asked another chicken what it was.
'That's an eagle' said the other,' the King of the Skies'.
'Oh' said the eagle-chicken, and went back to scratching the dirt.
And that is the answer to the question as to what lies between you and your dreams: Limiting beliefs about who you are and what you're capable of. And as with the chicken-eagle, these beliefs are so much a part of most of us that we don't even know we have them.
Where do limiting beliefs come from?
As a parent myself, I'm reluctant to dwell too long on what a rich source of limiting beliefs parents can be. But as children, most of us were subjected to a running commentary about ourselves and our abilities, often laced with comparisons between ourselves and our parents. 'Of course, I could never do maths, he's just like me.' In fact we hear from our parents what kind of person we are, and what we are capable of, long before we have a chance to find out for ourselves.
Along with their limiting beliefs about us, parents pass on their fears. They do this in many areas but there is one overarching message, and that is, The World is a Dangerous Place. As Susan Jeffers comments in her book 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway', how often do you hear mothers calling out to their children as they leave for school, 'Take lots of risks today, darling.' On the contrary, the prevailing message from parent to child is 'Be careful'. Don't ride a bike - you may have an accident, don't cross the road - you may be run over, don't talk to strangers - they may take you away, don't carry that - you'll drop it, don't run, - you'll fall. Above all, don't do anything that might result in hurt or failure.
Much more important than beliefs or fears, though, are the role models our parents present. A parent may tell a child repeatedly how wonderful they are and how they're going to be the prime-minister one day, but what they are doing with their own lives will send a much more powerful message than anything they say.
For example, did you ever consider being an actor, admiral of the navy, concert pianist, shoe designer, professional footballer, high court judge, entrepreneur, neuro-surgeon, tightrope walker? If these occupations have never occurred to you, or occurred to you briefly before being set aside as ridiculous, then they probably don't figure in your family tree.
If you didn't have many limiting beliefs passed on to you by your parents, worry not, you will have had plenty of chances to stock up at school. I talked to a young woman recently who went to a highly academic school that not only excelled in exam results, but in every conceivable activity, from art to singing, drama to sport, and where all performance was measured and evaluated competitively. 'It didn't really suit me', the woman told me, 'because I'm not very academic'. I ventured that she would never have been accepted into the school if she were not highly academic, but it was too late. The damage had been done a long time ago.
It would be nice to blame all our problems on other people, but we are quite adept at developing limiting beliefs all on our very own. The most common source is experiences we perceive as bad. Sometimes they involve physical hurt, as in falling off a bicycle, sometimes they involve emotional hurt, as in someone criticising our performance, but generally they all come down to one thing: failure. When we fail at something we make a decision about it. Either we decide that failing is an essential step to success and we just need to keep trying, or we decide that we are no good and give up. Sadly, we more often conclude the latter.
Here are some typical limiting beliefs:
I'm not good enough for ..... (that job)
I not the sort of person who ...... (speaks in public)
I can't ...... (write, sing, manage people)
I'm no good at ...... (maths, making decisions)
I couldn't do that .... (retrain as a teacher)
I'm too frightened to.... (make a change, apply for that job)
1. Who would you like to be?
As with the chicken-eagle, the people we idealise are usually the people we want to be, and we usually have a lot of the same qualities.
2. What makes you think that you can't be just like them? These are your limiting beliefs.
3. How did your early life and other experiences lead you to have these limiting beliefs?
4. What if they aren't true?
Have a good week!