Are You Under the Influence of Someone Else’s Limiting Belief?

I had a Skype call this morning with a wonderful friend on the West Coast who I met during a development program. He’s finishing his post-doc in psychology, is a mindfulness teacher, and someone whom I find to be an inspiration in the quest for authentic living. We try to meet every couple of weeks and have done this since our program ended two years ago. We update each other on what’s up in our live and our journeys of development.

As I reflect on today’s conversation, I have a growing awareness of a belief that has been guiding my choices of recent. This belief has caused me more than a few moments of self-doubt over the past couple of years. I realized in talking with my friend today, that I had “adopted” this belief from someone else!

The issue, the awareness, is not so much about this particular belief or the story that I had wrapped around it – but about how deeply I was influenced by it. When I began examining the belief – I realized it was their limiting view – and that I had made it my own limitation. WOW! I don’t know about you, but I have more than enough of my own baggage – I don’t need to be carrying around others’ too!

I took this into a process of self-inquiry and began making a list of “what I believe”. The list went something like this:

“To get along in the world, you need to keep your opinions to yourself”

“You’re just a girl and girls don’t ….” and the multitude of trailers

“To get the right job, you must go to the right school”

“If you honor the system, the system will honor you”

“You must learn to type because the future is all about computers”

And more….

As I reviewed the list, I asked myself “where did these beliefs come from?” The answer?   Parents, teachers, bosses – mostly authority figures although the one about being a girl was passed down through the women in my family.

And then came the next question “How are these beliefs serving me in the present?” Am I in some way limited by any of them? And, as you may suspect, the “ah-ha” moment: THESE AREN’T EVEN MY BELIEFS – I ADOPTED SOMEONE ELSE’S LIMITED THINKING!

How often do we seek advise from a friend, colleague or even a coach – and because we admire, respect, or care about them, we take on their belief?

Let me offer an example of how this plays out in organizational life. Years ago, I worked with a leader who didn’t trust his management team. He expressed beliefs like:

“If I’m in control, everything will work out”

“My team doesn’t have enough experience”

“The organization isn’t mature enough to help me figure this out”

He would then go to the next step and provide evidence of why his beliefs were true:

“This one made a bad product investment”

“This one is too risk averse to be innovative”

“This one has under-performed in the last 3 quarters”

The impact on the team over team? The team shut down. They offered safe solutions and volunteered (if they volunteered) for only safe assignments. They described feeling marginalized and undervalued. And eventually began showing up in a way that reinforced the leader’s beliefs about them.

Do you see how the cycle perpetuates itself? It was the leader’s belief system that was informing the way he made decisions and the way the team thought about itself.

  1. D. Laing said “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

Check-in with your own belief systems. Where are you adopting another’s limiting beliefs about yourself?

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