Wait a sec. How can a belief ruin your life? It’s just a measly little set of biochemical connections in your mind, no way can it have that kind of impact…. right!?
What if you believed that all water is toxic? If you truly believed this, deep-down, you’d avoid all sources of water… and soon, you’d die. It’s not the water that is toxic, it’s the belief.
All beliefs are that way. Most of us are comfortable in our beliefs because we’ve surrounded ourselves with other people who hold similar ones. That helps us feel “safe,” because most of us have a herd-like evolutionary (unconscious) belief of “safety in numbers.”
But being part of a herd doesn’t mean that our beliefs are supporting our progress towards things that matter. Whether the things you want are better work-life balance, more recognition, more money or funding, or whatever – it is most likely your own (toxic) beliefs that hold you back from having those things.
- I’m nobody important, and I’m not sure why they gave me this position/accolade/promotion! In a world of over 7 billion people, it’s sometimes hard to feel important – and that means it’s much harder to achieve anything big. When we’re younger, most of us have our parents filling the role of seeing us as important. Then there’s a transition to adulthood, and most of us never replace the parental role with our own inner sense of importance. Believing in your own unimportance leads to self-sabotaging behaviors that will slow or halt progress towards things that you care about.
- There’s never enough time to get it all done This time-scarcity belief causes its holders to rush around, always hurrying, cramming and jamming into every possible moment every possible action until exhaustion comes. Yet, if you’re trying to achieve a new situation or goal, that doesn’t come from frenzied activity and lack of sleep. No, the source of change is always clarity, and clarity generally only comes easily to a rested and relaxed mind. A single action made in clarity can be as effective as 100 actions taken without clarity. Stop. Breath. Get clarity, then act.
- It’s a dangerous world out there Fear is a paralyzing feeling. How much can you accomplish towards your goals when you’re paralyzed? (hint: none). The more you believe in the world being a dangerous place due to politics, violence, environmental destruction, or whatever, it’s the belief in danger that will hold you back from making things happen.
- I’m better/smarter/wiser than my colleagues When you get a rejection, it’s easy to start pointing fingers at “stupid” colleagues that “don’t get it.” Yet that ego-driven attitude also subtly places you in the role of victim and pawn to “them.” This is a disempowering belief, because it prevents you from seeing the blind spots in you where improvement may be needed to get the results you want. Humility is essential to self-improvement, and ego gets in the way.
- There’s never enough money or funding to go around This belief in money scarcity reproduces itself in your life when you carry it around. Just look at the facts: there are trillions of dollars and other currencies flowing around the world. Some people (including some of your colleagues) are better at diverting a bigger portion of that flow (both in And out). However, if you’re caught in scarcity, you’re often focused on tightening down the outflow. Think about this: what happens when you turn a faucet — which regulates outflow — to a trickle? You get a trickle of an IN flow. Now, let’s say your faucet is wide open but the flow isn’t very good. It requires a totally different set of mental and physical tools to increase the inflow than it does to reduce outflow. However, if you have a belief that the in-flow is scarce, your focus will be mainly on limiting out-flow, and you’ll be forever caught in a loop of limitation.
- Great work speaks for itself There’s this belief amongst idealists that if you do some great work – whether it’s a scientific breakthrough, a new invention, a novel, or whatever – that you’ll get recognized for it. While it is true that some people do get recognized for such greatness posthumously, the question is whether you want to wait until you’re dead to get the rewards for your work. If you’d rather have some of those rewards here and now, then a belief that “Great work speaks for itself” is toxic. It is exceedingly rare that “great work” alone is enough to speak for itself. No, great work must have an effective spokesperson to get it out into the world, and that spokesperson is always one and the same as the originator of the work. (Unless you happen to be a billionare, and can hire a full-time PR team). It is only by embracing the idea that you are responsible for “marketing” your work to the world, and learning how to do it more effectively, that your cure/invention/idea/novel/etc is likely to get into the hands of other people where it can have its intended impact – and bring you recognition/money/reward as a result.
- It’s dangerous to be “vulnerable” with my colleagues Many people are extremely guarded around their colleagues, because they believe if they show any “weakness” it will be exploited by hostiles. However, research by Dr. Brené Brown and colleagues has clearly shown that it is psychologically unhealthy to exist in a closed-in cocoon of guardedness. It prevents us from making deep and meaningful connections with people in our lives, and it also prevent us from acting boldly. Doing anything great requires “putting yourself out there” and being willing to be criticized. If you’re locked in a guarded shell, you’ll be unable to make the bold leaps that are required to accomplish anything truly great. This means being forever locked in a cycle of mediocrity. Vulnerability is essential to great accomplishment.
- I have to do exactly as my boss/chair/dean/supervisor says in order to succeed If you work at a big-chain-fast-food-joint, then perhaps it’s essential for you to do exactly as people above you say. But when you’re in a position that requires leadership – such as being a faculty member or entrepreneur – you must be willing to follow your inner drive and your own vision, even if it means going in a different direction than someone else thinks you should. Often well-meaning advisors/mentors/bosses tell us things such as “you must apply for more grants.” Many of us try to be people pleasers and therefore to follow such advice. However, at the end of the day, leadership is one of the most essential attributes we must develop, and leadership always means listening to your own inner authority first and foremost. This doesn’t mean ignoring input from others, but it does mean that as a leader you make your own decisions and take full responsibility for them.
- I’m struggling because the system is messed up The system may well be messed up but this is never why any individual is struggling. Even in terrible systems or bad economies, there are always people who do well. It is tempting to believe that that’s due to luck, but it rarely is. Instead, it’s due to a spirit of entrepreneurialism, creativity, and fearlessness. While TV and movies would have you believe that its only the greedy, power-monging manipulators who succeed in rough environments, the reality is quite different. The Great Depression produced a large crop of millionaires, many of whom made their fortunes by ignoring the “depressive” sentiment of their time to act boldly in starting new businesses. The choice of whether you thrive or not has everything to do with your own attributes of entrepreneurialism and creativity, and very little to do with the external environment around you.
- I’m just a meaningless blip in a vast, cold, universe Humans thrive on meaning and purpose. All great works throughout human history have resulted from people who felt driven by some bigger purpose. So, if you believe that the universe is a hard, cold, meaningless place, that belief will stand like a big cement wall smack dab in your path to achieving important things. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that there’s something bigger/deeper than the material world we see or not, but if you lack purpose and meaning you will be ineffective and mediocre. So, getting rid of this belief and finding your own personal sense of meaning, purpose, and even wonder is like rocket fuel for great accomplishment.
- That all top-10 lists should only have 10 items I included this one just to show you the power of your own belief… and to demonstrate the automatic cognitive dissonance that occurs when a belief is violated. I also included it a a tribute to the movie Spinal Tap 😉
There are plenty more where those come from, but if you found resonance in one or more of these, going to work on them will yield a tremendous bounty in your life.