He who would be useful, strong, and happy must cease to be a passive receptacle for the negative, beggarly, and impure streams of thought; and as a wise householder commands his servants and invites his guests, so must he learn to command his desires and to say, with authority, what thoughts he shall admit into the mansion of his soul.
(1864-1912, British essayist, author, As A Man Thinketh)
I watched an excellent YouTube video that illustrates the prison I am speaking of. It’s the prison of Learned Helplessness. In this video, a teacher from a classroom handed out an exercise, which was a sheet with three scrambled words. The students’ job was to unscramble the words into a new word. For example, “BAT” became “TAB”. She told the students to raise their hands when they were done. Half of the class raised their hands immediately. The other half looked around, hesitatingly, confusedly. This happened on the second word, and on the third word.
She then shared the secret of the experiment with the classroom. Half of the room had been given easily solvable words. The other half of the students’ first two words were literally unsolvable, but the third word was the same as the half of the class who had the solvable words. Unfortunately, in the process of ‘failing’ during the first two rounds, the half of the class that had not raised their hands shared that they began to feel stupid, to tell themselves that they were not smart enough, and that they could not solve the word.
Back to my prison. My prison, for many years, was that of learned helplessness. I convinced myself that I was incapable of certain skills, or that I had certain personality traits that would preclude me from being able to do this type of job, or pursue that type of promotion. I was a prisoner of my self-limiting beliefs!
|Alcatraz by Caitlinator on Flickr|
In the course of our lifetimes, we accumulate beliefs and thoughts about ourselves, the world, others, and even God. But too many of us do not examine these beliefs and thoughts, and too often we find ourselves holding ourselves captive!
The key that can turn the lock on the prison door and set us free is a series of questions shared in the Best Year Yet.
First, we need to ask, “How Do I Limit Myself?”
I’ll get personal and share some of the limiting things I’ve told myself after reviewing some of my disappointments from the past year. Part of getting honest with ourselves in this process is to also ask ourselves what we are saying to ourselves to explain these self-imposed limits. For example, these are some of the thoughts I have had about my disappointments:
- I’m not an organized person.
- I don’t have enough time! (to get organized, to spend quality time with my son)
- I’ve tried before and failed (to get debt free)
- I’m in too far (with debt)
- I don’t have enough money (to get debt free)
- I’m too lazy (to get organized, get things done around the house/home projects)
Getting these thoughts down on paper is somewhat painful. It’s like stepping on the scale when I want to lose weight, and facing the actual numbers on the scale. It’s like actually writing down the list of my creditors and the amount I owe each of them. There can be feelings of shame or self-disappointment. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get out of jail!
Second, We Need to Ask, “What Has This Cost Me?”
In my specific case, when I reviewed my disappointments and what I have said about myself and to myself, I realize that my self-limiting thinking and behaviors have cost me the following things:
- Order and Neatness (one of my top needs, according to an ancient personality test I took 🙂
- Self Respect
- Peace of Mind
- Lowered my sense of personal integrity
- I have been unable to contribute what I want in terms of tithing, giving to good causes around the world, investing in savings and retirement
3. In What Ways Have I Benefited From Limiting Myself?
This may seem like a strange question. Social scientists who have researched the process of change when it comes to habits have found that it’s just as important for the person who is considering change to look at the benefits of maintaining their “disappointing” patterns.
When I asked myself what benefits I get from thinking the way I do about the areas of quality time with my loved ones, getting out of debt, or getting organized at home, here are some of the things I came up with:
- I can be lazy instead of exerting myself
- I can “veg out” with TV instead of being proactive to schedule my important priorities
- I can get “things” I think I need, instead of practicing delayed gratifications (hence some needless spending)
- I can avoid the pain that comes with changing habitual patterns
- It may be uncomfortable to be in debt, or unorganized at home, but at least it’s predictable and I am used to it.
Ouch. No fun to write those things, but unfortunately they are true. Unless I can get this stuff out in black and white, I am not going to be aware of it.
Ask Yourself, “Do I Want To Go Free?!”
This is the good news! We are not prisoners of belief! We can choose to take responsibility for our thinking and beliefs. We can choose, little by little, to leave our prisons behind!
Think about it! Either way, you and I are making a choice every day. Either we are choosing to stay in our prison cells, or we are choosing to leave them behind.
In order to go free, you will need to choose a more empowering paradigm for yourself. Rather than clinging to the habitual thoughts of self-defeat and self-limitation, you can choose to think more positive, empowering, and results-building. You can choose to think thoughts that move you forward instead of thoughts that hold you back. And you can choose to focus on mental images of your desired outcomes instead of obsessing on the prison walls of your disappointment.
Build A New and Empowering Paradigm
What’s a paradigm? A paradigm is an “example serving as a model.” It’s a new way of filtering reality. It’s a new way to look at yourself, at God, at others, and at the world.
Ms. Dietzler, author of Best Year Yet, suggests that you look at your list of limiting paradigms (or limiting statements) that you have listed in terms of how you have held yourself back over the past year. Choose a paradigm that has had the most negative impact on your life, and then write a new paradigm to replace it.
When writing your new paradigm, you should language that is:
- Present Tense
- Powerfully Stated
- Pointing to An Exciting New Possibility
I have borrowed my new paradigm specifically in the areas of finance for 2011, since that is going to be my key focus:
I found this pledge/affirmation in a CNN article that I find fits well with where I want to go in 2011:
New Paradigm: I, Stephen Borgman, pledge to:
• Apply biblical principles in managing my finances
• Keep my expenses below my income
• Pay my bills on time
• Invest in assets that grow in value
• Contribute to my church and its ministries
I’m looking forward to the benefits and success this new paradigm is going to bring into my life in 2011.
What is your new paradigm going to be in 2011? In what areas of your life are you not achieving what you would like to achieve? Can you commit to breaking free and moving ahead in those areas? Join me! I would love to hear from you in the comments!