The one main thing that makes humans human is self-consciousness. Our lives have become so much more than pure survival. We’re able to experience many complex, profound emotions and impressions. We build strong friendships and connections to the people around us, and, most important of all, we’re able to actively re-think and re-build our reality at any given moment.
While this simply sounds amazing, we’re all aware that there’s the other side of the coin as well. Our personal narratives which shape our attitudes, values, beliefs, and our overall mindset are built on a variety of cornerstones: parental messages, early socialization, positive and negative experiences in schools and other social groups and institutions, experiences and messages of acceptance and rejection, success and failure.
This emotional and experiential cocktail sometimes takes us to the most wonderful places such as friendships, gratitude, persistence, and confidence, but, at other times, it’s the reason behind our self-limiting beliefs–ideas about ourselves that generate low self-worth, self-doubt, irrational fears, etc.
In the moment of their creation, many of these beliefs could have had a different purpose. To protect us, for example, but, over time, many of them turn into self-debilitating behaviors. What can we do to change this? How can we differentiate between who we truly are and our irrational negative thoughts? How can we create our identity statement and adopt a set of values that no matter what will always guide us and help us decide which road to take?
Developing Self-Limiting Beliefs
Most of our beliefs, regardless of whether they are empowering or limiting, have an early onset in life. Our primary resources of socialization, our parents and other adults that are significant communicate with us in a variety of messages, demands, needs, rules, etc. As children, we are strongly emotionally connected to them and we lack the ability to critically assess their input.
For example, a goal most parents have is to teach their children healthy habits and self-discipline. Making our beds in the morning, cleaning up after ourselves, or washing our teeth regularly are some of the habits that we adopt at an early age that can sometimes serve as an instrument that we use to satisfy our parents. A child can easily start to generalize this unconsciously, thus developing a habitual motivation to please others or seek their approval.
As life goes by, such beliefs become more and more burdening, and it gets harder to cope with them on an everyday level. It can all happen so smoothly you don’t even notice when things begin to go south.
The thing is, self-limiting beliefs develop gradually. The first idea (I need to please others, or I am not smart enough) is usually wrong, but everything else that follows can be tied to the initial idea through perfect logic.
Can you identify a belief system you acquired in childhood that still influences your mindset today?
Dealing with Self-Limiting Beliefs
Whenever a thought of any kind pops up in our mind, there are two initial pathways: accept it as true or reject it as false.
The latter requires a lot more mental engagement and psychological strength. Sometimes it’s difficult to even recognize that a thought is worth reassessing because it has been with us for so long, it’s become a part of who we are.
However, if we want to step out, start detangling our self-limiting beliefs, and learn who we really are, it’s necessary to re-assess our values, attitudes, beliefs, and our mindset in general.
Positive vs Negative Mindset
While people are naturally wired for negativity (sensitivity to negativity has been saving our lives since 12000 years ago), it doesn’t mean that we should accept this state of things.
If negativity is our “ground zero”, that means we need to invest some hard work into positive thinking. A positive mindset brings a variety of benefits to our life: from physical and mental health benefits to improvements in relationships, and productivity.
A positive mindset is a sure remedy for self-limiting beliefs, as what comprises positive thinking is in total opposite to them.
Gratitude and Self-Appreciation
One of the most recommended practices for achieving a positive mindset and widening your views is practicing gratitude.
Sometimes, as little as 5 minutes of gratitude journaling per day can do miracles for your mind. Journaling about the things you’re grateful for or that make you happy can allow you to see a bad day from another perspective, and it may turn out that there were quite a few positive things about it, after all.
With self-limiting beliefs (“I’m not respect-worthy”, “I have to please everyone”, “Everyone has to like me”, etc.), we sabotage our own happiness. The only person who can truly help us out in such a situation–is us.
If you feel ashamed, sad, incompetent, or less-worthy on a certain day, gratitude journaling and thinking about the good things in your life, even on the worst of days, will show you that there is another side to every difficult emotion.
Realizing Who You Really Are vs Who You Want to Be
As we mentioned above, our personalities are shaped through interactions and relationships with other people. That’s how we develop our ideas on what is socially desirable, what is attractive to us, what we strive for, and what we want to avoid.
However, in order to think clearly about ourselves, it’s important that we disentangle these two, perhaps equally important, things: who we truly are and who we want to be. This is also necessary for the upcoming step: creating a personal statement.
Here are some things that can help you figure out, name, and define who you are vs who you want to be:
Keep a journal;
Retrieve old (childhood) memories;
Try to remember your first memory. Don’t expect this memory to be accurate, or perhaps even true–that’s far less important than the deeper meaning of the memory and the feeling it gives you;
List three or five most important events in your life that defined who you are as a person now.
Why is that so? In what ways did they shape you?
What is the first thing that pops on your mind when you read the question: who are you (the first thing after your name, of course!)?
Ask Others for Feedback
Very often in our relationships, we make conclusions about ourselves based on the way other people react to us. However, that’s all conclusion-making. We don’t know what’s behind people’s facial expressions and body posture and, in order to discover, we need to ask.
Asking other people what they think about you is daring, bold, and honest. If we open our hearts and truly listen, we can learn a lot. We also become closer to people with whom we have such conversations.
Creating a Personal Statement
Personal statements are usually part of a job or university application, as they allow the company or the educational institution to find out more about you as a person before meeting you in person.
When we compose these applications, we want our statements to be special, outstanding, and to present us well, but we don’t want them to be too tacky or salesy. We need to remember all the things that made us who we are, our skills and talents, but also our weaknesses and flaws.
Creating a personal statement has other far-reaching benefits in life, especially if there’s no one else but you on the other side, who’ll read it. A personal statement is like your emotional ID card. Whenever you feel lost in life, it should be there to remind you who you are in this world, what are your values, and what kind of person you want to be.
Since we all change as people over time, you might wish to change your statement at some point, completely, or partially. While that’s perfectly fine, make sure to keep the old one somewhere, as you might want to take a peek at it again.
Unlike your goals, your personal statement can remain somewhat abstract and general. It should serve you as a guide on how you want to live your life, how you want to feel, where are you headed, what traits do you want to develop, and what kind of a person you want to be.
Here’s a question checklist you can use to think about all of these things. However, nothing’s set in stone - feel free to change it the way it feels more right for you.
Who am I?
What are the traits I love the most about myself?
What kind of experiences do I want to have in life?
What are my values?
How do I define happiness, peace, success, love?
What gives me a sense of purpose?
What kind of a person do I want to be?
How am I going to achieve that?
Try answering these questions at least in a sentence or two, and then use those answers to compose an essay–your personal statement. Rewrite and polish it to the point that you get a clear idea of who you are. Best Year Journal, an easy-to-use guide to becoming a better version of yourself, may help you get there.
Detangling self-limiting beliefs is a long process, don’t expect to be free from them overnight. While communication with other people certainly helps, it’s impossible to pull yourself up without embracing your inner world: what is it that’s stopping you from achieving your full potential? Where does it come from? And most importantly: how are you going to stop it?
It is of immeasurable importance to acknowledge cultural differences in values and happiness. However, while there are some cultural universalities, there are also individual differences we need to rely on in shaping our happiness.