Self Limiting Beliefs

the secret to being a happy person is to change the way you think. Mercia Tapping

We all have them, and we label them as being “realistic” and “that’s the way I am”. The problem with these self limiting beliefs is they prevent us from expressing our true and highest potential.

Most of the time we are unaware that these belief systems are operative, and we are like fish, this is the water and the reality in which we swim.

How then do we become aware of the limits that we have placed on ourselves? Indeed, how do we break through them? There is an old joke about the light bulb needs to want to change, and that is how it all starts; a desire to become somebody different despite all those self limiting beliefs keeping you in place. How do you transform your life? I will give you examples from  one year in my own life.

After I went through breast cancer treatment, my body had been thoroughly cut, poisoned and burned. I was exhausted, I had gained a significant amount of weight, and could hardly move across the room without my body being in pain. While I knew that I had survived this dreadful disease, I sometimes would sit and think miserably ” For what? Why am I still here?”.

My life in its struggle for survival, certainly still had its joyful moments, but the overall outlook appeared bleak. There was more than one occasion when I thought it would have been easier to have joined my husband in heaven. I did not like my life, but how to change it? What I discovered was that transformation is not like waving a magic wand, rather it involved dreaming of a better life and then examining what beliefs stood in my way and then taking action.There were several things in 2016 that dramatically altered my life in both who I held myself to be, and my enjoyment and participation in life.

While I had lost some weight, I felt fat and frumpy, and I frowned at the woman in the mirror.  I saw photos of myself when I was younger, arguably a beautiful woman, but I despaired that this woman was lost to me forever; disease and old age had overtaken me. And the medicine that I was taking to keep my cancer from reoccurring made me feel like I was 90 years old. Well maybe not. The first thing I did was join Weight Watchers  and get myself a Fitbit. The Fitbit confirmed my worst fears. I was a couch potato of the highest order, scarcely putting in 2000 steps a day. To be truthful, I did not know whether with this medicine whether I could even lose weight, since there were reports of people gaining 20-50 lbs. But in my minds eye, I was as free as a bird, striding tall and purposely, proud and gracefully. Could I make this dream come true? 

My weight watchers journey was that of a turtle, ounces were a triumph. No overnight losses of five pounds. But slowly, ever so slowly, the weight came off. I played by the rules and actually did the program. I taught myself to eat and cook in an entirely different way. I am a good cook and it became a game as to how I could use my creativity together with herbs and spices, to make my meals delectably delicious and low in points, the latter being the weight watchers alternative to counting calories. I posted my meals and point count on Facebook to show others that dieting did not mean deprivation. And the reality that this is how I needed to cook for the rest of my life was settling in to my consciousness. No more dieting and then yo yo-ing off and back to normal, unhealthy eating. This was my new normal. As the ounces and pounds slowly left my body, I looked quizzically at the woman in the mirror. I realized that the shape of my face had changed, and the Thanksgiving turkey that had been strapped to my midsection was now reduced to a Sunday roast chicken. I could now cross my legs with ease, and could fit into an airline seat without embarrassment. I no longer looked down at a massive bulging stomach when I was driving. Friends kindly told me that my clothes were hanging off me. They were right, and I had to do a massive audit of my closet.  I could see that some of my clothes were not flattering at all, while others which I had not worn in a long while, dramatically altered my appearance in the mirror. I looked at the woman in the mirror and smiled. We were getting acquainted again and I was beginning to like her. After a year in Weight Watchers, while not at goal at the end of 2016,  I was 44 lbs lighter and clocking up 6-7000 steps a day. I was on the move.

I was on the move in more ways than one. Many years previously I had been a tennis player, perhaps with more enthusiasm than skill level, but I had loved it and had been the captain of a competitive tennis team.  Early in 2016, I was aware that I had ” tennis dreams”,  where I had literally dreamt of being on the tennis court again. At this age, my self limiting belief about tennis days being over reared their ugly head, fueled by the reality that 28 lymph nodes had been removed under my left arm; I doubted that I could throw the ball up in the air to serve. But on a whim one day, in the darkest, cold days of February 2016, I took myself down to the local athletic club and asked if they could loan me a racquet, and give me a lesson and settle this nagging question in my mind. Were my tennis days over or not? One evening with a borrowed racquet in hand, I walked stiffly onto the tennis court with hands crippled with pain from my medicine, planted my feet and said to myself ” Bring It on Mercia”. And then a miracle happened. From the archives of my muscle memory, I began to hit that ball, tentatively at first and then gradually with more authority.  I was astonished and I was having fun! The tennis pro that I worked with was very encouraging, and talked about her students who were well into their eighties. The belief that I had previously that my tennis days were over, suddenly melted away. After a 13 year absence from the tennis court, I was back!  I left the court after my first lesson with my adrenalin running, and a lift in my step. I was about to do what I thought was impossible.

By the summer of 2016,  I vowed I was going to get back on the golf course. Between my late husband’s cancer and then my own, I had not been on a golf course in three years. I live on a golf course and I had stared miserably at those happy golfers going past my living room window. I desperately wished that I could golf, but my energy level had been so poor that I huffed and puffed  from merely by crossing the room. I doubted I could even survive one hole of golf, let alone nine or eighteen. Golfing requires some flexibility especially of the upper body and those absent lymph nodes had frozen my left arm solid. I shared my dream of both returning to tennis and golf with my Pilates teacher early in the year of 2016, and we worked on stretching out those muscles. I grimaced and tears stung my eyes as I stretched and stretched some more. I was frustrated at my lack of flexibility and knew I could hardly bend down to empty the dishwasher or dryer, and I leaned on my shopping cart to get around the supermarket. But came the day when I took my golf clubs out of mothballs, actually lifted them into the trunk of the car, and went for my first lesson with the golf pro with whom I taken lessons some years previously. My biggest and very intense fear was I had lost my ability to golf forever, and that golfing would be an utterly humiliating experience. I remember my first lesson so clearly. My first few attempts to hit the ball resulted in my either missing it completely, or seeing the ball sputter and land just a few feet in front of me. This was not going well, I was tense and miserable. Then the pro told me to relax, go slowly and let my muscle memory take over. Then it happened, the ball sailed into the air and went a respectable distance. Again and again,  I hit the ball higher and further. I stood with tears streaming down my face. I had broken through my fears and my beliefs, and was on the start to recover my golf game. I did not keep score that summer. Golf to me was a tangible celebration of being alive.  I used to golf at sunset, alone but at peace with the world. It was exhilarating. I could feel my husband’s spirit walking beside me, applauding my efforts. By the end of the summer, I was golfing with other people, and on occasion had found the energy to do 18 holes which I had not done in eight years.

In Fall 2016, In order to accomplish my daily quota of Fitbit steps as the weather had grown colder, I had set my music to a Latin channel through Pandora . I discovered the beat to be energizing and uplifting. I found myself not just walking around the house, but boogying and freestyle dancing to the music. This was a much more enjoyable way to get in my steps. As I twirled, moving rhythmically through my house, I was dancing with the spirit of my husband and could hear whispers from heaven that I should dance; I had always envied others as I sat on the sidelines of any celebratory event involving dancing. My belief of myself was that I was not a dancer, and of course up until now I would have been embarrassed, because of my weight, to be seen dancing in public. However, now a great deal lighter and fitter, I was finding myself enjoying moving to the music, and could keep moving for more extended periods of time. My body frozen so long in pain with the residue of cancer, was letting the music move through it, and my hips were moving. I stood tall and walked across the house in that slinky walk so characteristic of ballroom dancers. To be honest, I was a little embarrassed at the hip action. Goodness at my age what on earth was I doing? Shortly before Christmas 2016, I enrolled in some trial dance lessons at a dance studio.  Having been free styling around my house for months, I had to concentrate hard on memorizing the steps. However, much to my surprise, my instructor told me that I was ” a natural “. As I walked towards my car after the first lesson, I was incredulous. A natural? I had just shattered another self limiting belief. I might not be young in years anymore but I had a future that included a new identity, that of a dancer.

There was so much that changed in 2016. I kept on dreaming and then examining what beliefs held me back and knocking them down one by one. Every time I did so, I would stop in amazement. Did I really just do that? As I entered 2017, I realized that I was at the beginning of a new and very wonderful journey, and that the only walls that existed were ones I meant to knock down. I felt like a bird that was just lifting off. I was about to soar again. Stay tuned, this story is far from over.

Posted in Courage, Life


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