How many times have you seen someone else’s accomplishments and immediately told yourself that you could never do something like that?
“Oh, I could never sit still long enough to write a whole book.”
“I am too old to become a yoga teacher.”
“I am high-strung, so I couldn’t last a whole week at that retreat, so I’ll just stay home.”
At one time or another, we’ve probably all suffered from limiting self-beliefs—arbitrary ideas and labels about ourselves and the world around us that keep us from evolving. I know, because I once struggled with severe anxiety and depression.
After the death of my father and the traumatic birth of my daughter, which occurred within weeks of one another, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and for a long time, I was too stressed out to leave the house. One of my biggest issues was that my limited self-beliefs kept me trapped in fear. I believed I was too anxious for many everyday activities. I couldn’t escape the sense of doom and dread I had, fearing that another disaster was right around the corner.
Limiting self-beliefs prevent us from trying new things, and that’s what was happening to me. My thoughts were creating stagnation in my life. When we believe that we can’t do something, or that we are only a certain way, then the possibility of positive change is blocked.
The first step to overcoming these beliefs is recognizing that they are there and that we created them. I believed my thoughts to the point that they began to govern my life, as I tricked myself into thinking that they were actually protecting me! But these limiting self-beliefs were nothing more than thoughts. That’s it.
We have thoughts running through our minds constantly. Many of them are repetitive. Most of them are meaningless. And none of them should consume or control us. They are simply fleeting sensations. Thoughts come and go. Some are good, some are bad; they are all temporary.
A consistent meditation practice allows us to observe our thoughts and let them pass without becoming a hostage to them. It teaches us to let go. This was the first step on my path to healing. When I learned to release old labels and rules, I was free to change, free to experiment, and free to live as I felt best in each moment. Fear dissolved in a way I couldn’t have imagined was possible.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James
Here are some other simple tools that helped me mindfully get my limiting self-beliefs in check—may they be of benefit:
After taking some time each day to sit quietly and observe your thoughts in meditation, ask yourself if these thoughts are serving your best interest or if they are limiting your ability to experience life to the fullest. Are your thoughts based on fears and insecurities?
If so, practice reframing the thoughts: “I’m too fat and inflexible to do yoga” can become something like “a yoga body is any body that is doing yoga. With consistency, I will become a little more fit and flexible each day. I will be kind and patient with my body.”
“I’m scared of going on this trip” turns into “I am adventurous and I have resources to help me if something unexpectedly goes wrong. I enjoy visiting new places.”
Taking stock of our limiting self-beliefs can often help us confront our anxieties. I learned this anxiety-busting breath exercise from Gabrielle Bernstein:
1. Stop whatever you’re doing and find a place where you can sit for a few minutes without being disturbed.
2. Inhale through your nose for eight, short, staccato breaths.
3. Blow out the breath in one big push through your mouth.
You will be able to hear your breaths as they go in and out—first the short, clipped inhales one after the other, and then the big whoosh of air going out. Repeat this until your anxiety, and your limiting self-beliefs, start to wane. I couldn’t believe the dramatic change that took place in my life when I began practicing this.
Almost a year after my daughter was born and my father passed away, I was able to travel to Egypt on a spiritual retreat with a small group of people. We traveled up the Nile by riverboat and ended the journey at the pyramids of Giza. This was easily the trip of a lifetime, and a few months earlier, I never would have thought that an experience like that would have been possible for me.
One cold night toward the end of the trip, my fellow travelers and I mediated together in the shadow of the Sphinx. The experience of being in that historic locale while feeling the supportive energy of those around me is something I will never forget. I was filled with nothing but gratitude, instead of fear and self-doubt—and I realized that when you practice observing your thoughts and taking time to breathe, you will soon start to notice the benefits not only in your mind, but throughout your whole body and life, as you’re able to free yourself from your self-imposed limitations.
Author: Pam Butler
Image: Kathrin Honesta/Instagram
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman