Raising children takes a special blend of hands-on management and learning to let go, sometimes simultaneously. In my 16 years of parenting, I can’t say I’ve really perfected this balance. It was during one of those “parenting true confessions” conversations that a friend mentioned he’d (miraculously in my opinion) managed to keep from dropping the f-bomb in front of his 3 daughters until they were teenagers. I was duly humbled.
He went on to elaborate that it took more than your run-of-the-mill teen stunt to trigger this reaction. He shared the details leading up to this seminal event, which happened over dinner, after his daughter answered a question with a word bomb of her own. “I can’t!” she proclaimed.
“I don’t ever f*@%! want to hear you use that word again!” he adamantly emoted.
“Dad, I said can’t” the confused daughter attempted to correct what she assumed to have been misheard, not fully realizing how powerful this 4-letter word can be.
Sneaky, Self-Limiting Beliefs
This uncharacteristic response on the part of an otherwise even-keeled person speaks to the core of a challenge most people face; the self-limiting belief we can’t achieve our aspirations. The craziest part is, these beliefs can be so deep-ceded, many of us don’t even realize the impact this word, this belief, can have on our ability to reach our potential.
According to renowned psychologist Gay Hendricks, each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we can allow ourselves to enjoy.
When we exceed this limit, we subconsciously do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar comfort zone where we feel secure.
Hendricks suggests some of these feelings stem from mixed messages received during childhood. One minute you’re praised for outshining the other kids in the spelling bee, the next you’re being reprimanded for outshining your less spelling-savvy sister at the dinner table. Kids generally don’t understand that behavior is situation appropriate, so when positive self-expression is punished where it was previously rewarded, it teaches us to hold back from fully expressing our potential.
This is a hard lesson to unlearn; that as adults, we know how to behave appropriately, and we have the right to our full self-expression.
My friend’s parenting frustrations stemmed from the knowledge that nothing external can hold us back from continuous growth and achievement. We already have everything it takes to fulfill our potential once we face down our self-imposed limitations.
Of course this is a huge ask. In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Dr. Hendricks shared the biggest and most widely-shared fear is that many of us feel there is something fundamentally wrong with us and that we’re undeserving of great success and happiness. This fear causes us to hold ourselves back from fulfilling our ultimate potential because we feel we inherently don’t deserve it.
Gay Hendricks describes these self-limiting beliefs, which may be keeping you from reaching your potential:
Hidden Barrier #1: Feeling Fundamentally Flawed
“I cannot expand to my full creative genius because something is fundamentally wrong with me.”
Hidden Barrier #2: Disloyalty and Abandonment
“I cannot expand to my full success because it would cause me to end up all alone, be disloyal to my roots, and leave behind people from my past.”
Hidden Barrier #3: More Success Brings a Bigger Burden
“I can’t expand to my highest potential because I’d be an even bigger burden than I am now.”
Hidden Barrier #4: The Fear of Outshining
“I must not expand to my full success, because if I did I would outshine _____and make him or her look or feel bad.”
The key to removing these hidden barriers is to expose them for what they are, normal responses to new and unfamiliar situations. When you envision something that you know you want, but feel will always remain outside of your reach or abilities, try breaking the big picture goal down into a series of steps or stages.
Starting with #1
We all struggle with confidence, some more than others. The question then becomes, how big a risk am I able to take to move one step closer to my aspirations. Maybe I can’t expand to my full creative genius immediately, but if I can break down the journey into manageable steps, chances are I can find a way forward, one small risk at a time.
In fact, the more you practice stepping into the future you aspire to, the more confident you’ll become, until you’re able to see yourself reaching your full creative potential.
Now let’s look at #2
This one usually has more than a grain of truth attached. When you begin on a path to personal growth, the people in your life may feel threatened. You may be less available for kids and partners. They may have to pick up a bigger share of responsibility.
This is where the tough love comes in, both for yourself and for your loved ones. As a role model, where you practice prioritizing your need for independence and fulfillment, you give them permission to assume these priorities for themselves.
#3 and #4 both relate to concerns with the impact your change may have on others.
Change is risky, both in challenging us to face our deepest insecurities and risking negative reactions from people we care about. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “self trust is the key to success”.
When we trust that we can put ourselves into situations where we make ourselves vulnerable, risk rejection and despite the outcome to know we can get back up again, we’re empowered to pursue our dreams and ultimately reach our potential.
Next time you’re feeling stuck, take a step back and examine your narrative. What are you telling yourself your capable of? Are those limits insurmountable or self-imposed? Flush out the c-words in your story and take them to task using Dr. Hendrick’s 4 questions. Then rewrite the next chapter by venturing out of your comfort zone to move forward on the path your potential, one achievable step at a time.