When I started university, I was living away from my family for the first time. I had no other option than to fend for myself and get used to independent living. It wasn’t easy – as I had relied (perhaps over-relied) on my parents for finances and basic living, I was unprepared to fly the nest.
Not only that, but I also began to realise that I had to make my own choices in life – what to eat each day, where to go for shopping, how to manage finances, etc. In other words, I had to deal with life.
This realisation that I needed to ‘mature’ and learn how to live by my own rules scared me. I was afraid that I’d fail and let myself, and everybody else down.
What I didn’t know was that most of my fellow students were feeling the same way.
They were also scared, like me. They were also unused to fending for themselves, like me. And I’d bet they thought that they were the only ones who were going through the same emotional and psychological torment that I was going through.
Looking back, it’s a shame that I didn’t talk about it with my fellow students as much as I did, because I reckon I would have realised that what I was experiencing was not only ‘normal’, but ‘common’.
Today, I’m no longer scared to be myself – I’m actually happy with who I am. I’ve being able to look back at those years of fear and vulnerability and realise that I could have helped ease my limiting beliefs by being aware that I wasn’t the only one.
People Only Recognise Their Own Limiting Beliefs
If we were good friends and I was to ask you whether you had any limiting beliefs, you’d probably say you had. After all, who can claim to live a life completely free of fear and worry and not be limited in any way? But although we accept that we have limiting beliefs, it seems to be much harder for us to accept that other people have limiting beliefs too.
It took me a long time to realise that other new students were just as anxious about starting their university adventure as I was, perhaps even more so. Some people dropped out of their courses after a few weeks, and I’d imagine that some of them did so because their fears and doubts ‘got the better of them’.
Perhaps they weren’t able to share how they felt with others, believing (like I did) that they were the only ones who were nervous and everybody else was ultra-confident. Because I didn’t ask them, I’ll never know.
This situation is reflected in a number of places, such as meetings at work where a number of salespeople have to report their figures, before sports games where both teams are desperate to win, and a ‘fear of flying’ course where all those flying suffer from that fear.
All those involved can experience a sense that they are the only ones who are suffering from that limiting belief. An individual who’s afraid of flying may be so preoccupied with their internal talk that they fail to notice the 40 other passengers who are going through the same process.
But I believe that, although it’s hard, we can tear ourselves away from our own limiting beliefs. We can help ourselves by realising that we all have limiting beliefs, because we’re all human.
The Pursuit Of Perfection
As human beings, we seem to have this fascination (bordering on obsession) with being perfect. Our whole lives need to be perfect.
Within each one of us is a deep desire for happiness, peace of mind, self-confidence, the ability to love and to be loved, and for everything to work out just the way we want it to be. Needless to say this is fantasy – we experience negative thoughts and emotions just as much as positive ones. But this desire to be ‘perfect’ drives us on relentlessly.
We work to make more money so that we can have financial perfection, we eat healthily and exercise to experience physical perfection, and we join a religion or spend time reflecting to have spiritual perfection. We strive to reach the ‘holy grail’ in all aspects of our life.
We all share this pursuit of perfection because we’re all limited. I have my own limits, as do you. I also have my ‘inner limits’ i.e. my limiting beliefs, and you do too. We must all deal with these inner and outer limits throughout our lives – there’s no escaping them.
Indeed, if we didn’t possess limits, I’d say that we weren’t really human. To be human is to be limited, regardless of our individual differences. Perfection is something that, to me, seems ‘alien’.
You’re Not Alone
So how can we begin to accept that other people have limiting beliefs? If we understand that we aren’t alone in being ‘limited’, we may begin to feel better about who we are as individuals. Here are four pieces of advice which have helped me gain an awareness of others:
- Notice other people
Whenever you’re around others, such as in a town or on the street, take time to notice them. Notice how they’re walking, how they’re breathing, what their facial expressions, how they’re interacting with whoever they’re with, where they’re looking if they’re alone. Without staring at them for too long, simply observe them.
By observing them, you’ll instantly begin to gain an idea of that person, such as how they move and talk, and they may express their own limiting beliefs. For example, they may be looking at a shop window, wanting to buy something but arguing with themselves that they can’t afford it. Or they may be impatient if they’re stuck in a queue. People express limiting beliefs more often than we realise, and we’ll be able to see this if we observe.
- Read an autobiography
I’ve read the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Mahatma Gandhi. Both were great men and are revered around the world for their skill and character. But what struck me from reading these books was that they both openly admitted faults.
Benjamin Franklin admitted that he was hasty, eager to prove people wrong, and often fell short of the 13 virtues of living that he had set for himself. Mahatma Gandhi admitted that he hated the title of ‘Mahatma’, and that he was very nervous when public speaking. Both of these men were humans, like me and you. I have realised that they too had their limits throughout life.
By reading their autobiographies, I was able to gain some understanding of these individuals, and the limits they possessed. Through autobiographies, we can become aware that even our heroes had their limits.
- Ask for answers
There’s an ability that many people have trouble with, even though it’s simple to do – the ability to ask questions.
I’ve never come across a case where someone was offended to be asked a question. People are generally happy to help, and ask for nothing in return.
And yet there are many people who are afraid to ask questions for a number of reasons – they may fear rejection by the other person, or they think their question is stupid, or they don’t want to be seen as weak. These are all limiting beliefs, and they can control any one of us if we let them.
We must interact with others in order to express ourselves. If we ask a question, then we not only admit that we don’t have an answer, but we also indicate that we need help. We transcend our limiting beliefs.
- We’re not superhuman
It’s important to remember that no-one on this planet is a superhuman.
There are heroes who have performed extraordinary feats or inspired millions, but even these people aren’t ‘heroes’ all of the time – there will be times when even the most courageous among us struggle with their limiting beliefs. To be human is to be imperfect.
Rather than struggle with our limiting beliefs alone, I believe we can communicate and connect with others in order to help each other through our limiting beliefs. If we can see that someone may have the same inner limits as we do, then we have common ground, and we can help each other with the knowledge that we both know what the other is going through.
Though it may be hard, it’s important to express what is limiting us. That way, we can connect, help, and ultimately heal.