The Beliefs We Carry

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How often do you consider the beliefs you hold, and question whether they’re still true? How often do you reflect on your routine, your habits, or your commitments and wonder if they still serve you?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about, well, thinking – and how what we think and believe about ourselves informs what we do. When we believe we can accomplish our goals, that’s a good thing, right? But what if we believe that we can’t? Or we shouldn’t?

What if we don’t even realize that we’re holding on to beliefs that are limiting our potential or constraining our approach – right now, at this very moment?

Here’s an example. Recently I had coffee with a very smart, talented friend. From my vantage point, she’s an expert in her particular field who lights up the room with her talent, knowledge and presence. Yet she confided, “I think I need to get a PhD because then people will start to take me seriously.”

As you might expect, this surprised me; from my perspective, people already do listen to her and respect her expertise. But more striking, her comment shined a spotlight on some of her own current beliefs – beliefs about whose voices get paid attention to, and why; beliefs about who she wants her future peers and colleagues to be, and what she needs to do in order to earn their respect; and most of all, beliefs about her current status and future potential. 

Now, it may very well be true that having a PhD will open new doors for her career, elevating it to a point that’s not possible without the advanced degree. This belief about her future may, in fact, be true. But isn’t it interesting to first ask: what are my true motivations for this choice? How does this decision serve me, or how might it simply feed into a mental model that I didn't even realize I was holding onto? 

It’s amazing how our beliefs can so completely anchor into our minds that we begin to take them for granted, often getting to the point where we assume they’re facts (#fakenews). Here’s another example, on a much smaller scale:

It’s holiday time, which means it’s also holiday card time. On the one hand, I love holiday cards – they’re fun and festive, they’re a nice way to wish extended family and friends a holiday greeting, and it’s certainly nice to display all the cards we receive with my holiday decorations. On the other hand, I hate holiday cards! They’re time-consuming, expensive, and let’s face it: they’ll all end up in the recycling pile come January. 

This month I began the arduous process of trying to choose and design our holiday cards. I compared vendors, I mocked up designs, I personalized envelopes – and then I realized how exhausted I was. Sharing my frustration with my husband, he replied, ‘You know, we could skip holiday cards this year.’

Never! I exclaimed. But then, I paused – and pushed myself to question a bit more. 

Why do I always send holiday cards, I thought? Well, because they are a nice way to stay in touch with family and friends and let them know what’s going on in our lives. And, having moved away from many friends in recent years, I feel a bit guilty that I don’t stay in touch more frequently. In the end, I guess what I really want is connection.

But if connection is what I want, is a mass-produced holiday card the best way to get it? Actually, no. Holiday cards, as lively as they can be, don’t actually feel personal. Like a mail merge, holiday cards are about efficiency, not appreciation or gratitude or connection. 

How might I reframe my desire for connection, I wondered, in a way that actually brings me joy? 

Turns out the answer I came up with actually surprised me (and will be easier and more joyful for me, too). What a small but exciting revelation! Just because I have sent holiday cards every year – and it seems like all of my friends have, too – doesn’t mean I have to keep doing them this year. Weight, lifted.

Simply by pushing to question my beliefs and habits before taking action, I saw there was a better way.

What mental models, beliefs or routines do you have that truly do serve you? And which might actually be limiting the scope of what you do, how you feel, or what you think is possible? As Jackie Colburn says, how are you standing in your own way?

For more insight on limiting beliefs, doing what we always do, breaking out of habits and more, check out these resources: