Have you read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? It was published in 1997 and was a New York Times bestseller for more than a decade. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend reading it. He says that your limiting beliefs are “agreements” that you made as a result of your childhood experiences. These agreements are what your mind decided to agree to in order to make sense of incidents that occurred in your life.
Let’s look at an example from my life to demonstrate this: when I was in middle school, taking a semester of music (choir) was mandatory. One day in class, each student had to stand up in front of the class, one by one, and sing part of a song. The teacher was trying to sort out our individual voice types, alto, soprano, tenor, etc. When it was my turn, I started singing. The teacher cut me off early and looked at me very unimpressed. She pointed and mumbled something like, “you’ll be over there”, and that was the end of it. I don’t even remember what voice she determined I had. All I remember was my thought at the time which was, “you have a horrible voice, and you can’t sing.” I remember feeling really bad inside after my little performance. I felt embarrassed because of how she reacted in front of the whole class. I also felt disappointed and a little hurt. That was the first time anyone had ever assessed my voice. Prior to that, I thought my voice was fine. Not only did I feel like I could sing, but I loved singing. I would sing at the top of my lungs to my favorite artists at home. I had been singing since I was a little girl. After her judgement of me that day, I made an “agreement” to believe that I couldn’t carry a tune and that I had a bad singing voice. From that day on, I was self-conscious when I sang. I made sure I never sang loud enough for anyone else to hear. Whether it was singing hymns at church, singing the National Anthem at a ball game, or singing in the car with my high school friends, I always held back.
A similar situation also happened when I was in middle school. This time it was in English class. I remember seeing my teacher getting excited about papers written by some of my classmates. When I got my papers returned to me, there was no excitement and little to no eye contact. It was like I didn’t exist. My mind (in an attempt to protect me) made the “agreement” that I am not a very good writer. After that experience with that teacher, I made the decision that English class was a drag and that I wasn’t very good at it. When I went into high school, I remember already thinking that I wasn’t going to do well in English class. So, anytime we got to a difficult segment (like reading Shakespeare), I chalked it up to, “I’m not good in English.” In college, I did very well in business writing. In my mid-30’s, I was encouraged by a mentor to write every day because he felt I had the potential to be a great writer and could possibly write a book one day. However, because of that old, limiting belief, I ignored what he said. That was 15 years ago. Looking back, I wish I would have taken his advice. Just think of how my writing skills would have improved if I would have committed to writing every day? I probably could have authored a book by now. He saw something within me that I didn’t (couldn’t) see. I decided that my “agreement” which was based on a middle school English teacher’s lack of interest in me was more truthful than my proven experience in college and what my mentor saw in me.
Here is the problem with negative, limiting beliefs: they get formed when we are very young, and they get formed when we are in some kind of emotional distress. The mind tries to protect us by making an “agreement” about the situation (which later becomes our belief) in order to keep us from experiencing that kind of distress and discomfort ever again. Can you see, however, how the beliefs that were formed limit you for the rest of your life? Looking at it logically, should a teacher’s apathy determine my future life experiences? I have to take an inventory of my old agreements and adjust them. And, if necessary, I need to process the hurtful experiences from middle school, so that I no longer let them define who I am or who I am capable of being in my life.
This blog post was provided by Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. from Anakh Leadership Coaching LLC. We specialize in developing business leaders and professionals by increasing their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall effectiveness thereby increasing professional success and personal satisfaction in their lives. For more information, please go to aleadershipcoach.com.
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