Either A or Z (forget about B thru Y)

clarity limiting beliefs personal growth strengths Jun 13, 2021
What 10 tools do you reach for?

Part 3 of the Limiting Belief Dirty Laundry Series

I’ve talked a lot on Press Release about strengths, including how to be a star not a blob, and how to strengthen your strengths.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t cop to the fact that I haven’t always been such a strengths advocate. In fact, one of the deeply rooted limiting beliefs that I worked to eradicate this year had to do with strengths—specifically, that mine weren’t anything to write home about.

Baked into my belief system was a hierarchy of abilities and skills that looked like this:

Please note, there is nothing in the middle.

I let this limiting belief keep my life in the smallest possible container. I let it dictate the borders of what I was willing to explore. I put “here there be monsters” all around the tiny scrap of space I let myself inhabit. Because even though this belief was making me really unhappy, it was giving me the illusion of safety. And that is a very powerful illusion for human animals.

In retrospect I can see the way this belief negatively affected my career and my relationships. If I took creative risks, I didn’t tell anyone about them, or I hoped no one would notice (great marketing strategy, obvs). I undervalued the things that I made and then walked around with a chip on my shoulder about how no one values the arts. When friends came to see my productions, I assumed they did so out of obligation and apologized all over the place. I put up a great big wall of resentment in my marriage because my husband and I have very different strengths and I was convinced that he also believed that his strengths were better than my strengths, while also regularly cavetching to him that “I have no marketable skills."

I was in NYC with a dear friend and mentor, collaborating on a beautiful theatre project, when this limiting belief first started to crack. Over drinks, I tested out my favorite catch phrase—“I have no marketable skills”—subconsciously desiring her commiseration and some kind of encouragement. Instead she said “you have to stop saying that. If you let yourself believe that, then you will create a reality where it’s true.”

I wish I could say that I dropped that limiting belief right then and there. I didn’t. I stopped using the catch phrase, but I still clung to the belief. It wasn’t until I started training as a coach and working with a coach that I began to see that my tidy little hierarchy of strengths was actually a binary, and that I was incredibly prone to binary thinking; that, in fact, I loved nothing more than putting something into one of two categories, particularly when it came to myself. I recently saw a meme that summed me up pretty well:

There are two kinds of people in this world—those who say there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who don’t.

This might not be such a bad thing, except that in my mind the two categories also came with value judgements—one of the categories was always preferable to the other. And I don’t need to tell you which category I always put myself in.

The key to breaking out of your own binaries it simple—notice when it’s happening, give yourself a breath of self-compassion, and then replace the binary with something more complex. Here are a couple of strategies I use:

Put the two opposites on a spectrum and find at least three things that exist between the two end points. So using my example above, I could put marketable skills on one end, and not marketable skills on the other end, and then I could imagine three different points on the spectrum of skills that have varying degrees of marketability.

Another strategy I use is to state the opposite of the belief that I’ve unsurfaced and gather evidence for this point of view. So when I heard myself say “I don’t have any marketable skills” I could have immediately said, “I have marketable skills” and then made a list of things that I have been paid to do.

One last strategy—when you find yourself thinking an either/or kind of thought, say out loud, “well that’s one way of thinking about it,” and then see if you can articulate another way of thinking about it. “I don’t have any marketable skills” might become “I live and work in an environment that has not yet embraced the value of what I feel I was born to do." That might still be a painful reality to live in, but it is not a final judgement on my value as a human.

It wasn’t until my coach pointed out this tendency toward a binary and gave me strategies for addressing it that I was finally able to adopt a more robust model for the myriad strengths that humans possess and the resourceful ways we use those strengths. Now, I think about strengths as tools. There are a set of tools that I am really comfortable using (i.e. strategic thinking, learning, relator, communication, etc); I’ve perfected my ability to use them in a bunch of different ways, and most of the time, I can make anything I need to make using just these 10-ish tools. There are also a bunch of other tools around my tool shop that I can pull out if needed (i.e. analytical thinking, focus, ideation, harmony). I might have to go digging for some of them, or they might need sharpening before I can use them, but they are here in my shop somewhere and if needed I can employ them. And then there are a few tools that I do not have on hand (i.e. networking, taking command, competitiveness, historical context). I could go buy them at the the hardware store if needed, read the instructions on how to use them, maybe watch a YouTube video or two, and figure it out. Or, even better, I could hire someone who is really good with those tools to come do the part of the project that needs those tools.  Or make sure I have that person on my team, and delegate to them.  Or just say no to the project if it leans too heavily on tools I don't feel like developing. 

Not only is this more complex metaphor less angsty, it’s also more accurate and more useful. With this understanding of strengths as tools, I’m more effective and more efficient in my work, and my relationships are less strained. Similarly, I don’t need to fit everyone else into my tiny little binary as well, and so I can see people as unique, multi-faceted, and full of possibility.

And that’s a wrap on the Limiting Belief Dirty Laundry series! It feels good to have aired out my undies! (Did I just take the metaphor too far? I did, didn’t I. My bad.)

What about you? What are the beliefs that are holding you back? Where are the places in your thinking that you have set a trap for failure and fear no matter what direction you try to go?

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