Irrational Beliefs Limit Our Potential

    Having just celebrated Easter, I fondly remember our big family celebrations in Texas. When I was a child, dozens of cousins, aunts, and uncles would gather at grandma’s house for fun, food, and games. These games were full-on relay competitions. One game always makes me laugh when I think of it. My mom had the idea of having a relay in which competing members from each team raced while hopping like a bunny and holding a giant carrot between their legs. You probably get the visual. It was funny enough to see my cousins do this, but the scene was utterly ridiculous when my aunts and uncles got involved. I can’t think about it without laughing out loud. Too bad there was no cell phone to capture videos back then.

We also ran the traditional three-legged race. It’s incredible how hard it can be to run with a leg tied to your cousin’s leg. We would get ahead of each other, falling many times while struggling to cross the finish line. The three-legged race reminds me of how many people try to run through life. Our potential is tied to and ultimately limited by our internal self-talk in the race to get ahead in life. Like an uncoordinated cousin, self-talk can be a source of irrational bias and distortion in processing events and opportunities. To unleash our potential, we must use guided discovery to identify and change our irrational beliefs.

Enslaved to Self-Talk

While coaching hundreds of adults and youth over the years, I have learned the importance of focusing on the client’s relationship with themselves. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves significantly impact our mental health and ability to achieve meaningful life goals. Our internal self-talk limits our potential in all areas of achievement. Understanding and addressing self-talk is vital to obtaining success, and I have made it the second step in a four-step process of supporting clients to realize crazy levels of potential. Most people set goals and then move directly into action steps; however, this is a big mistake. Moving from goal setting into action steps is the number one reason most people struggle to obtain their goals. Failure happens because of limiting beliefs perpetuated by irrational self-talk. After setting goals, clients must spend time liberating their minds from enslaving irrational thoughts and negative self-talk. Studies support that the human mind internalizes beliefs and basic assumptions about us and the world through past experiences, especially those from early childhood. These internalized beliefs and self-talk become the unconscious lens through which we process and assign value to life events. A person’s basic assumptions about the world can be a source of irrational bias and distortion, impacting the lens through which they interpret the world.

Bias and Distortion

    Can you remember when you received your first bike? Mine was a metallic blue Schwinn Stingray with a silver banana seat. It was awesome! I had never had a bike before, and; this was a novel experience that offered freedom to explore the world beyond the confines of our yard. We lived ten miles outside of town down a shell road at the time. For those of you who don’t know, a shell road is a dirt road with a layer of old oyster shells spread on top. A new shell road can be very unforgiving as it takes time for the sharp edges of the oyster shells to crush down. Christmas morning, I took my bike out for the inaugural ride. Of course, I pedaled as fast as possible. I told myself, let’s see what this baby can do, thoroughly enjoying my newfound freedom. And so, I am flying down the shell road feeling awesome. My sense of adventure is high as I feel the air rush through my hair until I hit a tractor rut and get launched off the bike. Landing on all fours, I bloodied my knees and bruised my ego.

    Based on this event, my brain links injury with novelty and freedom. My parents may have further reinforced this irrational belief by repeating, “be careful, go slow, remember what happened” when I rode my bike. Our internal narratives become the subjective reality upon which our emotional and behavioral responses rest. Fast forward to adulthood. Because my brain associates novel opportunities with fear and pain, I may be less likely to achieve goals outside my comfort zone.

Guided Discovery

Fortunately, my story did not stop there. The brain is malleable and can learn to re-write our irrational internal narrative. The first step is recognizing the unconscious operation of internal self-talk and which messages are unreasonable. With this information, the hard work of reframing our narratives can begin. I use guided discovery in working with clients to unleash their potential. The next time you face an opportunity or challenging situation, pause and ask yourself what narrative is running in your mind. Then you can consider if your self-talk is rational or irrational and its impact on your behavior and emotions in the given moment.

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