How To Overcome The Beliefs That Sabotage Success
What if striving to be great is what's holding you back. Brad Stulberg dropped this truth bomb in a piece featured in Outside magazine. He went on to say, "We’re told that striving to be great and never being satisfied are necessary to meet the ever increasing pressures and pace of today’s world. It’s the only route to success. But what is it all for? What does success even mean?" I latched onto his thinking like a fly trapped in a spiderweb. I found myself entangled without a way to escape the grasp of what I had believed up until this point.
It's a thought so far removed from mainstream that it's like a friend trying to convince you to give brussel sprouts another try. Knowing full well you swore them off when you were six because you're still so damn attached to the belief that they're digusting. Mom had a strict nothing-left-on-your-plate policy. But then your sister-in-law makes them, drizzled in olive oil, tossed with bacon bits and topped with parmesan cheese and your mind is blown. You're actually a little angry at yourself for letting such a stupid belief guide your decisions. And this is brussel sprouts! What the hell else have you been totally blind to?
One of my mentors, Mark Silver, said something that carried a similar shock value when I was stuck in my business. "99% of your business and marketing problems can be solved with honesty." This speaks to the wisdom that so many before you have been preaching for thousands of years.
A far cry from today's abysmal attempt at "leadership," Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wanted to be told when he had made a mistake or had seen things from the wrong perspective. Truth mattered to him above all else. Truth, he said, "never hurt anyone."
Continuing to hate brussel sprouts, or holding onto a belief because you're afraid of losing face, is kryptonite to success. Well, maybe not brussel sprouts, but you get my point. There's enough societal glass ceilings in place to keep you from growing; don't build your own.
Here's the problem as Aubrey Marcus CEO of Onnit sees it:
"We are conditioned in countless ways, and this conditioning becomes part of our belief structure. The most universal cultural conditioning is perhaps the idea that money, success, handsomeness, or a beautiful partner, will bring us happiness. And it may for a moment. We will give ourselves love and praise for ‘doing a good job’, according to our conditioning. But this is always short-lived. As soon as we achieve that goal, we will lose our purpose of fighting for that goal, so we will have to reinvent a new purpose. Maybe MORE success, wealth, fame, or lovers. But that fails too. So imagine our disappointment, our disenchantment, when we finally realize our belief structure is faulty! But all too often instead of questioning our conditioning, we question ourselves instead. We choose to believe that we are broken, that we are ‘depressed’, or we have a ‘chemical imbalance’ -- rather than believe we are just operating under a false hypothesis."
In a recent Daily Stoic email, bestselling author Ryan Holiday pushed this thought one step further by asking, "Holding different beliefs today than you did ten years ago? That’s called growth, maturity, evolution. Being won over by someone else’s argument is not a sign of a weak mind...it’s proof of an open mind. The best kind to have!"
No matter how you define success, living a fulfilling life hinges on adopting a belief of growth and evolution above all else. It's as fundamental to life as oxygen is to breathing.
Personal beliefs are chronic self-fulfilling prophecies. This is a good thing when your beliefs serve you, as you’re likely to create a positive upward spiral that lifts you toward success. But you need to learn how to overcome limiting beliefs when they are negative. Otherwise you'll be stuck in a life playing out like Groundhog Day, without the comedic relief of Bill Murray.
A lot of coaches are goal driven. A lot of personal development is goal driven. A lot of life is goal driven. Yet, goals are a horrible measure of success. Because for 95% of the people out there, goals are set and based on your limiting beliefs. Or they fall into the trap of setting a goal like, "I will make a million dollars by the end of the year." You have to remind your Uncle Terry that he works at Taco Bell and still owes you a hundred bucks.
That's why I don't even set goals with clients until we've spent time working on the foundation pieces. Sure, it might feel like it's the goal you're after, but what you'll come to realize is that it's about so much more. It's about growth and becoming the person who can accomplish that goal. It's the feeling you desire, not the outcome.
One of the biggest beliefs that sabotages success is tied into procrastination. This comes back to three things in most cases. Looking to bake a cake of procrastination? Here are the three ingredients.
1) Fear (of both success and failure)
3) Thinking our work isn't good enough
Each of these stems from a laundry list of beliefs you have about yourself. Multi bestselling author Cal Newport introduced me to a fourth that I had never thought of. You need a plan. It wasn't until much later in my life when I became a coach that I really understood how a plan works. "Fail to plan, plan to fail." Some dude named Benjamin Franklin said that. Look him up. He's kind of a big deal. He's everything your Uncle Terry wishes he was. The difference? Franklin had a plan.
In nearly all cases, what keeps you from doing what you want to do is that your brain doesn't buy your plan. And in order for your brain to buy into your plan, it needs to believe it's possible. Experience is what the brain uses as evidence behind your beliefs. Your job is to expose yourself to people doing what you want to do. Give it a new perspective and something to believe in.
I've worked out regularly for most of my adult life. I've done crossfit (injured myself), sessions with a personal trainer (ridiculously expensive) and the typical standard gym (so bloody boring). Then I did a whole lot of nothing for a year or two. I adopted a belief that working out was work. I already went to work; why the hell would I want to do more work? Work sucks.
I decided to give it another try. Tacking on thirty pounds will do that to you. There's a gym ten minutes by foot from my back door. It seemed like the perfect fit. Close proximity meant distance wasn't a valid excuse. They even gave me a fob for 24/7 access so I was really starting to run out of reasons for me not to go.
I went once in four months. It wasn't fear, it wasn't perfectionism and I wasn't wrapped up in thinking I wasn't good enough. I thought willpower would be enough to get my ass to the gym. How did I expect my brain to buy into the idea that I'd go when I felt like it? I had no bloody plan to follow.
My girlfriend Lindsey heard about a gym called Shift that does classes. She took advantage of a trial period and came home raving about the experience. I had just left my 9-5 and knew I needed some structure and a reason to get up each morning, so I joined too.
Not to mention, I've read enough to know that emotion comes from motion. If my business had any chance of being successful, my mind is the most important resource I have. I had to get over this belief that the gym wasn't for me. I need to keep my mind humming if I want to perform at a level that allows me to take advantage of opportunities. And to ride the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship.
I put together a plan to set me up for success. I sign up for classes two weeks in advance and use 4 pm as a definitive end time for my work day. I spend zero time thinking about going to the gym or stirring up motivation because it's set in my schedule. I went from going once in four months, to 4-5x a week for the last year and a half. It's been a game changer for my mental health.
Sometimes, I'll find my monkey brain is still chasing bananas at the start of class. I'm distracted by what happened during the day. Entire workouts have disappeared lost in thought. I felt robbed of the experience. Joe Rogan mentioned having a similar issue before realizing what it meant. If he had the energy to get lost in these thoughts, it was energy he was diverting away from his workout. The cure it turns out is a simple one. Give it your all. Every last ounce of your energy. Replaying my day when I'm working out is not an effective use of my time or energy. Working out is an effective use of my energy.
The gym is the perfect place to see and crush your limiting beliefs. On those days you feel that's all you have, you're basing that on a belief that it’s all you're capable of. But in a class, you're in a community of people who push you beyond the status quo.
For thousands of years, people held the belief that it was impossible for a human to run the mile in less than four minutes. But in 1954, Roger Bannister did it. Within a year, 37 other runners did the impossible. The year after, 300. His experience provided a reference that it was possible. That has nothing to do with physical ability and everything to do with your mental capacity to grow.
Setting a plan you can stick to helps you eliminate all the reasons that keep you from doing the work you know needs to be done. You are what your choices make you, nothing more and nothing less.
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said that “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.” This speaks to the fact that holding tightly onto beliefs is about getting out of your own way. I had always attached a belief that working out was about looking good. That didn't exactly serve as a long lasting emotional buy-in. But changing my belief that it's part of my identity, of who I am at my very core - a healthy, energetic, creative, it's now who I am as a person.
In the same sense that you can always tell smokers from non-smokers by the language they use. Would you like a smoke? "No thanks, I'm trying to quit." That person still associates and believes they are a smoker. Versus, "No thanks, I don't smoke." They've changed how they view themselves and their identity.
One will forever lead to temptation and surviving on willpower, the other is a line drawn in the sand, with a decision to choose their identity. The choice to choose empowering beliefs over disempowering beliefs is always present. The choice is yours to make. No one has the ability to take that personal power away from you unless you decide to hand it over.
This little flip of the switch takes a lot of the pressure off your goals. Because you start to see that you're learning more from your failures than you are in your successes. If you're never coming up short on your goals, you're not giving yourself enough credit to push you somewhere you could fail. Pick a goal and go all in.
Goals should push you out of your comfort zone and force you to think long term.
You aren't striving for greatness; you're taking steps towards the person you're capable of becoming. It can sometimes feel like you're being rushed to the surface of the ocean with a tank empty of oxygen. Come up too quick and you'll suffer some serious side effects. You have to suffer through the pain of a slow descent to survive. It's the same for entrepreneurship. You need to take your time if you have any hope of surviving.
Recognize that you cannot change what's out of your control, but you can change your mind. This is the very basis of what helped me make the choices that I needed to make so I could live a life aligned my with my values. Author, lecturer and activist Marianne Williamson put it in terms that remind us that, "We are the product of our choices, so it is essential that we choose well. This week, consider and reflect on the choices you have: about your emotions, your actions, your beliefs, and your priorities."