a brain held within hands

And understand our brilliant protective minds

In my last post, I discussed some of my pet hates from the world of Personal development or self-improvement. Most of the proponents in the space use approaches rooted in positive psychology and techniques that focus on challenging negative beliefs and taking action to cultivate a healthy mindset.

We may achieve this by asking if the belief is true and then reframing it by creating a new positive belief to reframe it. Perhaps by asking, “What if I believed the opposite?”

Others encourage taking small steps towards a goal even if it feels scary. This builds confidence while, in the meantime, we practise self-care.

Some believe that by sharing our fears and insecurities, we’ll understand we’re not alone and can build relationships to support us in overcoming these limiting beliefs.

In contrast, there are those who recognise “limiting beliefs” are a protection. They stem from our ego, that part of the brain that filters our experiences and grades them. The part that seeks pleasure and avoids pain.

So, when we feel anxious, our brain is sending us a warning signal. The anxiety may stem from a reminder of a negative experience, which is being interpreted as a current threat. By avoiding this new experience, we avoid feeling a repeat of the pain. The trouble is we avoid the pain, but also avoid the new experience. Freud called this the Superego seeking an ideal self.

The result is a safe but false version of ourselves. The bigger downside is we then feel empty. A dead inside feeling that leads to depression and all manner of psychological problems.

There are alternative views in the Self-Help space. The late Wayne Dyer and others also recognised the influence of the ego on our thoughts and how it holds us back by reinforcing our so-called limiting beliefs.

So, how do we overcome this challenge?

Some find mindfulness quietens the mind and allows for being in the present moment as a way of letting go of the ego. Other forms of spiritual practice also appear to help those who follow them.

Our experiences, both positive and negative, help form our beliefs. Whatever the cause of beliefs about ourselves, if we don’t find a way of dealing with the beliefs causing us to be fearful and hold back, we will prevent ourselves from achieving the things we are seeking and reaching our potential.

I believe we have to find a way of dealing with the thoughts and beliefs which are irrational at a conscious level. When we can root out the causes, the old painful & negative experiences, and bring them into awareness in the present moment, deal with the old pain and see them as the real but now historic relics of the past, they cease to be blocks or barriers to our happiness. We then consign their negative influence on the present situation to history.

So how do we begin?

There are many differing approaches. Detractors often accuse psychotherapy of being slow, but there are many genres of psychotherapy, at least thirty and probably more. Then there are more specific approaches, such as Rewind Therapy or EMDR for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.

Approaches such as NLP and Hypnotherapy have emerged from some of the earlier therapeutic approaches and have grown in popularity as they promise a quicker solution.

What’s important is we have to stop treating our thoughts as something to fix and instead seek to understand why we think the way we do. Rather than treating our thoughts and beliefs as something we have to overcome, we should thank them for keeping us safe and then free them to be alert to any real dangers.

Coaching can be a valuable tool and becomes potent when coupled with an approach which can remove any blocks that prevent us from moving forward. In short, when we understand limiting beliefs are simply the brain’s way of keeping us safe, we can stop trying to suppress them or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, we must seek to understand them, get help to free them from unnecessary roles as protectors, and free ourselves to live full, healthy lives.

Are you willing to do what it takes to free yourself from old unnecessary constraints?

NB: Psychosis, other mental health conditions or personality disorders requiring medical and/or psychiatric treatment are not included here, and professional advice should be sought where they may be present.