"Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right." – Henry Ford
This classic quote from Henry Ford comes to mind when I think about the power of self-beliefs. Our self-beliefs shape who we are, what we do or won’t do, how we feel about things, the type of goals we set for ourselves and how we set out to achieve our goals. According to Ford, our beliefs in ourselves is a determining factor in our success.
As a performance coach, a big part of my job is to have coaching conversations with professionals and managers about their challenges in careers as well as in their personal life. Despite my coaching focus is mainly on the now and the future of my clients, our conversations on their current problems inevitably lead to discussion about childhood experiences. It is not uncommon that certain unhelpful beliefs which were formed in early childhood manifested into mental blocks holding them back as adults.
The Chained Elephant
Image by extracted from exploringyourmind.org
Have you heard of the story "The Chained Elephant" by psychologist Jorge Bucay?
The story is about a little boy who asked the question ‘Why an enormously powerful circus elephant, one that displayed tremendous strength in it’s performance, would not use its strength to free itself from being chained to a stake, which was just a little piece of wood in the ground?’ It wasn’t until years later that someone wise explained to him that the circus elephant did not even try to escape because it was fastened to a stake since it was very little. You can imagine how that baby elephant must have tried with all its strength to free itself, but despite all its efforts, the stake would prove to be stronger than it. So an idea that it is not strong enough to overturn the stake was formed in the young elephant’s memory. Over time, the young elephant accepted this idea and resigned to it’s fate that it cannot free itself from the stake.
Eventually the little elephant grew into an enormous elephant, but it never questioned that memory. So the powerful elephant was held back, not by the small piece of wood in the ground, but by it’s belief that it simply could not.
Like the elephant, many of us can go through life hanging onto outdated beliefs about ourselves, and thus limit us from achieving our true potential.
How to transform limiting beliefs?
The good news is that beliefs are flexible in their early stages, but over time, as we keep collecting references and proofs to support those initial ideas, they will grow stronger and more robust. So while our children are still young, we have opportunities to help them transform unhelpful beliefs before they become too deeply ingrained and rooted into their nervous system. We can help them develop a set of belief system that supports rather than limits them.
Help your child identify their limiting beliefs.
The very first step to helping your child transform a limiting belief is to identify what that limiting belief is. Interestingly, when you start paying closer attention to your child’s beliefs, you will also discover the potential beliefs that are behind some of their unhelpful habits.
Take procrastination as an example, if you have a child who is constantly procrastinating over everything, or one who puts off dealing with anything that is hard. Watch out for potential limiting beliefs such as:
“I am just not good enough…”
“I can’t live up to expectations…”
“I can’t handle this….”
“I must never put myself out there because I will just be humiliated…. ”
“I should not do anything that I already know I can’t do…”
“I must never take a risk that is beyond what I can do because if I do, I will fail…”
Your child could have chosen to procrastinate instead of doing what they need to do as a result of one or more of these beliefs. And based on their limiting beliefs, they may have formed the rule to prioritize short-term pleasure over long-term pleasure.
Help them see that beliefs are not necessarily facts.
Our beliefs are often conclusions that we have drawn based on our past experiences, they are based on how we interpreted the situations at the time, they are not facts. Help your child debunk their limiting belief by helping them see how the unhelpful belief they are holding onto is not a fact.
For example, if they have a believe that ‘they can’t live up to expectations…’, point out to them all those times when they did, and keep pointing them out every time they did live up to or even exceeded expectations.
Help your child reprogram their mind with empowering beliefs.
Hep your child make the connection that their growth is not fixed or confined to their natural abilities. That they can be good at anything they want when they put in the efforts and practice. Think about the type of future outcome you would hope for your child, the type of person you would like them to become, the values you would like them to uphold, then think about the beliefs that are in consistent with these desired outcomes. Consistently find references and examples that support these new beliefs.
Some examples of empowering beliefs are:
- I am can do this if I put in effort to learn and practice.
- What I have to say is important.
- I am not afraid, only excited for what’s ahead.
- Mistakes help me learn.
- I am smart – when I practice, I am adding to my knowledge, and my smart building goes taller.
“What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.” Tony Robbins
When we help our children identify with what they can do, not what they can’t do. When we help them see who they really are, the truth about themselves, that they are respected, interesting, resourceful, that they can handle new things and master them too, that people like them, that their opinions count, that they are important and have value. When children are being guided to see that they are all those things, they feel and believe they are powerful.
When things are left to chances, end results are uncertain, but when we take a deliberate focus on creating empowering beliefs in our children when they are young, we ensure they grow from a foundation that supports rather than limits, knowing their beliefs of themselves is key to who they become and what their future outcomes will be.
Your Parenting Partner x