Luckily, because I’ve been noticing and working on this pattern for some time, it was easier for me to catch that automatic thought and challenge it. Immediately, I thought, “wait a minute!” I reminded myself that this is exactly what I want to do more of and exactly what I have experience, skill, and passion doing – and I am confident in it!
And yet, even in that situation, one that was so perfectly aligned with who I am, my core values, and the goals I have set for myself – my lightning-quick automatic thought process went to “don’t agree; don’t risk it; stay small!” Protection mode – if we don’t dare to do things that may challenge us, we can’t get hurt, disappointed, embarrassed, or any other emotion or experience we may fear.
I know I’m not alone in this and I realized once again how deeply ingrained these types of reactions really are. If it happened in that ideal situation, how often does it happen in our daily lives that we don’t catch it? Especially when it comes to situations that are new or different? How often are we avoiding being challenged, avoiding trying new things, or avoiding putting ourselves in situations where we may experience vulnerability?
We have so many outdated “scripts”, old stories that are running in the background of our minds, based on our upbringing and earliest experiences.
If we haven't done the work necessary to recognize, challenge or change them, they are calling the shots, running the show, dictating our perception, and essentially, making choices for us. Over time, if we lack the self-awareness needed to fully see this, we tend to turn these tendencies into personality or character traits (“oh, that’s just how I am”), when that is not accurate at all. Rather, they are defense mechanisms, put into place at a time in our lives when we had limited life experience and limited coping strategies. They then became a “story” we told, and continue to tell, ourselves and others – we believed them so they were “true”.
When we learn to slow down and drop in on, and check out those automatic reactions, we can learn about the messages attached to them. Messages that likely have some aspect of vulnerability embedded within them depending on what our young brains accepted as fact, in childhood and adolescence – that then became our “story”. We constantly put labels and limitations on ourselves: “I’m capable of “this”, but not “that”, “I am “this”, but not “that”.”
Let’s use as an example, a belief someone has that they are not funny. It is a story they may have told themselves, based on messages or experiences they encountered when they were young that made it, for whatever reason, not feel “safe” to be funny. Perhaps as a child they told their father a joke and his response was, “that’s not funny”. If their father was an important person in their life, and they wanted his affection and approval, that very simple statement likely carried an emotional impact.
Then maybe their father, or perhaps even an older sibling, made a similar statement on another occasion. It touched on that same emotion from the first time it happened and their brain became trained to seek out supporting evidence to further prove, “I’m not funny”.
By “safe”, I don’t mean on a physical level (unless there was an abusive situation), but emotionally. As children, we try to avoid overwhelming emotions like sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, and shame. So, we change ourselves in certain ways to avoid experiencing these emotions (i.e. we stop telling jokes or trying to be funny so that we do not get criticized or negatively judged by the people we care about.)
Once we become aware of the stories that are running in our minds, dictating our here and now experiences, we become empowered! Because only then can change, that is based on conscious, present-moment, heart-guided information, happen.
This is one of the biggest reasons why people struggle with creating, sticking with, and achieving goals, or forming new habits. They often don’t have a solid basis of understanding their ingrained tendencies, their conditioned responses, and the underlying limiting beliefs that form the foundation from which they are living their lives.
One of the primary areas I focus on in life coaching sessions is self-awareness. It is such a broad term that I’m sure people interpret it in many different ways. And it actually does mean different things. It can relate to “mindful presence” – being able to tap into a deeper, more attuned quality of life. But in order to achieve this, there must be a level of understanding of our core.
It is from a place of deep self-awareness (understanding the process of how our conditioned thoughts and beliefs impact our emotions, which then impact everything else), that we can change and transform. We are not our thoughts, not our beliefs or stories.
It is liberating to know that once we have this realization, once we understand why we developed certain beliefs or traits, and how they may still be holding us back or limiting our potential, we can choose to take control.
Ask yourself if a certain belief or way of thinking feels authentically true or right to you as the person you are now. Basically, is it still working for you? If not, you have the ability to re-create yourself to be the person you want to be now. When you can change your perception, you truly can change your life experience!
For more on Thinking Traps and Limiting Beliefs
If this is a topic you would like to explore more fully, check out reasons why people participate in coaching to do just that!
Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides interactive 1:1 coaching services, as well as corporate workshops.