What We Say About Ourselves (and why it matters)

What if I have spent many decades of my life putting limits my own potential?

The reality is that we all do.

We limit our potential and self-growth. And it has nothing to do with the goals we set/don’t set, or the education we strive for, or the habits we work hard to break/make. It has everything to do with the words we say.

 

WHAT WE SAY ABOUT OURSELVES

And I don’t mean negative opinions and constant complaining (that is a whole other topic we could cover). I’m talking about those side comments we toss around in conversation, those moments where we are muttering at ourselves under our breath. Any time we describe who we are or who we aren’t we are limiting ourselves. 

I will share some with you that I have said over the years and still catch myself saying. . . 

I’m not athletic [I’m Running My First 5K, Here’s Why]

I am not adventurous 

I don’t do heels

I’m kind of a stress case mom [Mothering Through Anxiety]

I’m not strong

I am awkward in social settings

I’m not a writer I’m just a blogger [Write it Anyways]

I don’t wear nail polish [Moving from Frump to Fashion]

I’m a night owl

I’m a procrastinator

I’m lazy [I Stopped Calling Myself a Lazy Mom]

I can’t pull off wearing a maxi skirt

I’m such a clutz

The list goes on. I mean, this blog is one big essay of what I used to believe, how it held me back and how I am ugly crying in the tub and leg wrestling my limiting beliefs into submission. 

 

WHY IT MATTERS

What we see is a lot of me telling myself what I am and what I’m not. I wish I could say that I can ask myself if it is true and that is enough to help me break out of the box I put myself in. The truth of it matters, but what matters more is that the limiting still happens regardless of if it is true. The result is that when I think these things (internally) I perpetuate them and bring them to life externally. 

This model is explained by coaches and therapist through CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy): a situation arises, our brain thinks it’s default thoughts, these thoughts trigger certain emotions, and – since we are motivated by feelings – these feelings trigger certain behaviours. 

For example: I just had lunch and look at what isn’t done in the house and I think I am lazy. I will feel unproductive and shameful. What happens next is so subtle and powerful that when we see it play out we can start to master it in our own lives. What happens next is that when I think this thought, it makes me feel this certain way, and my feelings cause my actions and I ACT IT OUT.

How do I act when I feel unproductive and shameful? I stop making to-do lists, I get confused about my priorities, I get defensive about how I do spend my time. In my personal case, I deal with this feeling by shutting down and withdrawing from action. And when I act this way, I become lazier and less productive. We perpetuate what we believe to be true. 

The issue isn’t that these words are spoken out loud for myself and others to hear. The issue is that these words have existed in my mind and heart long before they were ever said out loud. The way we talk is a reflection of what we think and feel.  They are the outcomes of something that has already happened in our mind and hearts and when say it out loud and our body embraces it in a big reinforcing hug.

 

WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE

Our brains don’t stop us from thinking disempowering thoughts. It just wants to be efficient and search for proof that whatever mindset is in there is true. It seeks out constant confirmation for its beliefs (confirmation bias). 

If you believe you are a crappy mom, you will act it out and your brain will be happy to point out how right you are. If you believe that you hate seafood, you will avoid it as much as possible and never get to know if that is absolutely true in all cases. 

 

WHY WE BELIEVE THESE LIMITING SELF-DEFINITIONS

If I look at any of those examples of a limiting self-definition I would have to specifically dive into each one to find out where it came from.

It is not likely I sat with myself and thought rationally and consciously about who I am and if it is the absolute truth and if I even wanted to think that. These beliefs are not likely to have been generated from within but I pieced it together by how I perceive the world around reflecting me.  These limiting definitions could have been handed to me by a parent or teacher, or a self-comparison with others (siblings, the cool kids, other colleagues, other moms), or by my cultural beliefs, or by the pressure that I put on myself to perform to a certain (self-imposed) standard.

No matter how these mindsets rooted, what is important is that I search for where they show up, explore them, challenge them, and decide where I can choose better mindsets. 

 

 

HOW THEY KEEP US STUCK

I’m gonna take a few more examples and show you how they play out for me

Thought: I’m not athletic

Feeling: I feel overwhelmed by the thought of exercise, I feel silly for trying, I already feel defeated before I even show up at the gym, I don’t feel strong

Action: I will never buy workout clothes or runners (get equipped), I will not put myself out there very much, I won’t push myself, I won’t believe I belong

Result: I will be ineffective at exercise, I won’t see results through long-term work, I will remain in this belief that I am ‘not athletic’

 

Thought: I’m kind of a stress case mom

Feeling: stressed 

Action: let myself stay in a state of stress, don’t really take time to learn healthy coping or lower my stress, I will say ‘this is who I am, deal with it’, everything will remain stress-worthy

Result: I’m a stressed-out mom

 

CHANGING YOUR MIND ON WHO YOU ARE

Making general statements about what you are and what you aren’t is another weight you drag yourself down with. It keeps you from moving forward into the life that is possible for you. 

Being mindful of what we are thinking and feeling allows us to interrupt these thought loops running the show in our hearts and minds.

I am relieved to say I have wrestled with a few of these limiting self-definitions and have been able to open up and change my mind regarding what I believe to be true about myself.  When we can be open that what we believe about ourselves might not be true we can use that shaky ground to try out something different and learn that we could be/are something different. 

THOUGHT SHIFT: I’m not athletic….. but I want to be healthy, so I will move from ‘I am not athletic’ to ‘I want to learn how to exercise’. 

FEELING SHIFT: I’m curious

ACTION SHIFT: I bought runners, I watched exercise videos. I pushed myself to sweat and then drank a protein shake. I laughed at myself. 

I surrounded myself with women who can teach me and support me when I text them that I feel like I got thrown down a flight of stairs from yesterday’s run.

I mourned for the way I had been on auto-pilot. [Why Running Makes Me Cry]

I dug into the reasons why exercise is important to me and what I want it to look like.

Then…. I even bought a sports bra.

And now, I kinda like exercise (it’s ok, even I’m rolling my eyes at me with that one).

RESULT: I learned that I was wrong about myself and now I am healthier. 

 

HOW MIGHT YOU BE LIMITING YOURSELF?

What limiting self-definitions do you find yourself believing?

Whether or not you say them outloud they are there. Listen to yourself, listen to that soundtrack in your mind. 

Maybe it is:

I hate decluttering

I never have time to do this

I never finish what I start

I have no idea how to _____. 

 

I encourage you to listen more closely to yourself.

I encourage you to challenge these identities you build up for yourself. 

I encourage you to get rooted in what is TRUE about you (and if you are a Christian, like me, you will root this in what God says about you: daughter of a king, fearfully and wonderfully made, beautiful, forgiven, able to do anything through His strength, covered in His grace, constantly being offered His love). 

I encourage you to try new (healthy) things that feel contrary to who you believe they are.

I encourage you to be open and brave. 

 

If this is something you would like life coaching on, schedule yourself a free mini-session 

 

 

 

 

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