12 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Do you remember the first job or career you ever dreamed about having when you were really young? I do. I was five or six years old and completely in love with horses, so naturally, I wanted to be a horse jockey. Yep, I wanted to fly down a track vying for first place while getting dirt flung in my face by the competition’s pounding hooves.
Okay, I didn’t actually dream about the dirt part — that realization came much later — but not before my dream was quickly shot down by my mother. It was well-intended, of course. After all, I was off the charts with my growth and my pediatrician predicted that I’d grow to be over 6 feet, far taller than the typical tiny horse jockey.
After my mother broke the sad news to me that I’d never be a horse jockey, I gave up on that dream and identified another. Naturally, I let my heart lead and picked another sport I loved: gymnastics. I got the same “Oh, you can’t do that” from my mother and for the same reason: too tall.
Now before you go thinking that my mother was a mean-spirited dream-killer, it wasn’t like that at all. She was being practical and “realistic.” She was taking what she observed to be true up to that point (that jockeys and gymnasts are very small) and was transposing it onto my dreams, all with the good intention of sparing me heartbreak when my ambitions hit the wall of the “real world”.
Beliefs can limit or multiply possibilities
But isn’t that the rub?
Being “practical” or restricting your ambitions to what others have already achieved limits your own possibilities, and, frankly, what might be possible for everyone else, too. Even more damaging is how limiting beliefs affect your personal well-being, world view and outer reality. What you believe to be possible or true directly impacts not only your emotional and mental states, but also directly impacts the actions you take or don’t.
A perfect example of limiting beliefs in action is when everyone “knew” that it was “impossible” to run a mile in under four minutes. For the longest time, no one could achieve a sub-four-minute mile. That is, until Roger Bannister did it on May 6, 1954. And then do you know what happened? Like magic, a lot of other people started recording sub-four-minute miles — and doing it even faster than Bannister.
So how was it that so many people had tried but no one had managed to beat the clock for so long? Because everyone (incorrectly) “knew” it was “impossible”. It was an accepted belief and scientific “fact” that the human body was incapable of such speed until the day that Bannister disproved all of it.
Humans’ brains are wired for safety and familiarity in all their forms: physical, mental and emotional. The need for safety and familiarity often shows up as risk avoidance, and failure is perceived to be one of the biggest risks. Therefore, if you buy into a collective belief that something is impossible to do or hold a belief that it’s impossible for you personally, then your brain will label it as extremely risky and call up all the reasons why failure is assured, even before you’ve started. You’ve got to believe something is possible and possible for you – or at least that there’s a chance it could be – to even attempt to achieve an outcome.
Beware of other people’s opinions
Sadly, we often accept others’ opinions and judgments about us as incontrovertible truth, especially when they come from our family or authority figures. As a result, we reduce ourselves, our ambitions and our abilities to perceive opportunities outside the invisible boundaries of limitation that we’ve accepted as true. Over time, our big, creative, outside-the-box thinking gets conditioned out of us. We subconsciously integrate these dream-killing experiences and messages, especially when they come disguised at what’s considered reasonable, practical or realistic.
Especially as children, we’re chided for dreaming big and wanting to take risks. We’re told that what we want is dangerous or it’s simply impossible. Then as adults, we’re so accustomed to hearing that our dreams are crazy, that our goals are impossible, or that our ideas are too radical that we default to doing what seems safe and realistic, squashing our own dreams, desires and ambitions under a deluge of “good reasons”. All of this limits who we are and what we’re capable of, to the detriment of all.
I’ve sometimes wondered what different life path I might have taken if instead of “You’ll be too tall” my mother had said, “I don’t think there’s ever been a jockey as tall as you before, but you could be the first”. Maybe I would’ve pursued a career riding…
Read More: 3 Practices to Unleash Your Limitless Self