It’s nine o’clock in the morning and Mary is attending a meeting at work. All the top managers are there to discuss solutions to the latest strategic set back their company has recently experienced. Mary is there because she is brilliant, hard working and fair. She exhibits as close to model behavior as one can imagine when it comes to her interactions with all associates across the company. It’s hard not to like Mary, or appreciate her contribution to the company. Yet when the president of the company seeks out volunteers from around the table to lead a course of action, she clams up. Ultimately, another manager agrees to the role and Mary offers her full support.
Why did Mary not volunteer? What held her back? Numerous writers have explained how our core beliefs lie at the root of our growth and any impediments to that growth. Our behaviors follow our beliefs, even if we’re not fully aware of the core belief on a conscious level. Mary has a core belief that stopped her. I’m going to go out on a limb here since I made up the story of Mary and say that what most likely stopped her was the belief that she couldn’t lead the initiative. Perhaps she actually had that thought. Or perhaps she rationalized her inaction away by thinking it would be a good opportunity for someone else. Whatever the level of awareness, “I can’t” is a core belief “king”. It leads a chain of inhibiting beliefs. We all have them. There are many things we believe we can’t do, attain, or even try. The more you are able to manage the “King”, the more you can take control of your thoughts, and your life. You don’t need to accomplish it all, and you certainly shouldn’t chastise yourself if you don’t. Sometimes your journey moves in a different direction, and as discussed below, that is fine – just re-order or re-prioritize your aspirations and visions. (The subject of “absolute” thoughts, such as “must”, “need” and others is a topic for another article). What is offered here is a method to identify and take control of your “I can’t” beliefs rather than let them control you. It’s a way to change the frame of reference from passive to active. From victim to owner.
The technique for managing your “I Can’t” beliefs is to reclassify them. This is more expedient than trying to discard them. Think of the famous example of asking someone not to think of a pink elephant – of course they will immediately visualize a pink elephant. So asking your mind to stop thinking about what you can’t do will forever spiral out of control and bring those negative beliefs and thoughts into your day. Instead, take control of them by re-organizing them into the following categories:
That’s it. But of course it isn’t as simple as it seems is it? You can try doing this in your head, but I recommend writing down all the things you believe you can’t do and categorizing them into things you will do and things you won’t do. Then add to this list those things you already have decided fit into either category. By doing so, you are weakening the King’s influence and choosing what you will and won’t accomplish. For example, instead of stating “I can’t lose weight”, you may elect to say “I won’t lose weight.” If that brings you happiness, leave it at that. There is, however, a hidden trick of the mind influencing either category. Be wary of any “but’s” or “if’s” that may sit silently behind your emphatic “wills” and “won’ts”. Are any of these aspirations really framed around an excuse? For example, “I would divorce my spouse, but the family would be devastated.” “I would get promoted but there’s no position for me to fill.” “I would learn to golf but I don’t have the time.” If so, you’ve uncovered the King’s army of clandestine blockers and tacklers who are holding up your ability to get your life on the path you dream of. Now you’re on to something. As you go through this list, listen carefully for excuses, for the words “except for” or “but.” Stick to “I will” and “I won’t.” Don’t say “I would.” This will focus you on the root beliefs which likely are holding you back the most.
Start with the premise that there’s nothing you can’t do. From there, divide up your aspirations into those you will accomplish and those you choose not to. Ferret out the excuses and change your “I would or could but…” into either “I will” or “I won’t.” If you decide not to divorce, that’s your decision. Own it. If you decide you will not get promoted, put it in the “I won’t” category. Know that you can and should review this list frequently and change it as you go. You should match it to your visualizations and if there is any mismatch, reclassify what you need to so it all lines up. Then smile, take a deep breath, and delight in your power over the “King.” Let your aspirations come true. You deserve them.
John Siegart is an attorney who also holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology. He currently manages the legal department of a specialized insurance group based in New Hampshire. He is interested in both the art and science of management and team interaction, as well as the broader concepts of achieving happiness and fulfilment in life. He refuses to use the term “work-life balance” because that implies the two are somehow at odds with each other. There is just “life.”
John’s interests are broad because his curiosity takes him on journeys he never initially considered. One interest leads to another. He enjoys family, hiking, skiing, brewing his own ale recipes, cooking and carpentry. He is currently enjoying the challenge and calming effects of playing the didgeridoo. Above all else, John’s passion is writing prose, fiction and philosophical essays as well as music. His blog: goingofftrail.com, connects the physical aspects of bushwhacking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the journey of finding and traveling your own path in life.