In this post: The story of how I found and released one of my self-limiting beliefs, and how you might be able to do the same with less willpower, more fun.
I didn’t get invited to many parties in high school.
I was cool with everyone, good at school and sports, and confident (too confident). But I had a self-limiting belief:
I thought I was unsocial.
Some people are born schmoozers, status seekers, and charismatic. Not me. “I am who I am,” I thought. So I sat on the social game’s sidelines. If Travis didn’t invite me to the kegger he was throwing while his parents were out of town, that was his problem.
By teenager standards, I was comfortable in my own skin.
But I shouldn’t have been.
You’re deluding yourself.
My self-limiting belief that I was unsocial gave me a misguided vision of what I was capable of.
I thought my potential was here:
To use the model from my post on expanding your comfort zone, I was looking toward my delusion bubble:
According to the Big 5 CANOE personality model, only a handful of traits remain relatively constant throughout adulthood:
- Openness to experience
Unsociableness doesn’t fit into the model. How appropriate, right?
So while I may be introverted, I’m equally open, reasonably conscientious, somewhat agreeable, and not neurotic. This means that nothing about my personality destines me to have my self-limiting belief.
My true potential could be bigger and more realistic—somewhere more like this:
But I didn’t see it. So, as self-limiting identities do, this held me back.
You’re driving with the handbrake on.
Occasionally, I’d have a bout of inspiration and fight it. Someone would invite me to a party and I’d gather up the willpower to act like a smiley, energetic, friendly, charismatic guy.
But it felt inauthentic. And since I’m a crappy actor, I looked it. So not once did I wake up the next morning with a phone full of invites to do more cool stuff and go to more parties in the future.
Instead, I woke up exhausted from all the effort of faking it. And this reinforced my self-limiting belief that I’m not a social guy.
But that wasn’t my problem.
My real problem?
To use an analogy from Nobel-Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, I was hammering on the accelerator with the handbrake on.
How to Identify Self-Limiting Beliefs
Self-limiting beliefs are handbrakes. But we have no flashing exclamation mark symbol on our mental dashboards to warn us when they’re engaged.
Because of this, we grind through our lives, exerting unnecessary energy to go slower than we could, all the while making a stink about it.
That almost certainly would’ve been my fate with my unsocial handbrake if not for an unintended savior:
I’ll let you in on a secret: I work on The Unconventional Route for the egotistical purpose of validating my self-worth by having others visit and benefit from my advice.
But here’s the funny thing about advice:
It backfires—in a good way.
As I learned from Angela Duckworth, one of the best ways to give advice to someone is to have them advise someone else on that same topic. This motivates the advisor to not be a hypocrite and follow their own advice.
And that’s what happened to me. I my summary of one of my favorite sledgehammer books, Mindset, I passed on Carol Dweck’s advice to find self-limiting beliefs with what she calls “fixed mindset triggers“:
- When do you feel overly anxious, incompetent, or defeated?
- When do you react defensively to criticism or feel angry or crushed from feedback?
- When do you make excuses?
- When do you feel envious or threatened by someone, rather than motivated by their success?
- When have you said, “I’m not very good at ______” or “I’m really good at ______”?
This motivated me to try these questions for myself:
- I feel overly anxious, incompetent, or defeated… in group social situations.
- I make excuses… for not having a strong professional network because I’m unsocial.
- I’ve been known to say, “I’m not very good at… first impressions.”
And that’s when I finally noticed the handbrake light in my head.
How do you release a handbrake?
Through trial, error, and little success, I’d already learned that willpower-ing my way past my self-limiting belief didn’t work.
So what could I do instead?
My first clue came via Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics:
Willpower is not the answer. Self-image management is.
Aha. Change my self-image. Got it.
But hold on. Releasing this handbrake wasn’t as simple as grabbing it, pulling hard, and letting it loose. My “unsocial-ness” had calcified over decades of delusion and self-justifying reinforcement.
So that’s where clue number two came in. I found it in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits:
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
This made sense… in theory. But swinging my personal polls from “unsocial” to “social” would take a ton of votes. Wouldn’t that require an oil tanker’s worth of willpower?
Only If I acted toward a self-image I didn’t believe in.
But not if I knew I had it in me.
So I discovered a workaround:
Find an intrinsic quality you already believe you have that is inconsistent with your self-limiting belief. Then reinforce that quality through your actions.
This amounts to filling in the following blanks:
I don’t need to believe I’m ________ anymore. I will act more ________ instead.
In my case, I see myself as actively open-minded and a lifelong learner. And I believe I’m empathetic and want the best for other people. These are qualities that would require minimal willpower to reinforcing through my actions.
So I could reframe my approach to social situations:
Rather than put on an act of being an extrovert, which I will never be, I can put it in the context as an opportunity to practice my social skills and find ways to make the people I interact with feel good.
And doing so would loosen my handbrake.
The best part?
It doesn’t feel exhausting. It feels natural. It’s even kind of fun.
It never stops.
If you were to meet me today, you’d realize within a matter of minutes that I still have a lot of work to do on my social skills.
Well screw you!
No, really, that’s fine.
Because now I believe my unsocial-ness isn’t a genetic defect. It’s a weakness—a handbrake—that I can get rid of with practice.
And I have. If you had met me years ago, then were to meet me again today, you’d see how far I’ve come.
Yes, I’ve still got a long way to go. And I’ve got an untold number of other self-limiting beliefs to work on—pride, independence, and poor aesthetics, to name a few I’m aware of.
But now that I’ve figured out how to find and release them, I don’t mind. It’s part of the journey. And with every handbrake I release, that ride gets smoother, faster, and more fun.
More Examples of Releasing Self-Limiting Beliefs
Back in April 2021, 35 brave souls accompanied me on a “30-Day Redirect,” in which we went through a bunch of exercises to deflect our lives paths from this:
Here are some examples of what others came up with:
- I don’t need to believe I’m bad at planning anymore. I will act more like a proactive leader instead. – Adrian
- I don’t need to believe I’m controlling anymore. I will act more like a risk-taker instead. – Jessee
- I don’t need to believe I’m difficult to like anymore. I will act more outgoing and adventurous instead. – Christine
- I don’t need to believe I’m too easily impressionable anymore. I will act more originally and focused instead. – Simon
- I don’t need to believe I’m a wimp anymore. I will act more action-oriented toward what I care about instead. – Tiffany
- I don’t need to believe I’m unfettered anymore. I will act more adaptable instead. – Jamie
- I don’t need to believe I’m directionless anymore. I will act more brave instead. – Dorothy
- I don’t need to believe I’m hard to get along with anymore. I will act more thought-provoking instead. – Maciej
- I don’t need to believe I’m high-strung anymore. I will act more calmly instead. (And use the Alexander Technique.) – Frances
Let me know what handbrake you find and how you plan to release it in the comments or via email.
Here’s a suggestion:
I don’t need to believe I’m the type of person who never responds to blog posts anymore. I will act more proactive and adventurous instead. – You
Keep fighting the status quo.
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