Getting started on personal development often begins with identifying behavioral patterns that aren’t serving us very well in adulthood. While this is a giant step in the right direction, there is another major aspect that is truly transformational.
That meaningful component is a deeper dive into the limiting beliefs and false narratives that are baked into those childhood behavioral patterns. These old stories and limited beliefs hold us back; they prevent us from exploring our full potential and building a deep reservoir of inner strengths.
So while we can change our outgrown behavioral patterns and begin to show up more maturely, if we don’t spend some time untangling ourselves from the beliefs and narratives we heard and absorbed in childhood, we might stunt our personal growth.
There’s no doubt that this is hard work and requires challenging ourselves in order to unlearn and relearn. It is one thing to be fully committed to new habits and big goals, but if we don’t release those limiting beliefs that reinforce self-doubt, there’s a strong likelihood we will self-sabotage our best laid plans. Unfortunately, this is often occurring unconsciously.
As we cultivate more self-awareness for our outgrown behavioral patterns, we can also become more attuned to negative self-talk and the excuses we give ourselves for not pursuing our dreams.
Our limiting beliefs and childhood narratives are often very nuanced and will require some careful “teasing out” of the threads that weave our stories. It is not only the behavior patterns and messaging we struggled with in childhood, it is all the complexities of our family dynamics that played a role as well.
As a child, we were the ones adapting all the time — to our parents, to their actions and responses to life, to all the life events that were occurring. We did not have the brain capacity to reason or rationalize. We did not have the authority to make decisions and make plans that accommodated our unique needs. We had a lot of emotions swirling through us but many went unspoken, unprocessed and misunderstood. So we tried to make sense of all those moving parts by telling ourselves a story. It is our childhood story that shapes us as we move into adulthood.
Often that childhood story serves as a nautical chart for us as we navigate the changing seas of life. While we cannot wait to row our own boat with full independence as we enter adulthood, we are unconsciously aware that our minds are full of obstacles — remnants of childhood that clutter our path. These are limiting beliefs and false narratives about who we really are.
Many of us carry these limiting beliefs far in to adulthood. It might be a scarcity mindset around money if we grew up poor or had parents who gambled or drank away money needed for rent and groceries. We might have body image issues believing we are too thin or too fat, uncoordinated or a weakling. We may believe we aren’t good at sports, or math, or that we just aren’t smart or talented enough to pursue our heart’s dreams. We may think that we have limited future career opportunities due to a lack of higher education. Messaging we get in our formative years can stick with us for a long time and limit us in many ways.
This is why it is so important to include self-reflection on our limiting beliefs and stories of who we thought we were, or were supposed to be, when we were kids as a key component of personal growth.
The above quote from Adam Grant is from his book “Think Again”. It really resonates when applied to childhood stories and the beliefs we were raised on. We cling hard to the stories written in childhood about who we are but the truth is that we were often judged, experienced and molded by others, mostly adults. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches — they all see different things in us. Many times they are simply reflecting back what they see in themselves. This is precisely why it is so important to really get to know ourselves as we go through adulthood. We now have agency and autonomy to pick and choose what is right for us, to develop those strengths and skills we are drawn to, to keep learning and growing forward.
I love having conversations with friends who share their stories of realizing that they were still clinging to outdated, outgrown limiting beliefs. Even when their current lived experiences and how they were actually conducting their lives was proof positive that those old beliefs were wrong, there was a little nagging voice inside keeping that old narrative running in the background.
Once they owned the fact that the old beliefs and limitations were a drag on their forward progress, they let go. They embraced their newfound freedom and acknowledged that all along they had been “learning their way out” of those old limitations.
This is the simple, marvelous truth. We are always learning — sometimes by accident, sometimes incidentally, and many times by choice and intentionality.
Learning is the catalyst for freeing ourselves from limiting beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves when we are in struggle– especially those stories we co-author with our inner critic. We can step back and get a fresh, updated perspective — then ask ourselves if what we are believing is true. We do not need to stay forever tethered to an old narrative about who we are. We are evolving through our lived experiences every single day.
When you find yourself in a state of confusion — smile! It means that the information stored in your brain from childhood is colliding with the knowledge, information and experiences you’ve accumulated since then! It’s a big opportunity to shift away from an unconscious reaction to a more nuanced, mature, informed response.
“After all, the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, it’s to evolve our beliefs.” — Adam Grant in his book Think Again
Again Adam Grant offers an invaluable piece of wisdom that can be applied to our personal growth journey. The purpose of cultivating self-awareness and spending time in discovery through self-reflection is to help us clean up the clutter from childhood. We can create a much better nautical map for navigating the vast seas of life by removing impediments like limiting beliefs and old outgrown stories about who we truly are.
When we begin to adopt a regular practice of perspective-taking, we super boost our natural curiosity. This is one child-like quality we should tap into! We also open up and are receptive to take in new information, ideas and stories from others. The natural desire to resist taking in anything that conflicts with our rigid beliefs or scares us loosens its grip. We begin to find ourselves more pliable and flexible with paradox, with opinions different than our own because lived experiences are also different. All of this culminates in a grounded confidence that allows us to be truly authentic with an ability to listen to understand without all those old limiting beliefs and stories getting in the way. That is where personal growth thrives.
I’m sharing this little footnote to this post because it’s become so clear to me that regardless of your age, this inner work of self-reflection around limiting beliefs is incredibly necessary and game-changing. Because we got a lot of things wrong in prior generations about how to deal with emotions, myths about vulnerability being weakness, shoving our family skeletons into closets, and double standards — even younger generations (20’s, 30’s and 40’s) need to do this work. You’ll see what I mean if you listen to the podcast episodes I’m including in recommended resources with this post. Doing this kind of inner growth work is what contributes to breaking dysfunction cycles of poor life skills for future generations.
4 Steps to Release “Limiting Beliefs” Learned from Childhood: Psychology Today: