“Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.”
– Maxwell Maltz, American surgeon and author of Psycho-Cybernetics
Growing up on a farm, I repaired and built more than my share of fences.
Barbed wire fences, page-wire fences — even plank and rail fences.
One of the simplest yet most effective fences I ever installed was an electric fence.
These fences have a couple strands of wire through which a current of electricity flows.
Not the kind of electricity that’s dangerous; just the kind that gives you a jolt, like static electricity you get from walking on carpets — a sudden, sharp zap.
These fences work especially well for horses. Wires stretch all around the perimeter of the field and as the horses walk from place to place they quickly learn where they can go and where they don’t want to venture.
Usually a curious horse will touch the wire with its muzzle.
All it takes is a few brushes against the wire, a few sudden, startling zaps and, being smart animals, the horses learn to look but not to touch.
They learn so well, in fact, that after a while the farmer can turn off the electricity or even replace the wires with strings and those horses will stay put, fenced in by nothing at all, stopped in their tracks by a thought.
If we think about it, we’re no different than the horses penned behind the electrified fence. We may have had a shocking experience in the past and now find ourselves enclosed behind notions of unworthiness, lack of personal value or any number of self-defeating beliefs.
Whatever you feed the mind, it begins to believe. Consider this: each person has a view of the world and themselves, along with specific rules that govern his or her behaviour and responses to stimulus. Once we accept certain ideas as fundamentally true, we seldom re-examine them.
If we are ever to break through stubbornness and habit, we must be willing to re-examine our beliefs and challenge them.
We must shine the bright light of awareness on what we consider to be true.
Here’s a simple yet powerful technique I use to target self-defeating beliefs.
Choose one area of your life that feels deficient and decide what you would like to believe about it (as opposed to what you actually believe at the moment).
List the area of deficiency and then write down the ideal belief next to it — areas like self-esteem, health, prosperity, creativity or relationships.
For the sake of this piece, let’s use self-esteem and the ideal belief: I love and accept myself just the way I am.
Create three columns on a piece of paper and write, “self-esteem,” in the left column and, “I love and accept myself just the way I am,” in the middle column.
Now just be still for a few minutes and notice what bubbles to the surface of your conscious mind (especially when you state the ideal belief out loud).
Write down these thoughts in the third column, no matter how irrelevant they might initially appear.
The process is similar to free association.
Repeat the process six to seven times and you’ll soon discover the column begins to fill up with a list of negative and self-defeating assumptions.
I used the word “assumptions” because much of what we believe to be truth is simply assumption – uninvestigated thought that will crumble under the weight of serious scrutiny.
When I first did this exercise on self-esteem, I discovered a number of self-defeating ideas rising to the surface: I’m unworthy and undeserving of success, I’m not good enough, no matter how hard I try it will end in failure and so on.
Bringing awareness to what you’re thinking is a powerful step toward changing your thinking, but awareness is only the initial step.
A limiting belief can continue to work against you even if you are aware of its presence.
People who believe there is not enough to go around may remain in need regardless how hard they try to prosper.
When changing beliefs, it’s often a matter of standing your ground and persevering — opening yourself up to new possibilities, approaching challenges from different angles and employing new, more effective strategies.
I read once that there are four words that can release us from our bondage to the past, from the illusion of control our assumptions hold over us: from this moment forward.
Our actions come directly from what we’ve reinforced within ourselves and have spent our time focusing upon.
Becoming aware of the beliefs that fence us in is the first step to breaking free of them.
Think about what it is that you really want to accomplish and then think about all the perceived barriers that stand in your way. What perceptions bind you right now?
Speaking from experience, once an inquisitive horse tests the wires and finds them no longer electrified, it will simply walk through them and the rest of the group will follow.
The barrier is shattered and broken with no restraints on where to go next.
Once you begin to challenge the beliefs that have kept you fenced in, you’ll find it easy (or easier, for certain) to walk through an imaginary boundary on the way to a goal.
And like the horse, what fun it is to just let yourself run free, trusting that your confident and inquisitive nature will take you where you need to go, swiftly and surely.
It’s a pleasure we all can treasure if we simply allow ourselves to do so.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.