Limiting beliefs can be paralyzing

“You remember Christine, don’t you, Sarah?” Sarah and her mother had gone to the hospital to visit Bart, a neighbour who had recently suffered a debilitating stroke. Bart’s wife, Christine, was pushing him down the hallway in a wheelchair when they arrived. Bart didn’t look the way Sarah remembered him — happy with rosy cheeks and a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” — Richard Bach, American best-selling author.

“You remember Christine, don’t you, Sarah?”

Sarah and her mother had gone to the hospital to visit Bart, a neighbour who had recently suffered a debilitating stroke. Bart’s wife, Christine, was pushing him down the hallway in a wheelchair when they arrived. Bart didn’t look the way Sarah remembered him — happy with rosy cheeks and a twinkle in his blue eyes.

He looked small, crumpled up and desperately sad. “Such a shame,” declared Christine in a low voice. “He can’t even feed himself.” Sarah’s mother said hello and touched Bart’s hand but he didn’t respond.

“He can’t speak and I’m not sure he understands a word I say to him.” Sarah recalled that Bart barely spoke even before the stroke. A quiet man, Bart’s voice was soft and thin — barely audible — as if he had somehow forgotten of the mechanics of speech.

“You spend years with your husband then one day the man you knew is gone.”

Sarah thought it was an odd statement. Bart wasn’t gone. He was sitting right there. As Christine continued, Sarah walked around to the side of Bart’s wheelchair. “No use talking to Mister Bart,” counselled Christine. “He won’t know you, child.”

She turned to Sarah’s mother and mouthed the words, “Brain damage.” As if for emphasis, she tapped herself twice on the temple then shook her head and sighed heavily.

“Hello, Mister Bart,” Sarah said. “You remember me, don’t you?”

“Come away, Sarah,” said Sarah’s mother, reaching out her hand. Slowly, the blue eyes looked up. Bart’s brow furrowed and he blinked a few times as if struggling to focus his eyes. Then, much to everyone’s surprise, a slight smile formed on Bart’s face. He took Sarah’s hand gently in his own as tears began to run down his cheeks.

“He knows me!” declared Sarah. “Mister Bart knows me!”

Sarah’s story, as related to me, happened nearly 40 years ago. Significant advancements have been made since in the care provided to stroke survivors.

Attitudes too have shifted considerably.

With early intervention and improved methods of treatment, many stroke survivors can look forward to significant if not full recovery. At the time, Bart’s family held out little hope for his recovery. Even a partial gain seemed unlikely.

The focus was understandably on limitations rather than possibilities. Sarah’s question and Bart’s response to it shifted the focus. In a sense, limitations are simply judgments we visit upon ourselves and others.

They can be mental, emotional and yes, physical. Although some limitations are justified, most are illusional.

By this I mean, we often rein ourselves in or fail to attempt because we believe our attempt will end in failure. Limiting beliefs are founded upon fear and fear can often be paralyzing.

Intellectual and emotional limitations can be challenging to target and overcome, primarily because most people have no idea of what’s really true — they have never put themselves or their beliefs to the test. Most limitations are actually someone else’s opinion resulting from early programming. To shift our programming, we must first reconsider what we accept as true.

We must know our limitations (real and illusional) before we can surpass them.

Before starting an exercise regimen, we must first assess our current level of physical fitness.

It is equally vital to assess our present emotional, mental and spiritual state before challenging perceived limitations.

In her New York Times best-selling book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientists Personal Journey, Jill Bolte Taylor tells her story of a devastating stroke and seven-year journey back to health and wellness. A powerful, inspiring account, Bolte Taylor writes of facing and ultimately overcoming a variety of limitations — real and perceived, personal and societal ­­— in regard to her physical, emotional, mental and spiritual recovery. “Pay attention to what you are thinking and then decide if those are thoughts that are creating the kind of life you want created,” says Bolte Taylor. “And if (they’re) not, then change your thoughts. It’s really that easy.”

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t (despite the potential of do so) it’s probably owing to a self-limiting belief.

If you have a lot of excuses or defence mechanics in place and use them often, you are likely dealing with a self-limiting belief. Many fear-filled people will vehemently defend their limitations.

Don’t be one of those people! Have courage and be persistent. Challenge limitations!

Give yourself permission to try — doing so will help pull out the stops, allowing the impossible to become possible and very likely, achievable.

“It doesn’t matter how long we may have been stuck in a sense of our limitations,” writes Sharon Salzberg, New York Times best-selling author and motivator. “If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn’t matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or 10,000 years — we turn on the light and it is illuminated.

“Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on.”

Sarah didn’t accept Bart’s alleged limitation and yes, owing to her age or naivety. Nonetheless, when it became apparent that Bart (despite legitimate physical limitations) was able to recognize people and express emotion, his treatment was adjusted accordingly. When limitations are removed, all things become possible. What limitations have you place upon others in your life and, more importantly, what limitations have you placed upon yourself?

To learn more about strokes: prevention, symptoms, treatment and recovery, visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation website at www.heartandstroke.ca. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientists Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor is available from your favourite book seller.

Murray Fuhrer is a local 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