After graduating law school I decided to hang my shingle. I opened up my shop and started taking on clients. I kept thinking, “I know this will be hard at first, but one day I’m going to make a lot of money.” It was the narrative everyone had told me. Start your own business and after the struggles subside, you’ll be rich.
I started networking. Clients came in. The money, however, did not. In 2013-my first full year as an attorney-I grossed (not netted) a little over 19 thousand dollars. This was a slightly over minimum wage and less than I was making before I ever went to law school.
The next year was better, but still wasn’t great. What the heck was going on? I was an attorney, after all. Why was I making so little money?
It took me a while to figure it out. But, I finally realized it all boiled down to the fact that I was screamingly insecure. I was subconsciously telling myself I wasn’t worth that money. Then when a client came along and wasn’t able to make a full payment, I would do such things as tell myself, “okay, I’ll do it for less,” or “well, I don’t think I’m providing enough value anyway, so I’ll waive the balance of what they owe me.”
I finally understood. I’m pretty sure at some point I made that explosion sound effect while making the “mind blown” sign over my head with my hands. I just needed to overcome my insecurity.
“I’m insecure. That’s my problem. I need to not be insecure. One day I’ll be secure in who I am and believe I’m worth something.”
But, the problem didn’t just go away. I started talking to counselors about my insecurities. I told friends. My internal dialogue wrapped around my insecurity. I’d identified what was holding me back. Why weren’t things better?
It was because of the Limiting Belief Paradox.
What is a Limiting Belief?
A common life coaching model is to identify what someone’s limiting beliefs are, figure out where they want to go in life, then figure out how to get them to that place by overcoming their limiting beliefs.
The reason we approach it this was is we all have some kind of internalized thought patterns that hold us back from where we want to go. They’re typically subconscious ideas that sabotage us in potentially catastrophic ways. These are called, “limiting beliefs.” If you don’t deal with these subconscious thought patterns, you’ll end up finding a way of stopping yourself from achieving your goals before you’ve even begun.
I listed insecurity as one of my limiting beliefs. While that’s a very common one, these destructive thoughts are hardly limited to that. They can include such things as:
- I’m depressed.
- I have [xyz] illness.
- I’m no good at math.
- I’m not good at marketing.
- My father hate(s/ed) me.
- I was abused.
- My significant other is holding me back.
These are just a few examples. Note I’m not condemning the situations nor am I victim-shaming. I’m pointing out these belief patterns can cause serious disruptions in your ability to go where you want to in life.
In my early years as an attorney I wanted to make lots of money. But I was carrying around the limiting belief that I wasn’t worth anything. The result was even though I knew where I wanted to go, I was being held back subconsciously by the thought patterns I had not identified.
The Limiting Belief Paradox
Many believe that once you identify the limiting belief, you simply point it out, become aware of it, and everything will start to get better. Name it, shame it, and all will be well. But my experience doesn’t match up to this.
Identifying is part of the battle. But once I identified it, I started to talk about it. I told people I was insecure. My internal narrative became all about the very thing I was trying to get away from.
“I’m insecure,” became my mantra. I was sending myself a message through what was effectively autosuggestion. Autosuggestion is the idea of repeating something until it embeds itself into your subconscious and becomes a part of you. Your words and where you focus your energy will change how you think. That in turn alters what you do and how life unrolls for you.
In other words, I was telling myself I was insecure and reinforcing the very message I wanted to escape from. This is what I’ve called, the “Limiting Belief Paradox.” It’s what happens when you identify a belief you want to get away from, but end up making it stronger by feeding it attention.
How to Overcome the Limiting Belief Paradox
This, of course, begs the question: if paying attention to our limiting beliefs reinforces them, how do we overcome them?
It’s clear ignoring your limiting beliefs won’t get you ahead. But to eliminate their power, you can’t reinforce them.
Rather, begin to construct ways you can give attention to the opposite message. For example, if you’ve identified insecurity as a problem, trying focusing on messages about how worthy and valuable you are. If you are telling yourself you can’t move forward because of your depression, start thinking about constructing a narrative about what you can feel good and happy about.
Make the positive message a regular part of your vocabulary. Put cards up on your computer screen. Have messages pop up in your calendar on your phone. Write about it when you journal. Use a dry-erase marker to write the message to yourself on your bathroom mirror. Bombard yourself with it.
Once you’ve started developing that habit, start taking actions consistent with the message. Identify the things you can do that are reflective of the positive statements you’re making. For example, if you’re insecure and it’s sabotaging how much you’re getting in fees, implement and act on a policy that you will not take on a new client unless they’ve paid you in full up front because your services are worth it.
Once the positive messages become the norm and you follow up with actions to reinforce those messages, you’ll find yourself on the road to success. And soon your old limiting beliefs will be a thing of the past.
To learn more about how to use or overcome your subconscious, check out Emotional Embuffination the book.