The Swamplands of Limiting Beliefs


A few weeks ago I was at a coffee shop telling a friend how much I wanted (I’m sure I said needed) a new MacBook. Mine had died, I was limping along with my awesome but limited ipad. Later I was at the coffee shop trying to make a plan for how much yoga I would have to teach over the summer to even consider affording a new MacBook. And this friend of mine started asked me how many copies of my novel I would have to sell to afford the computer?

I came up with some number, which to me seemed in that moment impossibly large. And suddenly I found myself hitting this massive wall of resistance I didn’t even know was there.  Because logically, if I want to “be a writer”…”for real”, if I’m planning to transition this into a career, how can I possibility believe deep down that I can’t sell my book (or at least not THAT MANY copies).

All this is a way of saying that there are these hidden wells of self-doubt and hidden voices in our heads telling us things we can’t do. 

And the problem isn’t that we hear them.

The problem is that we don’t here them. They are so so quiet that they seep into our subconscious unnoticed.



So I’ve been trying this month to dig around down there in my own personal swampland and search for these limiting beliefs, because honestly although I felt the resistance at first, I couldn’t understand where that belief was coming from. I had been feeling so positive about this dream of mine.

For me, this kind of digging around always involves reading. So I got a copy of Tony Robbin’s Awaken the Giant Within (btw I think I might be the last person on earth to read this book. He is so old-school. Great, though self-help in the traditional sense isn’t stuff I usually go for. But listening to the audible version is like going back in time… he actually gives exercises and then shouts “Stop the tape! Stop the tape and do this now!” Hahahaha I almost cried when I heard that. The tape. Ah Tony, I’m with you, man!) And I am trying to work with his ideas about limiting beliefs.

I also listened to a few amazing TED talks by Brene Brown about vulnerability. In her talk, she said something that hit me deep down to the core…like when you hear something you recognise so deeply you know it to be true, and yet it is incredibly hard to hear. She says, “As much as I would be frustrated about not being able to get my work out into the world, there was a part of me that was working very hard to engineer staying small, staying right under the radar.”

Vulnerability isn’t something I thought I had an issue with. I have never considered myself a particularly private person. AND YET, I have had to start getting really honest with myself about why I was able to market my yoga classes and podcast, but never seemed to find time to market my novel… why it seemed like a straightforward ‘administrative’ task to write up the podcast shownotes, post things up on the podcast instagram, or send facebook posts about my new yoga classes… but when it came to talking about my writing and the deep things I hope to say through my writing…there was fear. I could feel it.

Once I hit that wall of resistance when I realised something inside of me didn’t believe I could sell a certain number of my novels to buy that new computer, and I bored down with my mind-drill into the swamplands of why… this is what came out:

I can’t sell that many books because I’m not marketing the book enough. Why? Because I don’t know what to say. Is that true? No, it’s because I’m afraid of saying what I want to say. Why? Because if I say what’s truly going on in my head, if I put my heart out onto the page, people are going to roll their eyes, think I’m weird, too philosophical, too wordy, too earnest, too pretentious, too too too…

There is always a reason we are too busy to do what we say we want to do. There is always a thousand perfectly legitimate reasons we contrive to convince ourselves that we are making an effort but it just isn’t happening at the moment. But I know deep down I have been doing exactly what Brene Brown has described… working very hard to stay small and fly just under the radar. I have been using my kids, the housework and all my teaching jobs as very legitimate-sounding excuses why I’m not prioritising THE THING I say I most want to do.

Really, it’s not that complicated. It’s just fear. I’m scared. I don’t know what will happen if I put down what I really really think.

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There is nothing more vulnerable than that,” Brene Brown tells me.  And then, she tries to invite me to walk into that shame, the so-called ‘swampland of the soul’.

“Shame drives too big tapes — never good enough AND who do you think you are”.  Shame is the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection.

But there is a way out of this, a way of out being paralysed by the fear of vulnerability and shame.  Empathy.  And that means right now for me, empathy for myself.  Brene Brown ends her talk this way: “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with Empathy, it can’t survive.”

She says, “I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena and think to myself, I’m gonna go in there and kick some ass when I’m bullet-proof and when I’m perfect. But that never happens.”

I now realise that if I’m going to find my way as a writer, and as a authentic person, vulnerability is going to be that path. And that starts here, now, with this blog and with as much empathy for myself as I can muster every day.

Courage! I call to myself. Courage.  From the Latin Coer (heart), meaning “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

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