STRONGER TOGETHER: The stories we tell ourselves

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Last updated: 14/03/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses self-limiting beliefs, and why it's important to challenge them.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Have you ever heard yourself repeating a story about yourself? The story may have started as a belief that was built over time; or maybe it was built on the back of a throwaway comment that was made carelessly by someone close to you, perhaps during childhood. 

Some of us have practiced these stories for years. They’re so well-rehearsed that sometimes we even forget when they started and who started them.

In year 8, I was told by a well-meaning teacher that I shouldn’t continue taking art as a future elective as it would be detrimental to my grades. When an opportunity to be creative and artistic comes up as an adult, I am therefore quick to ‘own’ my lack of talent, fessing up early and declaring that ‘I haven’t got an artistic bone in my body.’

Recently my daughter bought me a ticket to a basic art class. My immediate reaction was to ask her what she was thinking as I am clearly not an artist. “Mum, it will be fun,” she told me.

Feeling unhinged at the prospect of a room full of people getting to witness first-hand my lack of artistic talent, I felt my brush lingering over the blank canvas, knowing that the final product was doomed even before I got started.

Most of us feel that sense of unease when we step outside our comfort zone to do something that goes against the beliefs that we have created, some of which have been built over a lifetime.

It turns out that I am creative, artistic, and more than capable of painting a picture of plants from scratch (thanks to some very specific instructions from the Pinot & Picasso team!).

These ‘truths’ are built over time, by repeating and imprinting the story into our minds until it becomes real. So real that it creates a new belief, drives our thinking, and influences our decisions. And sometimes, it might even help us to distance ourselves from the emotional memory, the pain, the hurt or embarrassment that is connected to it.

How often do you fact check your beliefs? Some people will cruise through life accepting their beliefs and patterns of thinking without question.

One of the most powerful questions I use in my leadership practice is to ask myself ‘When did I start believing this?’.

Be brave enough to lean into the story that drives the belief and be willing to do the work that it takes to debunk it.

Get clear about whether the belief is helping you. If it isn’t, what might happen if you stopped believing it? What might be possible if you believed something different?

Shifting beliefs is hard, and it takes time to change the pattern of thinking that supports it.

But when we start to open ourselves up to what else is possible, that’s when growth happens, and new opportunities start to emerge.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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