You can't run marathons after 50! You can't change your career after you've invested so much time and energy into it! Dads don't get all up in their feelings! Says who? Our pasts, our brains, our lack of understanding, that's who! Tony explores the psychology of limiting beliefs and how the stories we learn in our youth can heavily influence how we live life...until we realize we have an unlimited amount of possibility in front of us once we lose the limiting beliefs.
Tony references the article How to Change Self-Limiting Beliefs According to Psychology by Nicole Celestine, Ph.D. https://positivepsychology.com/false-beliefs/
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So I recently turned 53, and I have never really been one who cares much about age as a number. No offense to my dad, but when he turned 50, to me at that time, I think I was in my late twenties. Well, 50 was really old, but here I sit at 53 and I feel good. I feel pretty amazing. And a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I completed a half marathon, as I shared a couple episodes ago. It was a really good experience. But one of the most fascinating parts of that half-marathon experience happened actually about eight weeks before the race. So let me take you back a few years. There's a website called ultrasignup.com where you can view the results of your ultra-marathons or races over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
So the last few race results for me, read, the Havalina hundred miler, which was in Arizona. Then the Western States hundred miler, which happened to be the third time that I had run that race from Lake Tahoe down to Auburn, California. Then a random 50k in Sacramento. Then the Tahoe Rim Trail hundred Miler, which was the second time I had run that race, followed by the Quad Dipsea race in the Bay Area in California. And if you're not familiar with the Dipsea trail, it is a 7.1 mile, incredibly hilly, stair filled race from Mill Valley, California down to Stinson Beach. It's beautiful and it's hard. And every year I used to do the Quad Dipsea, or 28.4 miles, so down and back and down and back and again, incredibly hard and wonderful and beautiful.
And then I broke a rib or two and I separated the ribs from the cartilage. And if you've ever done that, that hurt so bad. I did that playing basketball. So I was out for several months and I was on my way to returning to a hundred miles, and I did a hundred K in Julian, California. That was absolutely difficult and wonderful and beautiful.
And shortly after that, again, playing basketball, I tore my meniscus and I tried to run through it, the old just ignore it and hopefully it'll go away. And I got to the point that I couldn't even bend my knee or move, and I did that for almost a year where I just would, it would get a little bit better. I would try again, and it didn't go away. And I literally put on over 20 pounds. And so then I eventually received an MRI where I was told that my meniscus was shredded and that I could remove it and I would be able to run, but maybe not as much of the distance. But the surgeon recommended that I start by losing weight and I was so offended.
I said, how dare you? I'm an ultra marathon runner, and then I proceeded to do elliptical machines and not much else. And then I actually put on about another five pounds over the next several months. So another year passed and I thought, it's time, I am losing my mind. I am a runner and I need to go ahead and accept that I need to remove the meniscus and I needed to accept that I need to remove the meniscus. So I consulted the doctor who said, well, does it hurt as bad now that you've lost the weight? How dare he? Number two. But it was self confrontation time, and I had in fact not lost any of the weight. So, accountability. What was I pretending not to know, that I did not really want to put forth the effort to lose weight. I preferred simply waiting until my knee felt better and then running all the weight off, and that was not happening. So I did this thing called “eating right” and “portion control''. And yes, I'm making air quotes and I eventually lost weight and lo and behold, my knee started feeling better. Turns out that those people who know what they're doing actually know what they're doing.
So I then spent the last two years just running and working out, but I was capped at about four or five miles, and so I felt like I couldn't really muster up much more than that. And it really wasn't a knee issue. It was more of a, I guess, a me issue. But I really felt like four or five mile long runs were going to be the limit. And honestly, I was really grateful for that because I remember being at a time where I thought if I could just run again even two or three miles, I was gonna be okay. But internally, I really did just miss that. Being able to run and run and run distances and listen to audio, audiobooks and podcasts, and that was just something that I had done.
That was what it felt like to be me for well over 20 years of my adult life. Now in come's my wife who has completed many triathlons herself, a few marathons, even an Iron Man, and she was starting to run more and more and she suggested that we sign up for a half marathon, and just in a couple of months. So I thought that absolutely sounded crazy.
I was no longer a distance runner. I was coming to a place of acceptance. My longest run over the past two years had been six miles, and honestly, it had wiped me out, but I wanted to run the half marathon or 13.1 miles, especially with her. So we looked up a training program. We laid everything out on the calendar and we did long Saturday runs that went six miles, then eight, then 10, then 12. And then on race day we took care of 13 miles in what was my wife's personal record or pr. And in the weeks that have followed, I've maintained longer Saturday runs of eight to 10 miles, and we have a 10 mile trail run scheduled on New Year's Day. And now, if I'm being honest, I start looking ahead to the goals that I've always had of being the grandpa who still runs ultra-marathons. So why tell this story? Not for validation, I promise, but because today we're going to talk about something that I really have had a low key fascination with, and that's the concept of limiting beliefs. Now you hear a lot about them in the world of motivational speaking and maybe life coaching, but I had not worked with them much in the field of psychology.
So I had been poking around the internet until I found a resource that I thought truly summed up the concept of limiting beliefs, where they come from, and of course, more importantly, what do you do with them? Because I clearly had bought into the limiting belief that five or six miles was my max, and had I stuck with that limiting belief, then eventually over time, my implicit memories or what it feels like to be me, would become somebody who, because of this knee trouble, was limited to five or six miles, but simply because my wife happened to want to run a half marathon, within a couple of weeks I unlocked something from the way back machine and managed to find as I have returned to running shape, that the only limit I personally had was one that was self-imposed, one that was between my ears. Now, this isn't to say that somebody with true physical limitations is simply not thinking about things the right way, because I know that that's not the point.
But are there areas where perhaps your own limited beliefs are in fact holding you back from achieving the things in life that you would like to pursue? So I would imagine to some extent with some real self-reflection, that that answer is probably yes.
So today we're really going to dig in and explore the ins and outs of limiting beliefs so that, and so much more coming up on today's episode of the Virtual Couch.
Hey everybody, welcome to episode 350 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, hopefully soon to be ultra-marathon runner once again, and a creator of the “Path Back”, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like pornography.
And I'm going to get through the business side of this so fast because we've got a lot to talk about today when it comes to limiting beliefs. So I mentioned in a previous episode that I am offering a discount through the month of December to the Path Back program. So just reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org or go through my website and I will respond and we'll hand you that discount and then get ready, the Magnetic Marriage Podcast is coming soon and you can still reach out if you want to be coached email@example.com or go to sign up for my newsletter at tonyoverbay.com and you will be one of the first to know. And I just can't say enough about the episodes that have been recorded already and just coaching and working with these couples. And so if you've never been to couples counseling, if you've never seen couples coaching or heard couples coaching in action, then I think that this could really be eye opening and help you understand the things that you don't know, that you don't know about what your relationship could look like. On that note, you can still go to tonyoverbay.com/workshop, and there's a $19 hour and a half workshop that gives you some ideas of some of the things that I really feel like can help somebody in their marriage right away, and then follow me on social media.
The Yeah Yeah agency, my social media team, they are doing incredible things with reels and with just the content in general. So I'm trying to share as much in essence, free content to just advice, marriage advice, and we're gonna be doing a lot more with some live, some q and a. So please follow me on social media, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Facebook. And I mentioned earlier in the intro, my birthday, and I was going to, and I did not end up doing this, but I was going to just ask, all right birthday present, provide this free content for the last six, seven years. And so if you happen to be somebody that hasn't rated or reviewed the podcast, wherever you are listening I would love that if you don't mind because that does help feed the algorithms and wherever you are listening, or even go to the Virtual Couch YouTube channel and maybe subscribe there. And that does get the podcast in front of more people. So let's get to today's topic. How to change self-limiting beliefs according to psychology. So this is by an article on positivepsychology.com and it is by PhD, Dr. Nicole Celestine. And many of the things that we will work from are her words from this article.
She says, “How many times have you written yourself off or passed up opportunities due to beliefs like these, I'm too old to do that. There's no way I'm qualified to apply for this job or I can't talk to him, he's out of my league.” So whether you're questioning your credentials when applying for a job or balking at the chance to strike up a conversation with somebody who may be, I don’t know, attractive, your apprehension might be highlighting something about your self beliefs.
So she says, “False and self-limiting beliefs can stifle progress toward achieving goals or prevent us from living out our ideal lives,” and the core, she says, thankfully, a core component of many psychological treatments, including one of my favorites, acceptance and commitment therapy does involve helping us to recognize and undo these unhelpful beliefs so that we can start living life more to its fullest.
So in this article, we're going to talk about the different origins of false or self-limiting belief. And then she mentions a couple of different therapeutic treatment options. I'm going to talk about some of what she shares and then I'm going to throw my own spin or take on a lot of what I feel like is even going deeper into how to work with these self-limiting beliefs.
So, Nicole says there's no universally agreed upon definition of false or self-limiting beliefs, but there are a lot of examples in the press and then she references a study in 2018 that self limiting beliefs are assumptions or perceptions that you've got about yourself and about the way the world works. And these assumptions are self-limiting because in some way they are holding you back from achieving what you are capable of.
So in 2012, Boden and Colleagues noted that these beliefs have the potential to be central to one's identity, negatively biased, inaccurate, and rigid. So when you take them together, we consider these false or limiting beliefs to be negative, potentially difficult to change, and then somehow preventing us from achieving our goals or being as happy as we could be.
If we just start from that place that we have these thoughts, do we have these stories that we've made up about how the world works or we have these stories made up about what a 50 year old person can do or what somebody in my position can expect from reaching out to others for connection or what kind of job somebody that is in my shoes can get.
So when we start right there, then that becomes part of our identity, central to our identity. And so if we are trying to move away from this story or these limiting, self-limiting beliefs then we're going to be fighting the path of least resistance because it's going to seem like we're doing something that doesn't seem natural because it's not the story that we have told ourselves for our entire lives. So she said, “A good first step to understanding where and how false beliefs develop is by taking a look at them through a systematic framework.” And one such framework that is commonly employed throughout psychology and sociology is Rokeach, which was from 1968, but their hierarchical system of beliefs, according to this framework, an individual's inventory of beliefs can be structured according to five levels, depending on their importance and the most central forms of belief referred to as type A beliefs are those that we consider unchallengeable. These are just absolute common sense. For instance, it's the average person knows and will not question who their family members are or where they live. So I know who my kids are, I know who my wife is. So that is a type A belief. It might seem silly, but we're trying to set up a framework and I think it'll make sense when we get down to the next one, the type B beliefs. But if we start with type A beliefs that are, again, unchallengeable, common sense, in contrast, type E beliefs, which then are furthest down the pecking order or the most peripheral belief. Then those are largely matters of taste or opinion that are not strongly tied to the rest of your belief system. So they're also more likely to be subject to change. So she says, “Examples of such type E beliefs include your preferred brand of toilet paper or whether or not you enjoy broccoli.”
And what I think is really interesting is, even right there, I talk so much about the world of emotional immaturity or narcissistic traits and tendencies, or do you want control or love in an adult relationship? And so what I do think, we'll just get a note for later, maybe we'll throw this over on the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast at some point, but it's fascinating because even those type E beliefs, if you are incredibly emotionally immature or if you need control to feel like you have a sense of purpose, then you probably are saying, but I do know what the correct brand of toilet paper is because obviously it's 2-ply and it's Charmin. That's a fact.
But in reality, if you can't even agree that there are possibilities of these peripheral beliefs that are different from yours, and we're talking about the world of emotional immaturity. So let's talk about then what are type B and type C beliefs. So type B, Rokeach said primitive type B beliefs, “Type B beliefs, sometimes known as primitive beliefs or core beliefs, are typically core beliefs about ourselves that others' opinions can neither confirm, nor deny, so these beliefs often characterize our self-image and our self-esteem. They may also lie below the level of our awareness, and unconsciously they dictate our decision making.”
So the examples of such beliefs are, I am a funny person, nobody likes me, I am capable of overcoming challenges or I deserve the bad things that happen to me. And beliefs like these primitive, these type B beliefs, these are particularly vulnerable to being shaped during our early development and primarily by messages that we receive from our parents and our caregivers about our self worth, our potential, and our deservingness of unconditional love. And importantly, researchers believe that because type B beliefs tend to constitute these global judgments about who we are and what we're capable of achieving, then they can start to trickle down to affect our beliefs relevant to different situations that we might be facing. For example, they give the example of, imagine a single woman they named her Haley, who is considering approaching an attractive man in a bar. So Haley often expresses how badly she wishes to meet a romantic partner, so her friends are by her side, they're eagerly encouraging her to walk over and introduce herself. Haley, however, is hesitant. And she expresses concern that her appearance doesn't compare to the other women in the bar. Her friends are incredulous. They assure her that she looks beautiful and amazing, but still Haley cannot shake the feeling that she will be rejected based on her looks. So unbeknownst to Haley, there is a primitive, or type B belief, underlying her present belief that her looks are not up to par, because growing up her parents would often make comparisons between her and her sister.
So in their comparisons, often made in the presence of friends and family, Haley was always told she's the brains and her sister was the beauty. So while these comparisons were never intended to even be malicious, they shaped Haley's beliefs about her self image leading to her current predicament and the self-limiting belief that she is not attractive enough to approach the person in the bar.
That's an example of how the messages that are reinforced to us as children may shape our beliefs. But it's not hard to imagine how insecure attachments, or the experience of neglect or abuse during childhood, that may have these long lasting, or Nicole says “devastating effects” on our primitive beliefs.
So these effects, they may subsequently drive a host of false and self-limiting beliefs in various situations. Additionally, because these primitive type B beliefs are so central to our belief, second only to beliefs about our name and where we live. Again, those are those type A beliefs. Then they can be incredibly challenging to surface and shake without professional or psychological support. So let me stick around here in these type B beliefs because I think that it's really funny if we go back to the examples they give of, I am a funny person. So if I was continually validated as a kid for cracking jokes and making fun of things, then I may grow up feeling like I am a pretty funny person. And so then what do I want? I want people to validate this version of me that I feel is part of my core sense of self. My core self image is I'm hilarious. So if people then are not seeing me as funny or not seeing me as hilarious, then what am I going to do? I'm going to beat myself up. I'm going to feel like what's wrong with me?
So here's what one of the challenges is, let's say that I really do feel like part of my self image or my self-esteem is that I am funny because I was told that I was funny. Maybe I was the funny one when a sibling of mine was the smart one and another one was the handsome one, but I was the funny one. Now, let's say that I show up in the world, and quite frankly, I'm not very funny. So then if people are not laughing and they don't think that I'm hilarious and that is part of my self image and that's how I derive my self-esteem, then you can see how I have no psychological flexibility. I am funny, and if you don't think I'm funny, then again, something's wrong with me because that's the message I've been told my entire life.
I'm hilarious. I'm funny. So that would be part of this type B belief or self-limiting belief. I may say, okay, I would really like to be smart. I would really like to study. I would like to go to med school, but I'm the funny one. And I guess I can go in there and crack a few jokes, see how I do. But that's where we operate from our core sense of self. And man, she gives the example that breaks my heart of the, if we start with the, nobody likes me, or the I deserve the bad things that happen to me, that's where we start from. That's where we are operating from. I remember on a podcast that I had with Sam Tillmans quite a while ago, Sam said, “The strongest force in the human personality is to act in alignment with how you see yourself.”
So however you identify yourself, you're going to find a way back to your home base. If you believe, if you have this core self-image or self-belief that you are not enough or that nobody likes you, you may get to a point where you're on a roll and all of a sudden you find that you are finding a connection with others, but you will eventually find your way back in alignment with how you see yourself. If that type B, if that core belief, that self-limiting belief is that nobody likes me or I deserve the bad things that happen to me or I'm not enough, then even when you're starting to gain some traction, when you let your foot off the gas, that path of least resistance goes back to that view of self, which is those negative, those self-limiting beliefs. I feel like it's so important to even recognize that those are just stories that my brain is telling me, and those stories happened and they developed in childhood. Let's talk now about what Rokeach says are authority or type C beliefs.
So according to this framework, type C beliefs, which are somewhat more peripheral than type B beliefs, can also trickle down to produce false and self-limiting beliefs. So type C beliefs are referred to as authority beliefs. So these are the beliefs that we accept based on their having come from a trusted authority. So examples of such authorities include scholars, business leaders, religious leaders, religious figures, people in the community, or even publications such as newspapers. So this is where we deal with the constant they, they said, who said they did? It's in print, I read it, the internet, or my religious leader told me. And they're in a position of authority or my parent, and so one would hope that the authority figures we choose can be trusted to provide us with accurate information that will serve us well in life. However, we need only turn to those around us to know that that's not the case. Nicole gives the example of, “Can you think of a friend or family member who was invested in a get rich quick scheme more because it was touted by a charismatic guru, or perhaps they cling to what you believe to be an outdated belief that they learned at school or at church.”
So these are examples of authority beliefs, and again, while more malleable than these primitive beliefs, they may trickle down to affect our beliefs in more day to day situations. So we rejoin Haley at the bar and she may now see this attractive person and she may think, I cannot go approach that person because I learned in maybe my church class or maybe I've seen on TV some show that talks about how a woman does not approach a man at a bar. That's just not the way it works. So that could be one of these type C beliefs or a type B beliefs, one of these more primitive beliefs might just be the fact that if her parents have drilled into her, hey, you're the smart one. You're the smart one. So the smart person is not necessarily gonna want to go put themselves out there. They need to sit back and wait for a man to approach them because you're not as attractive as your sister. So we start to get these limiting beliefs and unfortunately what could happen is that in that scenario, she may miss out on the love of her life because she's hesitant, because she may express concerns about her appearance, that it doesn't compare to other women in the bar. Her friends, again, they're telling her, you look amazing. But she is so afraid based on these self-limiting beliefs to put herself out there. And to her it just makes perfect sense. So she's not even open to somebody suggesting a different opinion because she's working with her core self-limiting beliefs. And again, I know this is a little bit of a silly example, but as pointed out in this article to understand the extent to which authority figures can negatively influence. Take a look at the harrowing experiences of cult survivors and their journeys of struggling to detach from harmful belief systems that have dictated to them for many, many years of their lives.
So now with a better understanding of these false or these self limiting beliefs, then there are some different therapeutic options. And so there's a couple of them that I'm not very familiar with. I'll quickly go through one called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or R E B T. And that's been around since the fifties. And it's been targeted specifically helping people identify these negative or rational thought patterns that affect their behaviors. And I think it's worth noting because the R E B T, at the foundation of it, is what's known as this ABC model.
So using the ABC model you can track where these limiting beliefs come from. So they give another example. So they say, “Tom recently submitted a report for his boss to review. Then the following day he receives a report back via email and he notices his boss has written a lot of comments and made a lot of changes. So before looking at the feedback closely, Tom feels sad and worthless and experiences negative thoughts about his capabilities relative to his colleagues.” And in reality the feedback the adjustments made to Tom's report may honestly have a, they might be a combination of some useful, some constructive suggestions for improving his work as well as compliments. But he has no idea because these self-limiting beliefs are just so ingrained that he sees any feedback on a report and he starts to shut down. So he has prematurely succumbed to these false beliefs about his abilities without even taking a look at what has been written on the paper.
And I know, I run into that one a lot, honestly, with something as simple as the mail, man, when I get mail and if it says something, state of California franchise Tax Board or whatever, oh my goodness. I go right to that place of, sometimes when I open them up they say hey here's your annual privacy notice.
But I get that thing and I think, oh my gosh, something. It's horrible. I'm a horrible person. So let me just go through this ABC model from this REBT, abc, R E B T R E S P E C T. You had to have been thinking that, right? But rational emotive behavior therapy, R E B T. So this ABC model, so using this example from Tom's experience of receiving his report, A in the abc, A is the activating event that triggers the negative thoughts.
So in this example, the activating event was Tom receiving feedback from his boss, period. Not reading it, but just receiving the feedback. B, then becomes this false or irrational belief. There's the B that is formed following the activating events. So in this example, Tom's potentially false belief is that he is ineffective at his job.
And then C is the consequence that flows from the irrational thoughts. So in this example, the consequence is Tom's experience of sadness, worthlessness, and effectiveness. And the reason I think that they go with this abc, it's just this just immediately abc this linear situation where there's an activating event, then there is a false or rational belief that occurs. And then the consequence is Tom shuts down. So it's not very hard to see how we can become the authors. And I love this quote that she uses, “The authors of our own misery. When activating events trigger false or self-limiting beliefs unnecessarily.”
And I know it can be scary to then step outside of this because this is the story that we've told ourselves that when I get some paper that has feedback on it, that it's going to be negative and that is just at my core. So it takes a lot of work to be even aware of that, to then be able to move past these self-limiting beliefs. I'll tell you as a therapist this is where I started looking at the concepts of acceptance and commitment therapy. So I feel like we can say, hey, that's just an automatic negative thought. That's just your stinking thinking. And instead of thinking, okay, that might have some negative feedback, you need to look at it like, or it might say, hey, that's a job well done. And that might feel good in the moment, but then the next time that you're handed a paper that has marking all over it, it's going to be hard for you not to just have this visceral or gut reaction. So I like starting with a place of acceptance. So when you have that immediate belief, I like understanding that it's this self-limiting belief that it comes, this primitive, this core belief is coming from our childhood. It's coming from experiences that we had, our childhood programming. So we're going to accept. So when I get a paper, let's say that I grew up in every single paper that I ever got, said, great job. A hundred percent, 105%. You're so smart. Top of the class. Then if I get something back, I'm going to say, oh yeah, there's marking on this paper.
And I could be sitting right beside somebody that every time that they got papers back, it was marked up so much with the corrections that they, the teacher would run out of ink and would have to jump onto a second pen just to mark that thing up. So when they would get the paper back, their immediate thought is, oh gosh, I'm gonna get fired. You know what's wrong with me? So two people can have these completely different experiences based on these internal beliefs or the stories that their brain is telling them to try to make sense of a situation. So what I think is next is let's talk about neuroplasticity and the fact that we often feel like, well, those are my self-limiting beliefs, and I am over the age of, fill in the blank, 5, 12, 25, whatever the latest version of your brain is all set and cement. Because that's actually not true data. We're now learning more and more about the neuroplasticity of the brain. I had Mike Twohig on last week who is, what an interview, that episode is done just phenomenally well. So if you have not listened to last week's episode with Dr. Mike Twohig, it is honestly incredible, and I took some quotes out of the transcript.
So we were talking about neuroplasticity, and so Mike's talking about the concepts around acceptance and commitment therapy. So he says, I will say it for both people, or both styles of people that we can work on altering how we feel or we can work on altering how we live. And we're whole human beings. And whether you alter either one, it's going to affect all sorts of things. So if you change the way you live, you will start to change the way you feel. And if you could change the way you feel, you'll probably change the way you live. So in ACT, he says that with the clients he works with, this question would be, well, which one are we going to focus on? Are we going to focus on what you feel internally or how you're living? And he said, I say this to clients a lot, that there are a lot of things that I really care about and a lot of things that I work hard on that don't feel good. He said, for example, “Parenting a teen doesn't feel fun, but it's meaningful. It's important, but it's not like, oh my gosh, that's great all the time.”
Or he said even the same thing like writing a paper, it's not the same as snowboarding. So he said, but I like the feeling and the importance of it. So he said rules, and this is what I think is so important and what I think makes so much sense here when we're talking about these limiting beliefs. He said rules, like when you, we were talking about socially compliant goals. And again, in acceptance and commitment therapy, a socially compliant goal is something that you feel like you have to do or you'll let somebody else down. So a socially compliant goal. And he said, socially compliant goals and rules are really interesting things. And he said, this is a good point for a professional or a non-professional. And he said an interesting thing about humans is that we decide the way the world works. And I think this is what we're talking about these self-limiting beliefs. He said, “We decide the way the world works and then we follow that. And the truth is,” he said, “It's never fully accurate.” He said, “It's close to the way that the world works or it could be totally far off.” But he said the interesting thing about human beings is that they will make this rule about what we are supposed to do. And now we're identifying that those rules could have been formed in childhood, they could have been informed by authority figures, and then we just keep following it. And he said, and a lot of research has said it can be really hard to help people do things differently. He said it's hard to create variability and it's hard to change behavior. So if somebody has a problem, for example, that they have a way of living that isn't very functional, he said some of that is that they've determined that this is how it works and this is the way that they have been acting. And they've been doing the same thing for maybe 20 or 30 years. So part of the job as a therapist, Mike talked about, is to create flexibility in these different behavior patterns.
And that can be tricky because then we get into this experience of avoidance and he said, humans work so much, they spend a lot of time working to feel a certain way. And he said, and that's what I think is in contrast with doing things that are important. And I love this, Mike said that one of the lines that he likes to say is, he said, “I think healthy, happy people are probably spending 80% of their day doing things that are important to them.” He said, “I didn't say fun. I said important.” And then people who are maybe less healthy are probably spending 80% of their day working hard to feel good. And so he said, he often says to his clients what was meaningful for you? And a lot of times they don't have a lot. They said their day was all about dodging anxiety and getting away from things that they're afraid of. So I want to turn to the book. It's “ADHD 2.0” . It's by Dr. Hollowell and Ratey. And this one has been an incredible book, whether you have ADHD or not, if you do, or somebody in your life has it, please read this. And I'm going to pull from a concept, a couple of pages where he is talking about, the authors are talking about the brain.
So he says, “For example, it is because of epigenetics that you may have been born with genes that predispose you to depression, but because of loving parents and a nurturing school system, those genes never get expressed.” I love this idea of getting expressed. He said, “You may go through life never suffering from depression, even though you carry the genes that might have led you there. Now, on the other hand, if you had unloving parents and if you never received nurturing and positive connections, or worse, if you suffered trauma and abuse, then you also inherited the genes that predispose you to depression or other pathology. And now those genes are far more likely to get expressed. So regardless of the trait or the condition, the disorder, the disease, nature versus nurture always comes down to.” What a concept. So we're already looking at these self-limiting beliefs. We're already looking at the way that they've developed from our childhood, and these become stories that we tell ourselves, this is the way we make sense of the world, and we just do it over and over again.
And so we have these different traits, but based on these belief systems that we have, some of these things are going to be expressed and some might not. But again, regardless of the trait, the condition, the disorder, the disease, nature versus nurture always comes down to both. Good nurture can dramatically reduce the influence of bad nature or bad genes.
But he said, “Unfortunately, the result is also true. Bad nurture, like cold or distant parents, ongoing conflict, or outright trauma while growing up can suppress good nature or good genes. So the science of epigenetics has helped prove that the brain's wondrous ability to change over the course of your lifetime.” not up until you're 12 or 18 or 25, but up until your lifetime, so called neuroplasticity, this is one of the major discoveries in neuroscience in the past generation. So people used to believe that the brain was more or less set by a certain age, and he even said, “Let's say 30.” And after that your dye was cast, the brain was set. But it this, he says, “This fixed brain notion begat a host of home spun cliches and conventional wisdom to the effect that you simply cannot teach an old dog or even a middle aged dog, new tricks. That from the age 30,” he says, “the leopard does not change at spots that you are who you are and you better get used to it because no amount of therapy or life experience or other magic can make a significant dent in the architecture of your brain or your personality, except by changing it for the worst through disease or stroke, cancer, poisons, alcohol, drugs, or dementia. But that is wrong.” It's absolutely wrong. It. Dr. Hallowell and Ratey say very confidently, “As with much homespun wisdom regarding the mind,” so I'm going to say pop psychology cliches, you name it, “we now know different.” So thanks to the work of many neuroscientists, we know that what you do, who you love, where you live, what you eat, how much you move, what kind of stress you experience, if you have a pet, whether you laugh a lot, and all those and a zillion more bits of experience, constantly change who you are in subtle ways.
Your brain responds to all of these cues in turn, so most people don't realize what fantastically great news this is, he says, “We can change who we are and where we're headed. It's not easy, but it can be done and it can be done at any age. You are never too old to find a new life, a new love, or a better day. Our brains present us with the opportunity day in and day out. We just have to unwrap this gift.” And again, talking about ADHD in particular, he says, the science of the last 30 years also explains in the least part, the tension and the contradictions that lie at the core of things like adhd, I mean, explains what's going on in the brain that leads to creativity, entrepreneurialism and dynamism, but also at the same time, irrational, brooding, worrying, ruminating or falling prey to self-destructive addictions and compulsions.
So our brain is just this incredible, magical, wonderful, neuroplastic thing that we can continue to develop, we can continue to change, but it does take time. And I think that's the part where people don't want that to happen. So I think it's so important to recognize these self-limiting beliefs and know that these are just stories that our brain is telling us and it's ways that our brain is trying to make sense of things, make sense of, I wanted to say, make sense of things that don't make sense, but the sense is what you make of it.
And I'll finish this up with one more quote that I think is really powerful, and I've read this one on a couple of different things. Rick Hansen, in the book “Buddha Brain” says, again, “Much as your body is built from the foods you eat, your mind is built from the experiences that you have. So the flow of experience gradually sculpts your brain thus shaping your mind, and some of the results can be explicitly recalled like this is what I did last summer, or this is how I felt when I was in love. And then most of the shaping of your mind remains forever unconscious. And this is called implicit memory, and it includes your expectations, your models of relationships, your emotional tendencies, your general outlook. Implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you based on the slow accumulating residue of lived experience.” That's the part that doesn't sound so exciting, that it is the slow accumulating residue of lived experience that changes the interior landscape of your mind or what you feel like, what it feels like to be you.
But he goes on to say, “Here's the problem, your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences.” He likes to say that the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. So consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber the negative ones, the pile of negative implicit memories grows faster. And then the background feeling of what it feels like to be you starts to be undeservedly glum and pessimistic. The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences when they happen because they happen, but it's to foster positive experiences, in particular take them in so they start to become a permanent part of what it feels like to be you.
So put all these pieces together. You have these self-limiting beliefs. Often they are negative beliefs. I had this limited belief, and it may seem insignificant or inconsequential, but it was important to me that I had spent 20, 25 years with what it felt like to be me with somebody that just ran and ran and ran and solved problems, and figured things out, and listened to audiobooks and just felt, and was, a runner.
And then I get hurt and I spend this time and I'm working hard to shift the interior landscape of what it feels like to be me. And even coming to the point of acceptance that I may never quite be the runner that I was and was starting to just settle in with that, but oh my goodness, just even doing this simple half marathon just uncorked something back to what it feels like to be me. And I recognize now that is just an amazing way that the brain works. That just having somebody else challenge one of these limiting self-beliefs, allowed me to just challenge it myself and say man, what if I just pushed through and then it wasn't as scary as I thought it was.
So I think the challenge might be, I would love for you to take a look at what those limiting beliefs are. If you had a parent that worked the same job forever, then maybe you feel like if I wanted to change careers, that wouldn't work. Or if you grew up in a home where the dad didn't, wasn't vulnerable, didn't show emotion, didn't get up and play with the kids, then that might be a belief that you have or a story that your brain is just hooked to that that's not what you do. Or if you grew up in a home, again, I'm going all in on the men as a guy myself, where you didn't express emotion, you didn't tell your wife you love her, you didn't try to be spontaneous or plan date nights, or if you didn't see taken ownership or accountability of things modeled, if you didn't see empathy modeled, well, then that can make sense is why you feel like that isn't the way the world works. But it's just a limiting belief. Do you want growth? Do you want change? It can be scary, but just like this experience with this half marathon, it didn't take a whole lot to break through that ceiling of limiting self belief.
And at this point now, I literally feel like that whole sky's the limit. So I hope that you can maybe just challenge your own limited beliefs. What are those stories that you feel are the stories that this is just the way the world works and even just the beginning, the starting down this process of neuroplasticity or changing that interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you?
It really does just start simply by just being aware, starting to think, starting to dream, starting to just envision what change could look like. And then slowly but surely you'll start to look for more and more areas where you can change and then what that can feel like to be you can be a completely different version of even the person that you were earlier today.
I'd love to hear your feedback, questions, and comments. Head over onto social media and you can comment on whatever the post is that goes up with this. And thank you so much for spending time here on the Virtual Couch. Don't forget to check out Waking Up to Narcissism. That one again, not just all about, this is a narcissist, but we talk a lot about emotional immaturity, how to become more emotionally mature, how to unhook from unproductive conversations and relationships. And there's just a whole lot more that is coming out and I'm grateful for the support of all those who continue to tune in. Taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, the also now on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”.
Have an amazing week and we will see you next time on the Virtual Couch.