How Compassion and Persistence Can Help You to Overcome Limiting Self Beliefs
Do you have a voice inside your head that pops up at the most unhelpful moment and says, ‘You can’t…’,‘You are not good enough’, ‘You always…’ or ‘You never…’? Most of us do.
Unfortunately, sometimes we let this voice take charge. It might be about playing small at work, not applying for an interesting job or not volunteering to give a presentation. It could also be about avoiding rejection, perhaps not challenging the status quo or not sharing vulnerable feelings with someone you care about. Take a moment to notice the limiting stories and labels you sometimes tell yourself.
What are the ways in which they constrain your life? Where are the places you pull back because a voice inside your head tells you, ‘You aren’t good enough’.
In the interview below, Professor Kelly G Wilson talks about how, for many years, he lived inside a story that told him he was doomed to a life of addiction. At that time, Kelly believed: ‘birdies got to fly, fishes got to swim, Kelly’s a dope fiend. It’s sad, it’s tragic but it is what it is….. I bought into a story that I was so toxic and dangerous that anybody who was close to me would be better off if they were away from me’. This story meant that Kelly gave up on himself and his relationships with the people who mattered to him.
The most perilous self-stories are often the ones that have some basis in fact. Where you can justify your harsh self-assessment by recalling genuine failures, repeated mistakes or significant blunders. Kelly’s destructive self-story was like this. It was based on repeated and painful experiences of his own failings. For many years, Kelly was so addicted to drugs and alcohol that he repeatedly hurt the people he loved, including himself. He abandoned his daughter. He let his mother go for months without knowing whether he was dead or alive. He was often suicidal. He believed that he was ‘not fit for the world’.
Then he started to dream of something different. He wanted to have a day in which he did not want to die. Even that dream seemed so absurdly out of reach to Kelly that he could barely wish it out loud. But he found a small community of kindness, just a tiny handful of people who supported him in doing the next right thing. He just kept getting up each day, letting whatever ‘next right thing’ that lay before him be sufficient. Really, really small ‘right’ things, over and over again.
Bit by bit, step by step, he moved forward and eventually he achieved more than he could have imagined. He is now a Professor of Psychology and he was part of the team who developed Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT). He has also written some wonderful books. More than this, he loves many people and is loved in return. He has rebuilt his relationship with the daughter he abandoned.
Kelly was determined enough, compassionate enough and courageous enough to step out of his self-destructive story and as a result he has been part of something important.
The self-limiting stories you have about yourself might not be as noticeable as Kelly’s. They might even feel unimportant. But if they are holding you back from a life that is rich and meaningful for you, then they do matter. The good news is that you don’t have to get rid of those beliefs in order to change. You just have to learn to take gentle, repeated and consistent action with a deep sense of hope and self-compassion.
What gentle and courageous first step might you take that would move you towards what really matters to you?
‘In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what is possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?’ – Kelly Wilson
You can find resources to help you to build self-compassion on Kristin Neff’s website. The 7 day compassionate journal is a great place to start. I also recommend Things Might Go Horribly Terribly Wrong, A Guide to a Life Liberated From Anxiety by Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene.
To learn more about Kelly’s work: