|Man in a Box, a photo by Chase Hoffman on Flickr.|
You, my friend, are living in a box that you made for yourself. How does it fit? Does it feel confining? Are your muscles strained and your bones all twisted up? Are you in there all the time, or are you more likely to climb inside when faced with certain situations?
The box, of course, is the collection of your assumptions about yourself. The collection includes things like:
- Whether you're smart enough to be a rocket scientist
- Whether you're good-looking, or average, or something else not to be described here
- Whether you could be on American Idol - and not be one of the shameful audition performances
- Whether you have the stuff to become the next business phenom
The bad news
Unfortunately for you, a lot of these assumptions were formed a LONG time ago - before you hit elementary school. Sure, the context evolved as you got older: king of the playground evolved into king of the middle school football team, middle school led to star high school, then college, etc. But what didn't necessarily evolve was your view of yourself in those scenarios, or others.
When you were a preschooler there was a lot that you couldn't do. You weren't big enough yet, and you hadn't started your formal schooling. When you're a kid surrounded by adults, even when you're the biggest and best among your peers you can still learn habits of feeling inadequate and unworthy, uncoordinated and shy.
Compounding these self-assessments are the lessons learned from your parents. "Don't go here", "don't do that," repeated to you over time, are stored in your noggin, and eventually they evolve into "can't go here" and "can't do that". These can linger long after you're educated, perhaps even married with a few workplace accomplishments under your belt. Self-doubts are the box, the self-limiting habits of thought that squeeze you into a space that's smaller than it needs to be.
The good news
Fortunately for you, the box is a collection of habits. You learned them, so you can learn other ones that are more supportive of the person that you want to become. This isn't easy. If you have spent 40 years becoming the person you are now you are unlikely to do a 180-degree turn in a weekend. But over time you can intentionally input new information that will help to dilute the old programming that's currently running in your mind and tripping you up from time to time.
If you want to break out of that box, here are some things you can do:
- Set goals for yourself, ones that stretch you a bit. The achievement of stretch goals helps you notice that you are expanding your boundaries. It helps if you manage the amount of stretch. Go too far in one step and you might set yourself up to "prove" yourself right about your limitations. The length of the first step isn't as important as is the experience of intentional progress. Success encourages you to take the next step, and the next, and the next.
- Manage your self-talk. You might be in the habit of saying "stupid, stupid, stupid!" inside your head when you make a mistake. When you do that you strengthen the little box. Instead, make a point of talking to yourself about the person you want to become - even if you have a way to go before you get there. Write it down if you have to. "I make time to organize myself every day," or "I enjoy speaking in front of groups," affirm specific actions that fulfill specific characteristics that you want to have more consistently - in this case organization and confidence in your public speaking.
- Surround yourself with inspiration. There are people around who who are expanding their own boxes daily. Model some of their successful methods, and help them notice their successes. And when you hang out with people who are expanding the box they are likely to encourage you in your efforts too.
You may be in a box, and it may not be comfortable. But you don't have to live there. Living in that confining box, built by your habits of thought, is a choice. What would it mean to you if you chose to build a bigger place in which to live?