By Vega Subramaniam
There’s a writing fellowship I’ve had my sights on for…well, for at least a few years now. Every once in awhile, I’ll go to the website, check out the next application date, salivate a bit over the photos of the location, and then watch another episode of My Life is Murder.
Applying for the fellowship sits toward the top of my annual goals almost every year. I think, well, I’m one or two degrees of separation from folks who’ve gotten the fellowship; maybe I’ll reach out to them for advice. Or, even if I wouldn’t qualify for this fellowship, maybe there’s a lower-stakes one out there that I could vie for. Or, what the hell, let me at least go through the exercise of applying for the fellowship; even if when I don’t get it, the exercise itself will have been worth it.
I keep not doing it, though. And it weighs on me. It sits there in the back of my mind taking up far too much space, especially considering how little work I put toward it. It basically just sucks my energy and makes me feel low-key lousy about myself all the time.
Something holds me back, despite it being on my “annual goals” list…and on my calendar…and in my DropBox.
I remember a fellow coach friend of mine talking about something that he was hoping to do and yet wasn’t, and what was keeping him from it. And quite casually, he acknowledged that “that’s one of my limiting beliefs.” He said it so matter-of-factly, like, yes, it exists. The way you might comment on a broken doorknob, or a flat tire. Something that’s there and it’s just a matter of fixing it.
And I thought to myself, yes, that’s exactly right. Somewhere in my unconscious, I have a limiting belief that’s inhibiting me from fulfilling my conscious goal. Somewhere in my unconscious sits an alternative, perhaps opposing, thought pattern that clicks mercilessly into place when I visit the fellowship website. Something like, “who am I kidding. I’m not a ‘serious writer’ and will never be. It would be an insult to ‘serious writers’ for me to even submit an application. I’d just piss off the fellowship review committee for wasting their time.” And who wants that. No onewants that.
Maybe that will happen. Maybe not, but maybe. And even so, so what? That limiting belief, it’s just a distraction. I don’t have to give it the weight it has. I don’t have to give into it.
I remember a story I learned years ago at a training: imagine you’re heading home from work, and your path takes you through the woods. At some point, you encounter a log blocking the path. At that point, what do you do? Do you decide that because the log is there, you can’t go home after all, and turn around and sleep at the office? No, of course you don’t. Your goal of getting home is so unshakeable that your brain immediately starts considering how to get past the log. Climb over it? Walk around it? Find something you can use as a ladder? Your brain most definitely does not decide to watch another episode of My Life is Murder. (Until your brain is back home, with a glass of wine in its hand.)
What if my goal of applying for the fellowship was that unshakeable? And my limiting belief was a log, but merely a log?
What would I do differently then?
The obvious answer is that I would find a way over, under, or around the log.
There are hosts of ideas out there for overcoming limiting beliefs, including here, here, and here. A common pattern seems to be that the roots of our limiting beliefs are in our childhoods, which is to say, they’re deep. And therefore, overcoming them takes practice, perseverance, and patience. Reconditioning your subconscious mind is not for the faint of heart.
Circling back to my goal of applying for this writing fellowship, what do I do?
Well, I recognize my limiting beliefs. I’ve already done that, but just to be clear:
I get curious about my limiting beliefs.
I write, and practice, a new script.
Mind you: I’m not suggesting that the larger world disappears. I’m not saying all the current otherwise stable conditions don’t matter.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times that structural or other barriers exist that genuinely stop you—you lose your job and can no longer afford college tuition. You really just need to leave that relationship that’s causing you so much harm. Your professional path takes a detour because you have to tend to an ailing family member. Genuine derailments happen, and genuine reasons to stop moving forward exist, and genuine discernment between limiting beliefs and real barriers needs to be developed.
But maybe this new practice will begin to reset my underlying belief system. Maybe this year, I will actually apply for the writing fellowship, because my limiting beliefs no longer click mercilessly into place when I visit the website. Maybe I’ll climb over the log instead of arbitrarily being stopped by its appearance on my path home.
And you? What’s the goal or intention that matters so much for you, and yet feels blocked, stymied? What’s your limiting belief? And despite that, what’s your new belief pattern going to be? What will you do differently, this time?