Arjun was born a working elephant. He was not destined to wander freely, doing as he pleased. He would not spend his days splashing in the lake, running with the herd or getting giddy feasting on the sugar cane. Instead he would be an obedient beast of burden, living out his years pulling large logs through the jungle.
At a very young age, a rope was placed around Arjun's leg. It was not a thick rope, however it was strong enough that a small, young elephant could not break free.
As the years went on Arjun grew and grew. He became a most powerful elephant and could drag huge, thick tree trunks over long distances. Despite what a mighty creature Arjun had become, he was still tied up at night with the same thin rope.
The loggers knew that elephants never forget*. As a young elephant Arjun couldn't break free from the thin rope and so for the rest of his life he believed it simply wasn't possible.
So, what's the saddest part of this story?
Is it the cruel exploitation of elephants? That's certainly tragic, but it's not it. Is it that Arjun was held back from living the life he truly wanted because of a false belief that he couldn't break free? You're getting close, but that's also not it.
The saddest part of the story is that it's an allegory. You and I are Arjun.
Just like Arjun, we have limiting self-beliefs. Each one of these beliefs is like a thin rope, holding us back. All it can take is a small piece of criticism to tie that rope. Maybe you were laughed at when you were dancing and now you think “I can't dance”. Maybe you were told you were dumb, or ugly, or not leadership material.
You can easily become bound by all of it and suddenly you can't go as far or do as much. You won't dance because you “can't dance”. You won't do that course because you are “not smart enough”. You won't chase after that person you are really attracted to because you are “ugly”. You won't apply for that job because you are “not leadership material”. None of these things are actually true. They are all limiting self-beliefs - just thin bits of rope which will hold you back, if you let them.
Why do we get tied down?
When I was 7 years old I was standing on the roof of my house, preparing to launch off for a casual fly around the neighbourhood. That was until my mum came along and told me that “little boys can't fly” (which I wasn't too worried about because I was actually a magic dragon). Having explained this to my mum, she then told me “don't be silly, you are not a magic dragon, you are just a very naughty boy who is probably going to crush all my azaleas”. With her well-meaning and sensible advice mum eventually coaxed me down from the roof, but from that day on I never believed I could fly or that I could be a magic dragon.
Throughout your life, it's likely you've received all sorts of advice. Much of it was probably sensible, well-meaning advice, intended to protect you. Sometimes however it can also create limiting beliefs and act as another thin little rope around your leg. Over time these limiting beliefs can hold you back from doing what matters most to you, from leading the life you truly want.
Who is it that's tying these ropes?
You can't just blame your parents or those cruel kids who bullied you at school. Friends, teachers, workmates and all sorts of other loved ones will happily lash you down whilst encouraging you to play it safe. There is also a giant advertising industry built on making you feel inadequate and fostering limiting self-beliefs. Advertisers will make you feel ugly to sell beauty products. They will make you feel afraid to sell insurance. They will make you feel trapped to buy a gigantic SUV that will climb over impressive looking mountains.
Why do we stay bound by these ropes?
At the core of all limiting self-beliefs (which we all have) is an overwhelming human desire to feel safe and accepted. We often do what is required to fit in ahead of doing what we really want. It's why teenagers suck on cigarettes, women strap on painful stilettos and men sweat it out in neckties and woollen suits on baking hot days. Breaking with expected norms is uncomfortable – more uncomfortable for many people than coughing up their lungs, torturing their feet or sweating it out in wildly inappropriate clothing. While we are given rewards for fitting in, we are taught that breaking free is risky and dangerous. Most of the time we stay bound by the ropes because they help us feel physically, emotionally and mentally safe.
What separates us from the superstars?
The biggest star quality isn't brains, looks or musical ability – it's refusing to be bound by those thin ropes. The Beatles were rejected by record label after record label and were told they had no future in show business. Winston Churchill's father said that Winston was “unfit for a career in law or politics”. Barbra Streisand's mother said she'd never be a singer because her voice wasn't good enough and she'd never be pretty enough to be an actress. A modelling agency told Marilyn Monroe “You better get secretarial work or get married”. J. K Rowling was rejected by numerous publishers and told “not to quit her day job”. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his whole life.
Had any of these people let themselves be bound by the criticism, we wouldn't know their names today. We wouldn't see their art, read their words, listen to their songs or be inspired by their actions.
How do you want the story to end?
It would be an incredibly sad ending were Arjun to live out the rest of his days dragging heavy logs, longing for a different life and believing he is trapped.
So, why not write a different ending? After all, what's really holding you back?
6 tips for letting go of limiting beliefs
1. A powerful first step can be to simply acknowledge what limiting beliefs are continuing to influence your actions and behaviours. This itself may help release the grip of your limiting beliefs.
2. Use the techniques in sessions 4 (Just a Thought) and session 5 (Getting all Emotional) of RAW Mind Coach to help manage any difficult thoughts/feelings which show up in response to letting go of these limiting beliefs.
3. While limiting beliefs are often focused on keeping you “safe”, the reality is they often keep you tied down, convince you to "play small" and undermine your sense of worthiness and wellbeing. To get where you truly want to go, you need to bravely pursue your values.
4. Session 6 (Action Time) of RAW Mind Coach comprises a simple exercise to help you reflect on your personal values, connect with them and honour them throughout your daily life.
5. While limiting beliefs will not disappear overnight, taking these actions can loosen their grip on you. It's likely you will more quickly recognise when a limiting belief is showing up and when your behaviour is being influenced by old unhelpful stories.
6. Remember, you will not be here forever. Your finite time on this earth is precious. Will you let your limiting beliefs steal your hopes, dreams and possible adventures or will you choose to honour your own values and do what matters most?
*Want to know why elephants never forget? Check out this video about elephant intelligence.
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