Limiting Yourself – Are You Getting In Your Own Way?

Finally in this series of articles, we need to look at the constraints and limits we put on ourselves. There is lots of writing on the subject of getting in our own way. I particularly like Tim Gallwey’s idea that we have two selves – one that will get on and do what it knows, and the other that thinks about it too much and hinders performance.

Whatever the theories behind it, I’m sure you can identify with the idea that sometimes, the only thing holding you back from success is yourself. In this article I will look at some of the ways we do that and give you some pointers to work on, either alone or with the help of your coach.

I can’t do it

Maybe at this point in time you genuinely can’t do what you would like to. It might be that there are physical reasons currently preventing you – a broken leg hindering your sprinting ability for example. If the physical issue is a short-lived one then revisit the scenario once your body is better. Sometimes though our body lets us down on a more permanent basis. If you are 4’11”, playing lock forward in international rugby will be tricky. In situations like this, unless technology is imminently offering a solution, rethink what you want from life.

It may also be that you just can’t do it yet. What skills, knowledge or attitudes do you need to gain in order to be successful? Once you know this then it is simply a case of gaining these. This does of course imply that what you need can be added in some way. If it can’t then you are presumably back to the paragraph above or the next point below.

I don’t believe I can do it

This is subtly different thinking from the first point. Whereas above you actually couldn’t do it, now you just don’t believe you can. What evidence do you have to suggest this is true? For a lot of people they tried something once as a child, failed and never went back to it. Despite many intervening years of skill acquisition, learning and world experience, they are still under the misapprehension that they can’t do it. Maybe now is the time to try again. Even people we deem to be successful have got into that mindset: John McEnroe was defeated in straight sets in the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 1979. Consequently he didn’t play mixed doubles again for 20 years.

For other people, they have been feted as special and able to do something very well. Then they had an off day and failed. Scared of proving to themselves and others that they were no longer ‘special’ they have backed away from trying again. This starts to smell of a fixed mindset to me, more of which later. Yes, there is a chance when we try something that we are not sure of, that we will fail. However, mistakes and failures can be seen as teaching points, milestones on the road to getting better.

So if you know you can’t, find out what you need to change so that you can. If you just think you can’t, prove it one way or the other; either you can (so celebrate) or you genuinely can’t (so find out what you need to change so that you can).

I can’t be bothered

Some people are lazy. Don’t be one of them. For many others, they have weighed up the benefits of success and the work required to gain it and decided there is an imbalance on the side of the hard work.

This could be due to misconceptions about what is required in relation to the (real or perceived) abilities of the individuals. In this case, it takes us back to the points above – is it really going to be hard work or is that just your perception? And if it is definitely going to be hard work, how much easier would it be if you gained new skills first?

The other issue at play here might be a misrepresentation to ourselves of how good success will be in this instance. Maybe that is related to our thinking about how successful we will be but it could simply be that we have never really investigated the payoffs properly. Check your goal and what it does for you. What will you feel when you have it. Count the rewards that you will reap. Get passionate about your achievement and see how that affects your lethargy.

I don’t deserve it

Whatever the goal or prize, if you don’t think you deserve it, you won’t work for it, will fail to earn the reward, thus cementing your opinion that you are not worth it. Find a coach to help you see the error of your ways. It might however be that you are mistaking a goal for a present. If the prize is worth something, it will not simply land in your lap. Effort will need to have been expended in some form; things like time spent networking, money earned by hard graft and hours of training in the early years can all be forgotten and people forget that they have done the miles that deserve a reward at the end of it.

It might all go wrong

Yes. It might all go wrong. But it might all go spectacularly right. How will you know until you try. To try is to risk failure and all that. But if you risk nothing then you might never gain anything of value. Again though we are back to issues of mindset, thinking that failure is a bad thing.

What is Your Mindset?

Some of what is mentioned above ultimately just comes down to one question – do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

People with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligences and skills are fixed and unchangeable. They can’t really develop and grow. Consequently, extra effort is fruitless since it won’t bring any benefits. Worse, it might show them up to be not as good as they want to think or have been told they are. Challenges are avoided; they might lead to failure or criticism. As well as this, fixed mindset people will feel threatened by others’ success. Ultimately these people will not achieve their full potential.

Growth mindset people on the other hand believe that they can grow and develop their intelligence. They have a desire to learn that leads them to embrace challenge and see failure as merely a step to where they want to get to. When setbacks come along, they work to get past them, learning from criticism and putting in extra effort to reach a level of mastery. They will look to other people who have been successful too, in order to learn from them. Consequently they reach ever higher levels of achievement and have a greater feeling of free will – they feel they can do whatever they set their minds to.

If you are a fixed mindset person you probably want to change in order to get out of your own way. No, believe me you can do it. It’s not an overnight process but Carol Dweck, the original author of these ideas suggests you should:

  • Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice telling you that you can’t do it, you might not have the talent, people will laugh at you if you fail.
  • Recognise that you have a choice how you view the world and yourself. Is this a development opportunity to help you learn and grow or a chance to prove you can’t do it?
  • Talk back in a growth mindset voice, accepting that you might not be immediately successful but there are things to be gained in the long-term from giving it a go.
  • Finally take action, review the results, suck all the learning from the experience and move on to the next challenge.

So get out of your own way so that you can move forward. And do it today.

Nicole Thomas

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