Why do people make the choices they do throughout their careers? What makes one person persevere and take risks to achieve their goals while others can’t seem to get unstuck and find themselves locked into an unfulfilling job for years? In this article we are suggesting that the critical factor is belief. Belief is ultimately what determines how successful you are.
Essentially, beliefs are your unconscious patterns of thinking. Core beliefs are the foundation of your personality. They describe you as worthy of respect or worthless, competent or incompetent, fairly treated or victimized, independent or helpless.
Individual belief systems are an incredibly powerful influence on the choices people make. We observed people who said they wanted to make positive change, but struggled to take concrete actions to accomplish their goals. Many intelligent and motivated people become paralyzed by intangible inner obstacles.
The Source of Your Beliefs
Where do our beliefs come from? There is no simple answer because several factors need to be considered.
- Personality – Obviously, not everyone holds the same beliefs. Our fundamental personality has a tremendous impact on the beliefs that we assume through our formative years and how we view the world in general.
- Family and Role Models – There is no question that our environment plays a significant role in who we become. Our families and role models send us very powerful messages about who we are and how the world operates. These messages become the foundation of many of our beliefs into adulthood.
- Cultural and Ethnic Values – Many of us are raised within certain cultural environments that provide us with feedback about what’s right/what’s wrong and what’s true/what’s false. It may sound like stereotyping, but cultural and ethnic values still have a strong impact on what we believe.
- Spiritual Orientation –Beliefs around faith, destiny and god have a tremendous influence on the choices we each make about work throughout our lives. This might include traditional religious values that we learned as children.
“When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
- Dakota Tribal Saying
Your beliefs shape your life and your behavior. This, of course, is a good thing if your beliefs are accurate and affirming. However, limiting beliefs get in the way of positive change. They restrict what you can achieve. Beliefs are often referred to as “childhood tapes” that play over and over in our heads and often dictate our behavior. Do any of these tapes sound familiar?
- I’m really not smart enough to run a company, am I?
- I want this promotion, but I don’t think I have what it takes to do the job
- I’m too old to go back to school and start a new career – it’s too late
- It would be irresponsible to pursue my passions now because I have a family
- Better stick with this job – it’s all I know
- I should never quit my job without having another one
In our consulting practice, we have coined the phrase “belief imprisonment” to describe being stuck in your limiting beliefs. Since many beliefs operate outside of your awareness, their influence on your daily choices may be invisible yet profound.
Identifying your core beliefs and bringing them into your conscious mind is crucial for making positive change.
If you don’t expect to get well when you are diagnosed with a health problem, you won’t do all the things that can help you get better – especially those things that may be difficult. In the same way, if you don’t expect that you can successfully make a career change or get that promotion, you won’t do all the things than can ensure you succeed.
Consider Lisa. She is bright, personable and very capable. Lisa holds a position as a Senior Manager in a large multi-national organization. She is thought of as an extremely competent and valuable employee. Yet Lisa is miserable because of unreasonable expectations around volume of work that are standard in her company. Her boss’s lack of follow- through and consistency also continually frustrate her.
Lisa first came to us because she decided it was time to move on. She had been putting up with the frustration of her current environment for two years and was very unhappy. More importantly, the stress of her job was making her physically ill.
But it isn’t so easy to change things when you are conducting your life based on inaccurate beliefs that have accumulated over a lifetime. Lisa is still struggling with strong internal contradictions and is continuously questioning her ability to ‘succeed’ in another company or another role. Since she hasn’t mastered every aspect of her current job, she believes she is incompetent. This prevents her from applying for new positions. A great burden of guilt prevents her from taking time to go on interviews or network.
“I know intellectually that I deserve to find a position that suits me better, but this inner voice keeps telling me that I should be in my office ten hours a day – and I should stay here longer to learn more – I can’t seem to break free”. In her mind, if she goes on an interview, she is not being responsible or loyal.
Lisa is stuck because of her limiting beliefs and fears about not measuring up and not being viewed as a responsible person.
We identified three limiting beliefs. Lisa has agreed to take simple concrete actions so that she can move forward and is trying to push through her fears by looking at her limiting beliefs square in the eye. She’ll get there, but it’s natural for her resistance to be high.
Breaking Through Limiting Beliefs
“To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”
- Katherine Patterson
We look for evidence that supports what we believe and ignore contrary evidence. This reinforces our inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and makes it difficult to change.
Alvah Parker, a coach that works predominantly with attorneys, identifies 10 common beliefs on career change that can derail your desire for change. If the belief is making you unhappy or feeling stuck, now is the time to change it. It will help to free you to make a change in your life.
How do you break through?
- Understand your basic personality – This will give you insight into the type of beliefs you have a tendency to hold onto.
- Identify your limiting beliefs –Write them down and bring them into your consciousness.
- Question your beliefs – Especially those that are limiting or inducing fear. Be aggressive about this. Only you can create your own future.
- Behave differently – Your behavior drives and reinforces your beliefs. Start behaving differently (even if it is uncomfortable) and eventually you will believe differently.
- Change one behavior at a time – Don’t think you can change everything at once. Establish realistic goals. Get focused.
- Push through your fears – There are always fears associated with limiting beliefs. The fear that someone you love will not approve if you change, the fear that you won’t live up expectations, the fear of failure (you know the list).
- Seek professional help – It is tough to change beliefs without objective feedback. Deeper issues need to be addressed with a trained psychologist.
Learning how to alter your limiting beliefs is a skill. It’s hard work, but the potential rewards are huge. Doing this can bring you a new sense of freedom. Don’t be a victim of your own limiting beliefs – seek out help to reshape your beliefs about who you are and what you can do. You have the capability to achieve everything you want to. You just gotta believe.
Terry Del Percio is a Career and Workplace Consultant. She manages a private practice called The Work Strategies Company located in Beverly, Massachusetts. Visit her website at http://www.workstrategies.com or you can contact Terry by phone at 978.282.8900. Twitter @WorkIntegrity
McKay, Ph.D., Matthew and Fanning, Patrick. Prisoners of Belief. California: New Harbinger Publications, 1991.
O’Hanlon, Bill. Do One Thing Different. New York. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1999.