That quote is from the American personal development expert Tony Robbins. He has a documentary on Netflix at the moment called I’m not Your Guru. He’s pretty Marmite, especially to British sensitivities, but it you can get past the melodrama and the fawning fans, Robbins speaks a lot of sense.
His quote has rung true for me this week.
After a really good January, I had a relapse into some bruising vestibular migraines and vertigo. I was surprised by how quickly my mood plummeted. After a few days being poorly, it wasn’t clear what was more distressing; the physical symptoms or my mental state.
As I recovered, two things, rather serendipitously, bought me back to the importance of this quote.
On Friday, I started a Coaching module on Beliefs. The definition of a belief is a thought or idea that we hold about ourselves that we don’t question. Beliefs have a powerful influence, often at a subconscious level, on our decisions and behaviour.
To qualify as a coach you have to be prepared to ask yourself the sort of searching questions that you’ll be asking your clients. So I got to work. They eased us in gently with the first question. “Write a list of all the positive beliefs you hold about yourself”.
But then, deep breath … “Write a list of all the negative beliefs you hold about yourself”
I don’t want to make this blog post about me. But I share my answers to demonstrate the value of the process.
I have a few negative beliefs. I don’t think I’m patient enough with my children. I don’t think I’m good at translating my thoughts and opinions into persuasive, verbal arguments in the workplace. But my biggest negative belief (reflected in my speedy plunge into despair at the return of my symptoms) is that I’m scared that Menieres / vestibular migraines will rob me of the ability to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
The module coached me to take my most limiting belief and ask myself what it was costing me. Answer – too much. I had to describe how my life would be different if I let go of this belief. Answer – even just to imagine letting go of this noxious belief felt significant. Then I had to write the opposite belief and find evidence for it in my life. It took me a while but I wrote this. In the darkest 6 months of my life I’ve found a new career path in coaching and a passion for writing, which I find deeply fulfilling.
I’m clearly a work-in progress, but it was empowering.
I knew I was wrestling with my condition but I didn’t realise, until I was forced to spell it out, how profound its impact was. It made me wonder how many other people carry around beliefs that have the capacity to be so damaging?
I also started reading a book called My Stroke of Insight by Jill-Bolte Taylor. Taylor is a Harvard-trained brain scientist who experienced a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain at the age of 37. She lost the ability to walk, talk, read and write and it took her eight years to fully recover.
Her “stroke of insight” stems from what the stroke taught her. When the constant brain chatter from the left side of her brain was temporarily silenced by the stroke, she experienced the bizarre pleasure of experiencing life exclusively through the intuitive and rather chilled out right side of her brain.
“My right hemisphere is all about right here right now. It bounces around with unbridled enthusiasm and doesn’t have a care in the world. It smiles a lot and is extremely friendly. In contrast my left hemisphere is preoccupied with details and runs my life on a tight schedule. It is my more serious side. It clenches my jaw and makes decisions based upon what it learned in the past.”
During her long recovery she made a conscious decision about which parts of her left brain’s functionality she would invite back into her life and which parts she wouldn’t.
“It has been extremely empowering for me to realise that the negative storyteller portion of my brain is only about the size of a peanut! … The portion of my left mind that I chose not to recover was the part of my left hemisphere character that had the potential to be mean, worry incessantly or be verbally abusive to either myself or others … I’m a devout believer that paying attention to our self-talk is vitally important for our mental health. In my opinion, making the decision that internal verbal abuse is not acceptable behaviour is the first step towards finding deep inner peace”.
Be kind to yourself. It’s the oldest cliché in the book. And cliches tend to get ignored. But ask yourself. If your self-talk (the stuff that you tell yourself every day) was actually a friend of yours, would you be kinder? I know I would. And not just a little bit. I’d be so much kinder.
And if we were kinder to ourselves maybe, Robbins’ quote could land as it’s supposed to, as an empowering message about positive self-belief.
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