When Leaders Have Self-Imposed Limitations
“C’mon! Let’s see what you’ve got. Just take your best shot…” It’s a catchy line from a Styx song with a chorus that repeats “You’re fooling yourself if you don’t believe it. You’re kidding yourself, if you don’t believe it…” The twist in the song is that “fooling yourself” doesn’t refer to an over-inflated ego or an unrecognized flaw in yourself. Instead, the song refers to unrealized potential, to an angry young man’s inability to see that his future actually looks quite bright. Sure, there are people who fool themselves (or try to fool others) with arrogant over-estimations of their own abilities and contributions. But I think that more of us fool ourselves in this other way, by falsely believing we are less capable than we truly are and giving ourselves self-imposed limitations.
Fooling Ourselves with Self-Imposed Limitations
These self-imposed limitations cause us to give up or not to try at all. We convince ourselves that we shouldn’t try because we can’t succeed. We insulate ourselves from failure by doing only what we have already succeeded in doing before.
As a result, our possibilities become narrower, seemingly affirming that we are, indeed, limited.
It’s easy to let this happen because we are both creatures of habit and seekers of comfort. But we are fooling ourselves if we use our routines and self-imposed limitations as security blankets.
In an age of rapidly expanding information, in an economy that is volatile, in a time of upheaval around the globe… can you honestly say that what you know and do today will always be sufficient? Real security comes from remaining open to trying new things, adapting and risking failure for the purpose of self-development.
As you read this, I can practically hear the excuses bubbling up. You are fooling yourself if you are thinking “I can’t,” “I’ve never,” “I don’t know how,” “I’m not…” The truth is that you can, you will, you’ll learn and you are. But it only becomes the truth when you believe it.
Looking for a little proof? When you were at your very lowest points – less educated than you are now, less independent than you are now, and less experienced than you are now, you did new things every single day. You built skills that far surpassed your current capabilities. You were just a child. Even so, you took your best shot. You tried. You tried again and again if necessary. You did not fear failure, so you did not fail.
Consider the message you are telling yourself. Challenge it. Don’t readily accept the easy outs you are tempted to give yourself.
I recently worked with a woman who was re-entering the workforce. Initially, she was eager to learn and open to trying new things. I encouraged her to give herself grace and allow for a learning curve because I could see that she had high expectations of herself. Those high expectations caused her to dig in and learn rapidly at first.
Then, something changed. She made a few minor mistakes (part of any learning curve). She magnified the importance of those mistakes and what they meant. She spoke about them in self-condemning ways rather than seeing those mistakes as expected and positive opportunities for more learning and growth.
Her negative self-talk – “I don’t know enough about computers” and “I’m not professional enough” is a classic example of how we fool ourselves. Neither of those statements were true – a lot of latitude for learning and developing had been given in this situation. She just hadn’t given the same to herself. She pronounced those judgments on herself and, within weeks, her eagerness for learning and the quality of her work declined dramatically. She fooled herself right out of a job. Chances are that she will retreat from future opportunities because she will continue to believe that she is limited, all because of a few mistakes.
So let’s see what you’ve got. Liberate yourself from self-limiting beliefs and stop fooling yourself. “Get up, get back on your feet, you’re the one they can’t beat…”
Next Steps for Freeing Yourself From Self-Imposed Limitations
Deb Calvert is a certified Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker, Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge® and Trainer. She is the founder of People First Productivity Solutions, building organizational strength by putting people first since 2006.