Limiting Beliefs Kill Creativity, Writers Beware

Tiny Grass Is DreamingI worked as an office manager for many years, for many different companies. It was my job to make sure people had the workspace they needed when they were hired. When I started working for a successful, affluent company I noticed something very interesting that happened with a lot of the new employees.

When I told them they could have whatever they wanted, they didn’t believe me.

Now, of course, I meant within reason. And this was limited to items for their desk and/or cubicle. But that still opened up a huge range of possibility. I told them they could choose between a PC or a Mac—brand new. I would order whatever type of keyboard they wanted, and any kind of mouse. If they desired brightly colored post-it notes, all in pink, I would get that for them. A fun calendar or a plant to liven up the space? Sure, no problem.

And then, time after time, I watched people limit themselves.

Even though I told our new employees that they weren’t on a budget, they would shop around for cheaply made furniture anyway. Some of them chose to take a hand-me-down computer from our old storage closet instead of the bright, shiny new Mac they had wistfully considered. Almost everyone made do with the dull gray walls instead of asking for even the smallest colorful decoration.

At first I thought people hadn’t heard me. No budget, I repeated. Then I thought I would lead by example, but no one seemed to notice when I treated myself to the top-of-the-line items I wanted. When I overheard someone mention that they would really love an upgrade on something I urged them to get it. Pick something out, I said. I’ll order it today.

And still, I watched people limit themselves.

Then I figured out what was going on.

These people came into our office with a set of limiting beliefs already in place.

Maybe they believed that they weren’t good enough and didn’t deserve abundance. Maybe they had been conditioned by a previous job to work with shoddy materials and make do. Or maybe they believed in guilt and fear, just in a general sense, as feelings that would always rule their lives.

It didn’t really matter what the limiting belief was, only that it was limiting their current state of existence. Their interpretation of the here and now was being constantly distorted by false perception. So no matter how much concrete evidence I gave them to the contrary (affirmation of choice, examples of fun items to choose) their mental programming overrode my very real instructions, dismissed those instructions, and acted as if they had never occurred.

The really sad thing was that this happened with most of our employees. Most of our staff members chose bottom-shelf supplies and the computer they didn’t really want. Most of them decided to live with plain gray walls.

It got me seriously thinking about my own choices.

What opportunities for happiness was I ignoring in my own life? What possibilities were lying right under my nose, and me too blind to see them? What limiting beliefs did I have that were so ingrained they didn’t even feel like beliefs, just like a part of me? What garbage had been programmed into my mental operating system so long ago, but continued to rule my life now?

This is why working with limiting beliefs is always a work-in-progress. It’s essential to watch your own thinking, day after day. Whenever you think you can’t have something, catch yourself. Why can’t you have it? Are you looking at what’s real, what really IS right in front of your own eyes, or are you listening to a voice in your head that’s not yours, not current, and not accurate?

The way to counteract limiting beliefs is to let yourself dream, and dream BIG. Let every possibility be open to you and then make your choice. Adjust your thinking so that even if your current life circumstances don’t permit that choice, you know that it’s not a big deal. Just because it’s not a reality at this moment, doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

This is hard work. We have to be relentless in our commitment to change our thinking, and vigilant about nailing ourselves when we slip back into the same-old-same-old. But it can be done. It helps if you surround yourself with people who are on the same wavelength of personal growth. Just being aware of the changes you need to make takes you halfway there.

Keep dreaming about what could be, but most importantly, keep your eyes open for what is, right here and now.

For more articles on limiting beliefs and how they affect your writing, check out:

Beginning Your Book

Writing Your First Novel? Watch What You Consume

5 Lies Writers Tell Themselves

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  • Reply Gisele LeBlanc 27 May, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Great post, Lauren!

    This reminded me of the Prosperity Game. Not sure if you’re familiar with it. It’s basically a virtual spending game. Every day, you have to virtually spend an amount, and every day the amount gets bigger. I was shocked at how difficult it was for me to spend virtual money at first. It would take me forever to decide how to spend it — and it was just pretend money but I was still feeling guilty about spending it frivolously! It was very eye-opening to say the least.

    It’s surprising how much we close ourselves off from the Universe and don’t allow abundance into our lives. Many of us have difficulty receiving, even if it’s just in the form of compliments.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 27 May, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      I have never heard of the Prosperity Game! I’m definitely going to check it out. It sounds like a great way to practice expanding my sense of abundance!

  • Reply Christy Esmahan 27 May, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Brilliant post, Lauren, and so timely! I’ve printed out the last few paragraphs and will make a point to re-read them every day until I get used to the idea. 🙂 I’m also sharing this with my readers! Thank you so much!!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 28 May, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Christy! And thanks for sharing it with your readers, too.

  • Reply Catherine North 28 May, 2015 at 1:56 am

    This is a really encouraging post for everyone, and especially writers!

    Someone significant in my life told me a while ago that they thought I had a less than 50% chance of ever being a (traditionally) published author.

    I think their intention was to stop me pinning all my hopes on a difficult goal that would cause me a lot of disappointment and frustration. To lower my expectations for my own benefit, I guess. But you can imagine it made me feel pretty discouraged. What if they were right? After all, it IS notoriously difficult to get a publishing deal, right? Maybe I should just quit and spare myself the pain?

    What this article makes me realise is that the statement this person made isn’t a fact. It’s not based on any actual evidence. It’s a belief. And it’s a belief that will limit me, but only if I allow it to.

    Thank you for writing this! 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 28 May, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Oh I love it when that happens!

      Sometimes we don’t realize that we automatically assume people are feeding “facts” to us, when really they’re just opinions. This especially happens with people who we respect, admire, idolize, etc. But then sometimes, the facade is shattered and we see that those people are only human, too. And nothing is objective. That’s when that ah-ha moment occurs. We see that we can choose to accept or reject their opinion, or do nothing with it at all! It’s tremendously liberating.

  • Reply Mari Biella 28 May, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Great post, Lauren, and very relevant to my own situation – I’ve always been guilty of harbouring limiting beliefs. At the same time, I always think that I have to be honest enough to admit as much when the limitation in question is not self-imposed, but real. It’s a bit of a balancing act, and one I haven’t yet mastered…

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 28 May, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      I totally get it, Mari. I haven’t yet mastered it either.

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 28 May, 2015 at 8:10 am

    My dreams are big, huge, humongous. However, I have the bank account of an insect, like maybe an ant. I would love to have a keyboard in which the letters don’t disappear with use. Is there such a thing? My ‘S’ looks like a fish hook right now. I would love to have a wrap-around desk. The money isn’t in the budget. I have a second-hand desk with just enough room for a CPU cubbyhole and the tiny little pen/pencil drawer. When I develop a character, the good guy never has a lot of material things, where the bad guy does. Maybe that’s where the limited beliefs start. I mean, who wants to be the bad guy?

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 28 May, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      I LOVED the first line of your comment Glynis! “Big, huge, humongous” is right where they should be 🙂

  • Reply Drew Gerken » Friday Link Pack: 5/29/15 29 May, 2015 at 8:23 am

    […] Lauren Sapala has returned to the writing world after a very amazing hiatus. I have missed her presence in the Twittersphere and the blogosphere. Lauren has a way to read my mind, on a near weekly basis, and construct amazing posts dealing with issues that I find myself struggling with as a writer. She is my very own proactive, mind-reading twelve step program, and I love her for it. Her writing advice is always sound and actionable. You should be following her blog and her Twitter feed. Her post this week deals with self-limitation and our innate barriers to not reach for the stars. She talks through a previous career where she was asked to give new-hire employees the workspace of their dreams – new computers, any decorations or furniture they desired, a paint job – only to find them taking second-hand computers and particle board furniture. Of course she relates this back to writing and our inhibitions as writers, but I will let you read the article for yourself. […]

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 31 May, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Excellent post. We tend to get what we ask for, but we find asking very difficult. In my science job, they had a look at gender imbalance on pay. What drove it? The men asked for, and insisted on, a rise, when they felt that had deserved one; the women waited for someone else to decide whether they deserved one. With an open offer, such as you describe, we also tend to have a self-limiting reaction – there must be a catch, there’s no such thing as a free lunch etc – so we feel safer settling for a lower level.

  • Reply Judith Post 1 June, 2015 at 11:07 am

    This was interesting. I thought more people would at least go for the computer they wanted. Really intriguing.

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