A personal reflection about working with self-limiting beliefs and fear in order to live your values.
On Sunday I am going to Clare Bowditch’s ‘Sing Song Showtime’ workshop at the Abbotsford Convent. I am not a singer. I have never been a singer. At various points in my life, I have been advised by others that I am not a singer. Given this, it is fair to say that going to this workshop involves a giant leap outside of my comfort zone. Working with fear and self limiting beliefs are essential skills for doing the vulnerable work of moving out of your comfort zone.
Booking my place in the workshop all seemed like a very good idea at the time. Two days out, fear and my self limiting beliefs are showing up and I have booking remorse, big time. I also have big mouth regret. Why, oh why, did I tell anyone that I was going to doing this. Here is what is showing up for me as I contemplate doing something far outside of my comfort zone…
As I think about Sunday’s workshop my chest feels tight and constricted and there is a butterfly like sensation buzzing around my chest that is unpleasant. My throat feels tight, blocked, and as though it is seizing up. I quite literally feel nauseas.
A lot of old psychological gunk is rearing its head in the form of persuasive negative stories my mind is trying to sell me about why I can’t sing and should not go on Sunday. It’s a damn good salesman. I feel like doing what I would have done years ago. Running. Hiding. Not showing up. This is two days out from the event. What on earth is it going to be like on the day? my mind chatters away. That chatter, I imagine, might turn into a scream tomorrow, or Sunday morning.
I can totally justify not going. There are a plethora of potential justifications and I can tell you that I want to buy these babies big time:
– “You can say that you were tired or sick”.
– “It’s a long drive from the coast so early in the morning, it’s all just too hard”.
– “You have a child and a new business, too much on your plate”.
In my youth I would have bought these justifications wholeheartedly and I would not have gone. And you know what, no one would hold me accountable today if I didn’t go…except me.
What are the self limiting beliefs that are showing up for me?
Here is a sample of the other self limiting beliefs my mind is trying to sell me, like a suave and smooth salesman, trying to hook me in and get me to take the bait:
– “You can’t sing. SERIOUSLY, you really CANNOT sing!”.
– “You are tone deaf”.
– “Everyone else will have experience and you have NONE! You will almost certainly be the WORST singer there”.
– “You will look STUPID in public. WHY would you want to EMBARRASS yourself like that?”.
The memories that shaped my self limiting beliefs
The memories of my shameful singing past that shaped these self limiting beliefs now begin to invade my brain space, trying to protect me by reminding me that it is not safe to attempt this….
The most prominent memory of this shameful singing past is of the first time I ever sang in public. It was during primary school and I was eight years old. Music was a big thing at my primary school and every year the school put on a musical. Each year I would watch the older kids perform and wish that I could be them. I secretly dreamed of being a person with the confidence to sing well and to one day win the lead part. Then came my first big chance. The first year of being old enough to participate. All of us lined up to audition in front of the two main music teachers, the gatekeepers who assigned the parts. There was a line of kids that extended out into the hall.
One by one we edged our way into the room in single file. We sang on our own, standing beside whoever happened to be next to us, and heard by everyone in the hall who was waiting for their turn. Dread filled my heart and panic took over. When it was my turn my voice cracked and broke, strangled with anxiety. The response of the two gatekeepers was less than encouraging. Needless to say I did not get a part. This was the day when I learnt that I could not sing.
This was not a mortal wound, but these memories, stories, and physical sensations still leave me quivering at the thought of Sunday. I can tell you with 100% certainty, I am going to show up anyway.
Why am I forcing myself to do something that makes me feel so much fear and vulnerable?
Because, for the first time in my life I have a crystal clear image in my head of what I want my life to be. I am also committed to having the courage to passionately pursue the life that I want to live, and to live my life in service of my deepest core values. That means, facing any fear that may and will present itself along this road. It also means actively moving outside of my comfort zone and in doing so confronting any residual barriers and fears that arise in that process.
So back to Sunday’s workshop.
According to Clare, everyone has the ability to sing, it is the stories or self limiting beliefs that we hold about our ability to sing that stands in our way. What I know as a Psychologist is that for most of us the self limiting beliefs we hold about our singing abilities will have been shaped by our early life experiences.
In this way, singing is such a glorious metaphor for how the experiences we have in life can shape our ideas and beliefs about ourselves, and for how these ideas and beliefs can wind their way around our lives, subsequently leading us to hold about ourselves back from living fully. After all, singing is being vulnerable by showing up and expressing ourselves in the world using our own unique voice. So, what an amazing vehicle singing could potentially be for building your courage muscle (and, it is a muscle you can train) so that you can show up more fully as yourself in the world. Part of Clare’s aim for this workshop is to help people to move beyond these stories and to cultivate their courage muscle.
Why is courage important?
If Clare’s workshop description didn’t involve the word courage it is quite likely that I would have talked myself out of it. But ‘courage’. Oh how that word speaks to my heart and to what I believe about living well.
The cultivation of courage has been a key task and a consistent theme of the last few years of my life. The courage to make tough decisions. The courage to endure. The courage to rise up after failure and to try again. The courage to chase my dreams. The courage to live with authenticity. I now place courage at the forefront of my life. It is one of my deepest core values. It has become an anchor point, a compass, and a guiding light.
It takes courage for us to have anything that we truly want to have in our lives. In order to really live the lives that we want to live we need to be brave enough to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Because showing up as who we really are and asking for what we really want in life requires us to drop our armour, and to be vulnerable. As Brené Brown wrote in her recent book, ‘Rising Strong’, it is a statistical certainty that if we show up authentically often enough in our lives, we will fail. It takes courage to weather the risk of failure and to do these things anyway. But showing up and letting ourselves be seen for who we really are, and trying for the things that we really want, is where all of the good stuff in life exists.
Living on the edge
Nearly always this requires us to live at the edge of our comfort zone and to work that edge. What moving out of your comfort zone does is it forces you to face your fears. Facing your fears can be kind of like walking through a wall of fire. It’s awfully scary, sometimes terrifying. But testing our limits in this way can have the dual effect of burning away the old residual ideas and stories about ourselves that no longer serve us in our lives. Doing this in one domain of living can also carry over into other areas of our lives (so singing, really isn’t just about singing).
My past experiences of moving beyond my comfort zone suggest to me that as we are freed from these old stories and self-limiting beliefs that have their origins in cultural conditioning and past experience a new found freedom emerges. The freedom to be more flexible with ourselves, more open, to redefine who we are. It allows us to relate to the world from a fresh perspective. This also allows us to know our true selves more intimately and to live from the place of our own truths. From my own experience I can say that there is no greater freedom than that.
So what do you take with you when you are about to walk through the fires of the unknown, beyond your comfort zone?
Two days out from Clare’s workshop, this is what I have decided I am taking in my handbag. I’m packing fear, and I’m taking it with me. I’m also going to call it my friend and welcome it in. I’m packing self-doubt too and inviting it along for the ride. Shame is right there on top, and I am going to embrace it as if it is my dearest friend. Jump on board guys, this ride is big enough for all of you.
You see, the thing is that they have to come too. Without them along for the ride we cannot be wholly human, we cannot be open hearted, and we cannot really show up in the world. There is never going to be a day where we can do the things that we really want to do without them. They can still be there, they have to be there, and we can make space for them. We can pull them up a chair in the audience, without letting them run the show. In fact, there is plenty of room. The self limiting beliefs that are tied to these emotions, and the memories, they can come too. I will simply hold them lightly and return to the moment when they arise. The physical sensations I am experiencing can also come too. I can open around them and I can still show up. I welcome all of these experiences in as friends, because they are part of what makes me human and because I know that I can have them and still live the life that I want to live.
Letting your values run the show
The way that I still get to live the life that I want to live with these guys in my handbag is by letting my other group of friends run the show: courage, passion, enthusiasm, optimism, gratitude, determination, joy, excitement, compassion, and love. These guys are the friends of my heart, they are my deepest values, and they come from my authentic self. I’m channelling these babies as hard as I can. Showing up with both of these camps of my friends in toe is what we call living wholeheartedly. With all of my nerves and fears rolled in I can genuinely say that I am excited about Sunday.