I recently read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I found myself in desperate need of something like it a mere two months after I began writing. As the universe is often there to help us out, it fell into my lap.
In it, Pressfield talks about “Resistance” – the collection of everything that slows you down or keeps you from doing what you are called or made to do. Resistance comes in many forms, including procrastination, negative thoughts, busywork, and other distractions.
I immediately understood this Resistance, because of course I’d seen it in myself before. Resistance comes through to me most powerfully in negative thoughts. My favorite way to describe these thoughts is “limiting thoughts” because that’s exactly what they do – they limit me.
Here are some types of limiting thoughts I have. When I think any of these in any way, I am essentially limiting myself:
- Do I deserve this success? Do I deserve this happiness? Do I deserve to take this risk?
- Am I too happy? Is something bad going to happen now because I’m too happy? (Thanks, Grey’s Anatomy.)
- Well, HE doesn’t deserve that.
- I am prettier/smarter/more deserving than HER.
- Fine, she may be great at what she does and it may be exactly what I want to do, but at least she’s not very pretty (or any insult that has nothing to do with their talent).
- No one is noticing this great thing I’m doing, so it’s not worth doing.
- I have been fine NOT doing this thing I dream of doing for years – why would I bother now?
- That is too risky. That is too scary. That is too much.
I really hate limiting thoughts. I hate them most when I don’t recognize them. I also hate when they latch on so strongly that I can’t get them out of my head, even if I know what they are. Look, I’m just a normal, (mostly) psychologically healthy girl, but limiting thoughts can ruin me sometimes.
While I was reading The War of Art, I started to think, why are they there?
These limiting thoughts exist to keep you safe. They keep you safe from feeling vulnerable, from recognizing your own failures, and from risking failure again. But, they also keep you from enjoying your own happiness without worrying constantly about the future, from taking chances that could lead to much bigger success, from pursuing what you truly want to pursue, and from having the courage to resist what everyone else thinks you should do.
So what do you do to avoid these limiting thoughts?
Well first, I imagine this is why most people see a therapist. Maybe we should all do that. (Yes, actually, I think we all should probably.)
Next, I recommend just letting them all in, collecting as many as you can. When I decided to write about limiting thoughts, I sat and tried to think of every one I’d ever had.
Then I went through each of them, asking, “Which of these are just fucking stupid?” No, I’m not going to randomly lose a limb or go blind or lose someone I love because I’m happy in my relationship – that is insane. There isn’t someone keeping score, making sure you get enough bad to go with the good – there just isn’t. So stop it right there.
Did you find happiness? Yes. Do you deserve it? I mean, who really deserves anything? What a horrible way to look at any of the hundreds of randomly good and bad things that happen to us. But if you insist on thinking about this question, then yes, yes you do. (I mean, if you beat animals or are Donald Trump or something, then no you don’t deserve to be happy. But almost everyone in the world who thinks this question? Yes, you deserve it.)
Then I thought about the ones I had when comparing myself with others. Why am I saying this successful writer is ugly? Is it because she’s actually ugly and I believe in honesty? No, that is just a hideous and dumb excuse for being rude. It’s because I’m jealous. Why am I so scared to admit I’m jealous?
Instead of turning jealousy into unnecessarily mean thoughts, what if I positively said, “Awesome! How did she get there? What can I learn from her? How am I like her? What can I do better? Good for her for getting there – I hope I get to meet her when I’m there too.”
Then I considered the thoughts that actually hold me back from moving forward. The pervasive ones that I’m not good enough, that I should give up because hardly anyone read both of my Blue Ivy posts, that I’m just wasting my time, and that ultimately I won’t find success.
And honestly, with these thoughts, you kind of just have to say, “Fuck you,” and keep going.
Because they aren’t founded in facts – there is nothing I can do to prove them away. And sometimes, they’re even true. Being vulnerable and taking new risks is scary. These thoughts are going to keep existing. But you don’t have to listen to them. You don’t have to believe them. Honestly, you can’t believe them if you ever want to take any risks.
Instead, you just have to convince yourself that you are not your fears. You are not the ugliest sides of yourself. You are not every bad thing you ever did. And you certainly are not the only one who frequently has limiting thoughts.
But you must resolve that you won’t be held back by them anymore.
Lastly, you have to give yourself a break when they’re coming on too often. Don’t let limiting thoughts keep you from moving forward, but if you need a breather, take a moment and hit pause. You won’t fail because you took a weekend off to watch Netflix. If you’re feeling flooded with limiting thoughts when you sit down to work, maybe you haven’t been to yoga enough that week. Prioritize those things that keep you sane.
I am not alone in having limiting thoughts, and I’m not alone in letting them stop me sometimes. But I don’t have to be ruled by them – they do not have the last word. We are not our limiting thoughts.