There’s a popular training aid to keep pets, usually dogs, in the yard. These so-called invisible fences consist of a wire shallowly buried in the ground. A collar is placed on the dog. When the dog gets close to the wire, the collar beeps. If the dog gets too close, the collar gives a tiny electric shock. Before long, the dog instinctively knows how far he can go before the shock. Soon, the dog even avoids the beeping. After this training, the dog won’t come near that wire. In fact, you could turn the electricity off and the dog still won’t traverse that part of the earth. She has learned to not cross the fence regardless of her ability to do so.
We get trained in the same way. No, we don’t have a collar around our necks. But we have beliefs that keep us from moving forward. As we go through life, every experience we have plants some kind of idea in our head. Usually, we’re totally unaware of what ideas are being planted in the garden of our thoughts. Sometimes, we come to believe things that simply are not true. These beliefs often create barriers in our lives. Overcoming barriers in our belief system is an important step in improving mental health.
“I can’t” really means, “I don’t want to try because I don’t believe it will work.”
Take an Honest Look at “I Can’t”
When we say, “I can’t,” we are often saying “I don’t want to try because I don’t believe it will work.” This might appear to be the same statement. I assure you, it’s not. When I am able to say, “I don’t want to try…” I am taking ownership of some things.
First, I am taking ownership of my effort. The truth is, the only person keeping me from trying anything is me. Overcoming barriers in our thinking first requires that we really know who is in control of our actions. When we say, “I can’t,” we’re often putting the responsibility for the effort somewhere else. We follow that up with things like, “If I had this or that…” or “If they would just…” or “If I was more (or less)…” You fill in the blanks. Regardless of what may or may not be true in terms of my talents or skills, I am still in charge of my effort.
Second, I am taking ownership of my beliefs and opening them to question. What I believe about any situation may be correct. But it may not be. When I say out loud that I am not putting effort into something because of what I believe, I am owning my barrier. Overcoming barriers requires that I understand them.
Ask a Simply Difficult Question
Ask yourself this, “What would have to be true for me to try?” Asking, and then answering, this question leads me into change. Change is not easy. Change is not comfortable. However, having a “better” life requires that something changes! If nothing changes, we have the “same” life rather than a “better” one.
It might be that I need to learn some new information. It might be that I need to acquire a new skill and practice it. It might mean that I need to create a new environment for myself. One thing is certain. To improve my life I will definitely have to think differently than I do at this moment. It might be a minor adjustment. It might be a major remodeling of my belief system. What would have to be true to try the thing you’ve been wanting to try? Answer that and then go get those things.
Be Honest with Yourself About Yourself
In answering that last question, our dog might say, “I would need for the electricity to be turned off of the invisible fence” (the dog in our story is smart and knows it’s there). However, there have been countless times owners turned the electricity off or got rid of the wire altogether and the dog stayed in the yard.
Be honest with yourself about what might need to change for you to try. Don’t get stuck on the obvious. If the real problem were that obvious, you wouldn’t have a problem overcoming barriers in the first place.
What beliefs do you have about yourself, others, or the world that keep you stuck? Feel free to comment. We would love to hear from you!