It all starts with chitta, our mind-state. So if you think you're not flexible, or substitute any perceived limitation, continuing to think that only strengthens the belief. You're literally deepening the grooves in your brain that reinforce the neural circuitry and biochemistry that supports the negative belief.
Consider any belief that's self-limiting. It might be: "I'm not gonna ace the exam, not smart enough", "I won't get picked for the promotion, not talented enough", "She/he doesn't like me, I'm flawed"... I collectively refer to these as "not enough syndrome". It has many flavors: not fit, strong, pretty, rich - you fill in the blank - enough.
I know this one really well. Many women do.
By the way, the opposite of "not enough", a kind of over-inflation or puffing up, is also common.
There are ways out of this prison of beliefs. The one that was most transformative for me is:
Don't believe your thoughts.
Imagine them as passing clouds, or fleeting thought bubbles moving across the sky. You can even visualize reaching up and popping them!
Byron Katie's The Work is a freely offered resource that serves as an excellent process of inquiry. (Also see my Resources page.) Here's a snapshot of Katie's Work:
1) What are you believing?
2) Is it true?
3) Is it really true? (where's the evidence?)
4) What would your life be like without that thought?
5) Who would you be without that belief?
I use this process whenever I feel like I'm falling short or "not enough". It's necessary to lean in to the feeling of unease in the body because that's where unprocessed emotions live. Start with something light vs. heavy, such as a challenging conversation with a co-worker.
A note of caution: this practice isn't intended for traumatic experiences. Leaning in for traumatized individuals may re-trigger the trauma. Working with a qualified therapist may be an appropriate adjunct in these situations.
In the beginning, each step of this inquiry process is intended to be approached like a meditation. This helps unpack and understand what's underneath the belief. With practice, patterns may be identified, like tightness in the belly whenever I need to have a difficult conversation with the boss. Then the process becomes more automatic. This is something not to be rushed. There's transformative beauty in the work.
Vitarka Bādhane Pratipaksa Bhāvanam - "“When negative thoughts present themselves, cultivate and think the opposite thoughts, with feeling.” -Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, 2.33
I love this simple practice of opposites to flip aversive thinking on its head. Swapping
“I can’t” for “I can”, even if at first you don’t entirely believe it, is effective. Likewise, tacking on a gesture, whether it’s an empowering body posture or smile during times of unease favorably alters our biochemistry. I've come softly smile during challenging balance poses in yoga. This friendly quality helps me relax, contact my inner stability and land the pose.
I encourage my clients to become the CEO of their lives and develop a mantra, similar to a vision statement, that feels authentic and supports their intentions. Use whatever works to focus, contact inner stability, and come home to yourself.
I often say, “model what you’re asking for.” For example, during difficult conversations, how might coming from a place of understanding everyone’s views guide us towards collaboration and peace? The “Just Like Me” practice is also fitting here, i.e., “just like me, everyone wants to feel seen, heard and understood.” When needs are met, conflicts tend to resolve.
Putting this into practice, let’s say someone is talking to you in an unwelcome tone. Rather than acting on the temptation to mirror that back, make a u-turn. Offer honey instead of lemon, and see what happens. No matter what the outcome is, you can hold your head up high knowing you responded skillfully. Contrast this to a time you may have reacted emotionally, like losing your temper during a heated conversation. Even though it might feel good at the time, if we’re honest, we usually don’t feel good about ourselves afterward.
1) Don’t believe your thoughts.
Pause and notice any unease in your body. It’s often helpful to name the feeling, such as “anger”, “fear”, “sadness.” Then ask yourself, “what am I believing?” and walk through Katie's inquiries.
2) Make the U-Turn; Practice of Opposites.
Model what you’re asking for and live your highest self. Empower yourself to be a change agent.
3) Look the Part
Let your body posture and facial expression reflect your intention. Remember to start small, not with heavy stuff, and progress gradually. This isn’t a one-shot deal. It takes many, many rounds. With practice, we train our mental muscles to rewire for resilience.
As we journey forward, may our backpacks always be full of resources. May we refuel often, and share generously when we meet along the way.