Working with some treasured colleagues earlier this week on the theme of Wholeness, I had a useful reminder of the power of the inner stories we tell ourselves. We were working outside, using a method called ‘Constellations’. This is a way of creating a visual ‘map’ of the internal psyche. To illuminate the hidden dynamics at play in our relationships with others, our organisations and the wider world.
As we created our collective ‘map’, I had a strong urge to kick off my shoes and feel the warm grass on my feet. On doing so, my whole body loosened and relaxed. Ideas started to flow, and I felt much more connected to my surroundings and to my colleagues. We had a wonderfully creative session, with insights and lessons for us all.
One of these insights for me was that I can still sabotage myself by believing that I should be ‘something else’. A belief that there’s a right and wrong way of being a coach and a leader and if I don’t conform, I won’t be successful. One such limiting belief of mine is “I’m not creative”. In my head I know this not to be true, and feedback from clients and colleagues confirm this. Yet still in moments of pressure and stress this story emerges, preventing me from showing up at my creative best.
Where do these limiting beliefs and stories come from? In most cases they’re the result of the norms of early relationships systems to which we’ve belonged, most notably our families of origin and early educational systems. In my early systems, those who were ‘good’ at art – meaning those able to accurately represent on paper what they could see – were the ‘creative types’. Others, like me, were given other labels, such as ‘academic’, ‘sporty’, ‘naughty’ etc. This labelling often becomes deeply ingrained in our psyche and we go through life believing, and conforming to, these early labels.
How they show up at work?
These labels spill over into our professional lives. For years, I avoided anything that appeared to me to involve any kind of creativity, in the mistaken belief that I’m not creative. As I began to understand that creativity has many different forms and that everyone, including myself, can be creative, I learnt the joy of working in creative ways with my colleagues and clients, and how successful I could be when doing this.
Similarly, my clients often constrain themselves out of a mistaken belief that they can or can’t do or be something or someone: “I’m not the empathetic type”, “I don’t do feelings”, “I’m not a people person”, “I can’t speak up in a big group”, “I can’t challenge authority figures”. They unconsciously keep themselves loyal to those early labels and norms and feel unable or unwilling to step outside them.
Throwing off the shackles
As we become aware of these limiting beliefs, the shackles loosen, and we find ourselves broadening our repertoire and becoming the whole person we have the capacity to be. It’s joyful to be coaching someone when they throw off the shackles of their limiting beliefs. When they step into their wholeness and truly fulfil their potential. Or in other words, when they metaphorically kick off their shoes and walk barefoot in the warm grass!
A huge thanks to Sarah for allowing us to share her blog.
Sarah Henbrey is an executive coach, facilitator and founder and MD of it starts with ONE and also works as a consultant coach with the AoEC.