It’s not the circumstances of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs about what those circumstances mean.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had tunnel vision and expected life to be a certain way. I studied my failures until I lost sight of my successes. I surrendered my dreams to feel a sense of comfort. I held tight to my fears and shielded myself from love and happiness by refusing to put myself out there. And as I did all of this, I sat back and wondered why life was so miserable.
Obviously, I was very lost. My own toxic beliefs and ensuing behaviors had gotten the best of me. But after some extensive soul-searching, lots of reading, and diligent daily practice, I learned to do things differently, and I found myself again. I tell you this because I know you struggle with similar inner demons – we all do. Sometimes the ideas and habits we get comfortable with end up killing us inside.
As a veteran life coach who has now spent the better part of a decade coaching thousands of people online and offline, I realize that many of the toxic beliefs I struggled with earlier in life are actually quite common. I have literally seen the same toxic beliefs surface in the lives of new clients over and over again. Here are eight of the most common ones you need to be aware of:
1. The present is indicative of the future.
When things aren’t going well there’s a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. For some strange reason this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well. A laugh, a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth, and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
2. It’s too late to make changes.
Life isn’t a straight line. There isn’t one right path for you or anyone else. And there isn’t a set timeline of milestones. But sometimes the pressure coming from peers, family, work, and society in general is enough to make us feel completely broken inside. If we don’t have the “right” job, relationship, lifestyle, and so forth, by a certain age or timeframe, we assume we’re somehow broken. And that’s not true at all. You’re allowed extra time when you need it. You’re allowed to backtrack. You’re allowed to figure out what inspires you at different stages of your life. Life is meant to be a series of zigs and zags. It should look like a mess, but a beautiful mess. So whatever situation you’re in right now, just know that it can change if you want it to. It’s up to you. You just have to turn yourself around and choose something new.
3. Being vulnerable is dangerous.
We’re all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us. But this isn’t healthy. Love is vulnerability. Happiness is vulnerability. The risk of being vulnerable is the price of opening yourself up to beauty and opportunity. Being vulnerable is not about showing the parts of you that are polished; it’s about revealing the unpolished parts you would rather keep hidden from the world. It’s about looking out into the world with an honest, open heart and saying, “This is me! Take me or leave me!” It’s hard to let go and be vulnerable like this though, because the stakes are high. But remember, nothing worthwhile in this world is a safe bet. Since love and happiness are born out of our willingness to be vulnerable – to open up to something wonderful that could be taken away from us – when you hide from your vulnerability, you automatically hide from everything you desire.
4. Being alone is a problem.
Wrong! If you don’t like who YOU are when you’re with someone else, that’s the real problem, and it’s time to change things. Relationships must be chosen wisely. Don’t let loneliness drive you back into the arms of someone you know you don’t belong with. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely. Strive to discover true love – the kind of relationship that motivates you to be a better person – the kind of intimacy that’s rare rather than right there. “But I don’t want to be alone!” you say. Change your mind about that. Be alone. Eat alone. Take yourself out on dates, and sleep alone when you get back. By doing so you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will realize your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the right person who makes you feel even more like yourself, you’ll be sure of it, because you’ll be sure of yourself. Bottom line: Don’t rush love. Wait until you truly find it. A great relationship is worth waiting for.
5. Fitting in is a good thing.
Sometimes you likely catch yourself asking, “Who am I to think I can do this?” When in fact you should be saying, “Who am I to think I can’t?” Ignore your doubts. Forget about fitting in. Stand out! Think about it. If you spent your entire life focusing on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask… with nothing beneath it? That’s what happens when you spend all your time trying to be who you think they want you to be. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t save face and lose your soul in the process. Doing so does not serve the world. There’s nothing helpful about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you. You are meant to shine in a way only YOU can. You were born to manifest all the brilliance inside you. And as you let your light shine, you subconsciously give others permission to do the same. As you are liberated from your own fear of standing out, your presence automatically liberates those around you too.
6. There’s a perfect XYZ for me.
As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection. We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, lover, and so forth. The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state. Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing. What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow – that perfect house, job, friend or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection. But with a little patience and an open mind, over time, that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home. That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career. That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on. And that imperfect lover evolves into a reliable lifelong companion. It’s just a matter of letting perfectionism GO.
7. What everyone does to you is personal.
People are toxic to themselves and others when they believe that everything happening in the world is a direct assault on them, or is in some way all about them. The truth is that what other people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and life experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re average, again, is more about them. I’m not suggesting we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I’m saying that a great deal of hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally. In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
8. You should never be sad.
The desire for constant happiness only makes us miserable. Because nothing in life is constant. There is neither absolute happiness nor absolute sadness. There are only the changes in our moods that swing between these two extremes. At any given moment we’re comparing how we feel to how we felt at another time – comparing one level of our contentment to another. In this way, those of us who have felt great sadness are best able to feel heightened feelings of happiness after we emotionally heal. We must know misery to identify times of elation. The key on a daily basis, nevertheless, is to live your life in full. Experience the highs and the lows, the positives and negatives, and all the moods present in between. Don’t focus on simply being happy. Focus on living a well-seasoned life. Focus on achieving completeness. Yes, happiness is part of this completeness, but so is sadness, difficulty, frustration, and failure. And overcoming these latter points supports your personal growth far more than constant happiness.