Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford
What beliefs do you have that are holding you back? Do you tell yourself that you shouldn’t want certain things because you don’t deserve them? Maybe you have a limiting fear. Think of a child on a diving board, too afraid to jump until she finally does. Only when she takes the risk does she realize that it’s fun. Maybe you think you can’t have something because of who you are or the situation you are in. Maybe you aren’t even aware of your limiting beliefs. I wasn’t. It turns out that I was limiting myself because I believed that I couldn’t run my own business. I thought this because I didn’t know how and probably wasn’t smart enough, so I wasn’t even going to try. Letting the excuse that you don’t know how to do something keep you from doing it is really silly, by-the-way. You can learn anything. It just takes quieting the negative voice in your head. Melissa Ambrosini calls that negative voice your inner “Mean Girl”, which I think is a very good description. Your mean girl holds you back, tells you that you are not worthy, and keeps you from going after your dreams. She tells you you aren’t capable or deserving of great success. How far reaching are beliefs? Could your limiting self-beliefs even have an effect on your genes and longevity? Could you heal yourself or make yourself sick simply through your thoughts? Short answer: Yes.
Limiting beliefs can be deep-seeded systems that stem from childhood. Someone at some time told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t do something and you believed them. Likely it was an authority figure like a parent or a teacher who meant well. Maybe your limiting beliefs stem from wanting to be responsible. Maybe you’ve told yourself, “I don’t know how, so I’m not even going to try.” Maybe your self-worth isn’t dialed up high enough to allow you to reach for your dreams. What if your goal is to get into better shape? OK, you have to exercise. Here are excuses that I hear most often: “I can’t exercise because I get tired too easily.” “I can’t go to the gym because I’m fat.” “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” These are limiting beliefs. A certain amount of fear is good to keep us safe, but when it holds us back from reaching our full potential, this fear becomes toxic. We harbor the fear that we won’t be loved, we will be rejected, or even that we’ll die if we take risks. Say you’ve always wanted to write a book. The little voice in your head says, “Who do you think you are? No one wants to hear what you have to say.” You start to think of all of the reasons why you can’t do it. You don’t know where to start, or how to get it published, what if you get poor reviews, what if you do your best and it flops…but what if you write the next Harry Potter? Some people even believe that if you aren’t following your life’s dream you are doing the world a disservice. You have a karmic duty to make your unique contribution to the world, otherwise, you are depriving the world of your wonderful gift.
Limiting beliefs can also affect our health. A friend of mine told a story once about a dessert that she had out on a date. It was a decadent dessert which was ooey, gooey, full of gluten, white flour, and white sugar. She ate it anyway, convinced that she would be sick later. The entire time she should have been enjoying the dessert, she had intensely negative feelings about it. Later, when she got home, she experienced stomach cramps, diarrhea, and a sleepless night. The next time she went to that particular restaurant, her date suggested she try the dessert again, but this time he encouraged her to express positive feelings toward it. He basically led her through a meditation, getting her to eat slowly and mindfully, concentrating on the smell, the texture, the feel of it in her mouth, the taste, and intensely appreciating the deliciousness of each bite. When she got home that night, she experienced none of the negative consequences of the previous experience. This is the power of the mind and positive thinking.
In her book Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Lissa Rankin tells a story of a clinic she worked at in Marin County, California. The people there were ultra careful with their health. They ate a vegetarian diet, exercised every day, swallowed their handful of supplements every day, and saw their acupuncturist or massage therapist regularly. Still, some of these people were the sickest bunch she had ever seen. Why? After altering her intake form in order to glean more information about how her patients felt about their lives and what they thought they could do to fix it, she discovered many of them were lonely, in abusive relationships, overworked, or unfulfilled. When asking what they thought they could do about their situation, many were loathe to change. One lady said she thought she needed to move to Santa Fe because her symptoms drastically improved every time she visited there. When Dr. Rankin said, “Great, then do it,” the lady said, “I can’t do that.” She would have to leave her house, her abusive husband, and her job and basically put her whole life in a turmoil of uncertainty in order to change. Many people stay in their unhappy situation because they believe uncertainty is worse or that it wouldn’t be responsible to pick up and leave. She eventually did make her changes and moved to Santa Fe, by the way, and her symptoms disappeared just like she thought. If you could make one or two small changes to drastically improve your life, would you? Put in the extra effort to make some friends or move closer to family so you are not so lonely. Leave the abusive relationship. Delegate some of your responsibilities so you are not as overworked. Get a new job or start your own business so you feel fulfilled. Think of an improvement you can make in your life that you thought was out of reach and take steps to achieve it.
Most people are aware of the Placebo Effect. In clinical trials, a group of people is given a drug or treatment, and another group is given some sort of sugar pill, injection of saline water, a sham treatment, or even a fake surgery if you can believe it. If the treatment in question performs better than the placebo it is considered a success, if not it’s “quackery”. The funny thing is, a high number of people in the placebo group get better without the treatment. Why do placebos work? In Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Rankin gives several examples of amazing recoveries in patients who received no medical treatment, received a placebo, or received a treatment which was later proved ineffective. She gives scientific reasons for people to respond positively to treatments that shouldn’t work. The biggest reason is that people get better when they think they will get better. Belief is critical. Some people respond well because they trust the person in the white coat will make them better, some people enjoy the extra attention they are getting from participating in the clinical trial (someone is actually listening to them talk about how they feel), and some people believe the treatment itself will make them better. This belief takes the body from a state of stress response to a state of rest response.
Last week we talked about how stress adversely affects health (Four Simple Solutions to Overcome Stress and Anxiety). The fight or flight response halts anything that does not help the body fight off the tiger or run from it. This includes digestion, rational thought, and healing. One of the major themes I have learned at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition is that the body can heal itself if given half a chance. The rest or calming response gives the body a chance to heal. Have you ever been sick for days then finally called the doctor for an appointment and instantly felt better? It could be because you believe the doctor will help you. Therefore, when you have finally made an appointment, you relax and your body gets a chance to heal itself.
The opposite is also true. A patient can have what is called a Nocebo Effect. A placebo is believing that a treatment will help, so it does. A nocebo is believing that you will not get better, so you don’t. Doctors are beginning to realize that the nocebo effect is very important. A patient who believes she will not get better won’t. There are many documented cases in which a patient was given a poor prognosis with a certain amount of time to live, and the patient died just before the deadline the doctor gave. There are also documented cases in which the doctor misdiagnosed the patient, gave him a poor prognosis and the patient died of…well, nothing. Dr. Rankin is an advocate for educating health professionals about how to give bad news. Would you rather hear: “Your cancer has progressed more than we thought. There’s really nothing we can do. It might be time to get your affairs in order.” Or: “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, your cancer has progressed. The good news is that a percentage of people have recovered from diseases just like yours. You won’t be alone, I will help you along your path to healing.” What harm does a little positivity do? And a percentage of people DO recover from terminal cancer. They have to believe it is possible and that they have support.
Did you know that your thoughts can even affect your gene expression? Your genes do not determine if you will get a disease, gain weight, or live a long time, your choices do. Genes can be turned on and off under the influence of environmental factors, diet, and, as it turns out, thoughts. In an interview with Dr. Rankin, Dr. Bruce Lipton describes the human body as “a giant petri dish with a community of 50 trillion cells.” (1, pg. 26-28) In his research, he subjected identical cells to healthy medium and unhealthy medium to determine what effects environment had on them. The cells in the healthy environment thrived and the cells in the unhealthy environment got sick. Dr. Lipton says, “If I were an allopathic physician of cells, I’d diagnose the cells in the bad medium as sick. Surely, they need medicine. But that’s not really what they need. If you take the sick cells out of the bad environment and put them back into the good environment, they naturally recover—without medicine.” If the body is a giant petri dish and the blood is the medium which bathes the cells, what determines if the environment is healthy or unhealthy? The brain. It controls the release of hormones, neuropeptides, and other chemicals that circulate in the blood just like using a pipette to add these things to a petri dish. The genome is sensitive to these changes in cell health. If we are worried about our health, the brain sets up a stress response and takes the body out of its parasympathetic state which is the rest and repair state and activates the sympathetic system which is the fight or flight state. Over time, this state can damage cells and turn on genes that trigger disease processes. Luckily, the opposite is also true. Thinking positive thoughts and practicing gratitude can relax the body and allow it to repair. Just like taking the cells out of the bad medium and putting them into the healthy medium. This is the power of beliefs.
So, what limiting beliefs are holding you back? Why can’t you start your own business, go on that dream vacation, tackle a home-improvement project, move to a different town…insert your dream here? The first step is believing in yourself. Stop listening to your “Mean Girl”. Start thinking, “I can.” Be aware of your thoughts when you think you can’t do something. Stop that sort of talk right in its tracks and replace it with “I can”. Rather than making excuses why you can’t, start figuring out ways to make it work. In order to get something that seems out of reach for you, you have to put yourself out there. It can be kind of scary, especially if you’ve never done it before.
It helps to have support, and that’s where I come in. I’m here to help you along your way as your support system. I listen to what is holding you back and help get rid of those limiting beliefs so you can be the healthiest, most authentic, best version of yourself. I will begin taking clients in the spring of 2018. Until then you can join my tribe for free by liking my Facebook page, following me on Instagram, and following this blog. If you have a friend who you think might find this information helpful, share it with them right now while you are thinking about it!
Inspiration and References
(1) Lissa Rankin, M.D., Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself