How We Get In the Way Of Our Own Financial Success
If you’ve been working toward a better life, you’ve probably experienced this on some level. On the outside you want financial freedom, or even wealth. You may want a super-successful career, or simply one you look forward to every day. Or maybe you’re seeking more meaning and fulfillment. But no matter how hard you work for it, you can’t seem to get where you want to be. And if you’re a Gen-X-er or Boomer, you may wonder if you’ll ever get there. Or if you have ups and downs in your life and business right now, how to sustain the ups.
Most of us are good at coming up with reasons why we keep hitting a wall or bouncing up and down. The economy, circumstances, lack of money, our families, health, politics, the government. But research suggests that while some of those are symptoms and some are obstacles, they’re generally not the cause. And as with any problem, to change the outcome, you have to go to the root (to change the fruit, change the root, as they say).
So what’s at the root?
Research shows that the culprit that’s responsible for most everything we are, have and do in life is our brain. Specifically, how it supports the beliefs we hold (some so deep that we may not know they’re there), whether they’re true or not. And it starts with the beliefs we hold about ourselves.
We often have no idea we have self-limiting beliefs blocking us from what we want. Consciously you may know you’re great at what you do and feel it’s possible to achieve the things you want. But that is the view from your conscious thinking mind. The unconscious mind—which is acting behind the scenes using powerful memories that you may not be aware of, may see things differently and can undermine your whole plan. The unconscious part holds all those self-concepts you came to believe at a young age that can be faulty as well as false.
“Unfortunately, our thermostat setting usually gets programmed in early childhood, before we can think for ourselves,” writes Gay Hendricks, in his book The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. So you act daily on ideas you never got a chance to consent to or test on your own. Among these, it’s very common to have some version of the belief that you’re flawed, or not deserving of good things. The problem is, again, you have no idea those beliefs are there.
Henricks cites the four false beliefs that can lead to what he calls an “Upper Limit” problem:
- That you’re fundamentally flawed
- That if you’re successful, you’ll end up alone, leave behind your family and friends or be disloyal to your roots
- That more success brings a bigger burden
- That you will outshine someone you’re close to and make him or her look or feel bad
These beliefs feel true and real because they’ve become ingrained in us, but the good news is they’re neither true nor real, says Hendricks. It’s just that your mind being the great protector it is, steps in with mechanisms to keep you where it feels—where you feel—deep down is your safe place based on your self-concept.
It’s like having faulty code in a computer. The computer acts on that faulty code until you manually change it. But the point is, you can change it.
The first step is to become aware of negative emotions you have around money or success and try to shift your state of mind to optimism around them instead. No, it’s not easy. It takes repeated practice. But it can change your brain, change how you respond to money and change the results you get in the process.
The Upper Limit Breakthrough
When our ambitions grow faster than our beliefs evolve, we will keep hitting the brick wall, a.k.a. the Upper Limit. But we can use this to our advantage. Getting stuck or falling back is a wakeup call to re-examine our beliefs. As Hendricks has found in his work, the Upper Limit will move up as long as our beliefs move up to accommodate our success. There’s no quick fix to changing long-held beliefs, but speaking from experience, you can get better with practice.
Here are 3 things you can do to start now:
1. Ramp up your self-worth.
First, make a list of your core beliefs about yourself. Try finishing the following sentences from Hendricks’ book: “I cannot expand to my full potential because…” and “I cannot expand to my full wealth potential because…” But be real. If you lie to yourself, you’ll likely stay where you are.
Now work to build your self-concept. True self-worth doesn’t come from external circumstances, such as others’ approval or praise. It is generated from within.
Here are 4 ways to build self-esteem, according to experts:
- Live consciously. That means paying attention to your actions and choices; every action you take should have meaning to you. “We cannot feel competent and worthy while conducting our lives in a mental fog,” writes Nathaniel Branden, author of the classic book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. The choices you make give you a sense of the kind of person you are. The sum of these creates the experience of self-esteem.
- Take 100% responsibility for everything in your life you can control. (This is very hard to do, but it can be transformative). Success magazine publisher Darren Hardy stresses this in his book The Compound Effect, and it’s echoed by both Branden and Hendricks: You have 100% responsibility for your actions, inactions and reactions. “When you embrace this, your life will never be the same,” Hardy has said. According to Branden, to feel competent and worthy of happiness, you must feel a sense of control over your life. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. We all do. But when things do go wrong, Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, author of Mindset: How We Can Learn How to Fulfill Our Potential suggests you ask yourself what your role was and what changes you would make next time, as well as “What did I (or can I) learn from that experience? How can I use it as a basis for growth?’”
- Continually learn and improve yourself, your knowledge and your skills, suggests Dweck. This builds confidence.
- Take risks. Not of the dangerous variety, but when there is something you want to accomplish, be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone. (See my article on the science behind taking risks here)
How will these measures help you change? Your self-worth determines what you expect to achieve, and what you expect is what you get. Studies show if you expect more, you’re motivated to seek and achieve more.
2. Recognize and override the Upper Limit signals. If fear, negativity or anxiety creep in when things are going well, label these party-crashers for what they are—your self-sabotage mechanisms trying to block the flow of positive energy and inhibit your success-mindset. Work on not shrinking back to your comfort zone. (We do this a lot). Like mastering anything—a musical instrument or a sport, this takes practice. But the ROI (return on investment) is huge.
3. Expand your capacity for good things and good feelings. Our society thrives on negativity. So it takes practice to allow good things to flow to you.
Hendricks’ suggests working on expanding your capacity (your tolerance, as he calls it) for happiness and success by allowing yourself longer and longer periods of feeling joy. Remember, the idea that something bad has to break the cycle is false. The more you do this, the more natural it becomes.
Expect what you deserve—the very best.
What are your upper limit stories? We’d love to hear from you.
Adapted and reposted from an earlier WomenandMoneymag.com post.