Running to the Lamppost
What is it that stops us achieving our goals, succeeding in life, reaching for the stars? What really holds us back? We all have excuses like I don’t have enough time or I’m not talented enough but really these are just our own limiting beliefs. Do you honestly think that those people who win Olympic golds, who run successful businesses, who sell paintings for thousands of pounds etc are born with some natural ability that enables them to achieve such dizzy heights? While I believe there is some luck involved (or is that a limiting belief?) mostly the people who succeed in life do so through a lot of hard work and a belief that they can achieve whatever they want. They dream big and reach for those stars.
Limiting beliefs are those stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can do. They hold us back and stop us reaching our full potential. They are also a device that stops us from failing. Most people are risk averse, and we don’t like being pushed out of our comfort zones. We only invest time and energy if we think we are going to get results. If we don’t believe in ourselves, we can give up before we start. At least that way we can’t fail, yet it is only by failing we can grow and learn. Sometimes these beliefs are so deep rooted we don’t even know we have them. But they can still stop us achieving our full potential.
I have quite a few limiting beliefs when it comes to my art… and I’ll come back to that, but I have an example from another area of my life that illustrates how powerful it can be when we actually believe in ourselves.
Over forty years ago I watched the London Marathon on TV and was bowled over by the crowds, the excitement, the whole atmosphere of the event and all I could think was “I would love to be part of that”. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how that might happen but I really wanted it. I was never a sporty child, possibly because I never had the opportunity given my school didn’t even have a playing field. We played netball and tennis on hard courts and my hand eye coordination for ball sports was rubbish so I avoided it when I could. That’s not a belief it’s a fact, I really was useless! As a young adult I did nothing more than a bit of walking so you think I would put aside ideas about running a marathon by telling myself I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the ability, I’m the wrong build, I don’t have time… any number of those limiting beliefs could have stopped me. But they didn’t. The thought of being there with all those people and crossing the finish line just kept niggling away. Circumstances prevented me doing much about it immediately. A spell living abroad with a husband who worked away much of the time, plus a toddler and the birth of a new baby were more than just excuses but five years later in 1987, after watching the marathon again, I decided I was going to do it. The time was now.
I had a five-year-old and a two-year-old and a husband who still worked away much of the time. I had never run anywhere through choice and I certainly wasn’t especially fit but somehow I found the time to start running. I would go out for a brisk walk and then summon the energy run to the next lamppost until I needed to slow down and catch my breath. I couldn’t even run for one whole minute on those first outings but I never gave up believing I could do it. And every time I ran for 30 seconds toward a lamppost, I imagined I was running towards the finishing line of the London Marathon. Twelve months later in April 1988 I crossed that finish line. It took me five hours but I did it and it felt like the best thing ever. Yes, there was a chance I could have failed but that was a risk worth taking. At least if I failed, I would have failed trying rather than because of some limiting belief.
Over the finish line with my eldest son
As it happens it started a hobby that kept me sane (it’s all relative) and fit for the next twenty odd years. Running became an important part of my life. I joined a running club, I started a beginners running group in our village and formed friendships through running that have lasted to this day. Ten years after that first marathon I ran the London Marathon again but this time at age forty it only took me four hours (and that was with a broken wrist and in pouring rain!) And all that because I believed I could do it.
Tired and wet, but crossing that finish line!
However, when it comes to my art, I’m full of limiting beliefs that have held me back for most of my life. Despite believing throughout my childhood that I would become an artist I was never encouraged to follow that dream. My school told me it wasn’t a ‘proper job’, my dad said I would never earn a living and obstacles were put in my way. I believed what they told me and never followed my dream of going to art school. I also believed that if I didn’t go to art school then I could never really be an artist. It is only in recent years that I realised that if I was making art that I was indeed an artist and have finally put that limiting belief behind me. David Hockney once said no one ever asked to see his art diploma, they are only interested in his paintings and that is so true.
Tied up with that first limiting belief is a sneaky suspicion that maybe I’m not very good at art. After all, perhaps that is why I was never encouraged to follow my dream when I was young? I go through periods when I realise that it is just another huge limiting belief, and even if I’m not that great, all I need to do is keep practising, keep running to that next lamppost and then I’ll continue to improve. But it still gets me when I least expect it even now. Those self-doubts are never far away.
Another limiting belief that I have struggled with recently is that I need to be constantly creating art if I am an artist. I haven’t painted anything in over four months and I have had moments during this time when I wonder if I ever will again. I can’t possibly call myself an artist if I don’t make art surely? But I have come to realise that creativity ebbs and flows and those fallow times are necessary to recharge our batteries. We do not have to be out there showing up in the studio every single day and to be honest, I just haven’t felt like it! In the last couple of weeks however, I have spent time out in the studio, pottering about, tidying up, looking through old sketchbooks and I can feel the desire to create returning. I’m not quite there yet but I no longer believe that I will never paint again. I’m just waiting for warmer weather now because it’s pretty cold out there! (Fact, not a belief!)
And the point of all this is to reassure you… or possibly myself, that we all have limiting beliefs, it’s normal but that is all they are. They are beliefs not facts. And if we can turn them around into dreams and goals then anything is possible and we can all run our own personal marathons. What about you? What are your limiting beliefs? I would love to hear about them and how you have overcome them.