Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

How to Flip the Script and Overcome Limiting Beliefs in Midlife

Photo by Peter Doran on Unsplash

By Midlife We’ve Built Up A Pile of Limiting Beliefs — But We Can Overcome

The day was here, and I had been anticipating this day for the entire summer. My anticipation was equal parts excitement and dread.

This was the first day of sixth grade — middle school.

Once settled into our homerooms, our first official task as middle schoolers was finding and learning how to open our lockers. The locker was a big deal in middle school and marked a critical inflection point in our young lives.

Where would my locker be? Who would be next to me? Who would I see walking past my locker when changing classes? Would I remember the combination? What if I don’t? Will it be big enough to fit all my stuff?

As children in a semi-rural community, each of us converged on the middle school from outlier elementary schools, many with a single classroom per grade. We had never seen most of our classmates before. We knew nothing of changing classrooms mid-day.

Lockers in the hall? Uh, no. A cubby in the classroom and a wall hook for your jacket.

A cubby was for children. Lockers were for teenagers.

The locker was the talisman of middle school. We were no longer shackled all day to a particular room or teacher or even the same group of kids. It represented endless possibilities.

The locker was also the center of middle school social life. It was our own little piece of real estate in the community.

“Meet me at my locker.”

Entire soap operas, playoff recaps, movies reviews, and music performances came to life in those 4 minutes between classes, 60–90 seconds of which were spent at the locker.

This was the moment.

After receiving a slip of paper with our locker number and its combination (Rx3 to the first number, L past the first number to the 2nd, R to the 3rd), we bolted to the hall.

There it was. And my heart sank.

Our hall lockers were arranged in pairs. Each pair consisted of the tall, skinny bottom part, presumably for your jacket, and the rectangular top part, presumably for your books. The bottom parts were next to each other, and the top parts were one over the other.

Even though the school, my peers, and the universe now recognized my status as a teenager, my body did not. I was still the smallest kid in the class, as I had been since 4th grade.

My locker was the one on top, and I couldn’t reach it.

I knew this was a possibility, of course. I dreaded this outcome the entire bus ride to school and throughout the pre-locker homeroom activities. I had a 50/50 shot, and I lost.

For a split second, I thought to myself, “Maybe nobody will notice. Maybe I can make this work by only using the bottom.”

A few seconds of contemplation led to the inevitable — it wasn’t going to work. I needed the top and bottom. I had to tell the teacher.

Already a shy, unsure, and self-conscious kid, I was mortified, but I did it. And that’s when the nightmare became a reality.

The teacher called over my locker partner, a girl, and said we were to switch places because I couldn’t reach mine. She giggled a bit, the teacher giggled a bit, and within 1.4 seconds, the entire class knew my shame.

I had to switch lockers because I was too short to reach mine. I was not worthy of the gifts bestowed upon a 6th grader with a locker. My talisman was a cheap piece of costume jewelry. It had no power.

I wasn’t a teenager. I was still a baby. Where was my cubby?

The locker episode kicked off a series of early-teenager events that drilled bunches of limiting beliefs into my malleable psyche.

My assigned square dancing partner in gym class (yes, square dancing in gym class) looked at me, disgusted, and then asked the teacher for a new partner.

I asked a girl to a dance, and she rejected me after her friend told me she’d say “yes.” I found out that this was really just a plot to make fun of me.

Three years of middle school built a foundation of limiting beliefs about my worthiness, some of which I struggled with all the way into midlife.

But even as I grew and aged, I continued to fill my quiver of limiting beliefs at each stage of life.

In high school, I was a straight-A student without much effort. Then, as a freshman engineering major in college, I failed physics and had to repeat it. I was barely hanging on by my third semester and almost changed majors. I graduated at the bottom of my class. I wasn’t smart and would never make it as an engineer.

Through a combination of upbringing, community, and experience, I learned that money is the root of all evil, and the only way to get more is to take it from someone else (a zero-sum game). Money is bad, and how dare you!

I failed at two tech startups and a home-based business. You are an employee, a behind-the-scenes guy, not a salesman, and not an entrepreneur.

Malicious Limiting Beliefs in Midlife

Limiting beliefs are one of the weapons in the arsenal of Resistance, and if we’re not aware can derail us precisely at the time in our lives when we should be at our most free. As I entered midlife, I found that I not only carried many of these limiting beliefs around like a suitcase full of boulders, but I was adding more.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’m too old. (sometimes disguised as “I’m old-school”)

I’ve lost my edge.

I’ve lost the drive.

Nobody cares what I say.

I can’t learn new things.

I can’t get in shape.

I’ll never understand ____________.

I’m irrelevant.

I’m not where I thought I would be.

I thought I’d know more by now.

Who would want me?

Photo by Oladipo Adejumo on Unsplash

How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs in Midlife

Midlife’s gift is a natural inflection point in our lives, like moving from elementary school to middle school when we were kids. Our lives are changing in many ways, and it’s the perfect time to banish those limiting beliefs for good and maximize your midlife.

The great news is that you can overcome them with some simple strategies. You’re not too old, and it’s not too late. You can decide to remake your entire view of your life.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me.

Take Control of Your Inner Monologue

My limiting beliefs, especially those accumulated throughout my younger years, were reinforced every day by the monologue running through my head. My self-talk was negatively labeling me and painting me into a corner.

You’re not worthy.

No one likes you.

You’re not smart.

Money is bad.

You’re not an entrepreneur.

Over several the last several years, I learned to take control of my inner monologue through awareness, elimination by replacement, and addition.

Awareness began with knowing my trigger phrase.

My trigger phrase was “I can’t.” I can’t because I’m too small. I can’t because I’m not good enough. I can’t because I’m one of these, not one of those. I can’t because “how dare you!”

So I counted how many times in a day I said or thought, “I can’t.” My number was staggering. Over three days, I was averaging about 20 times per day. I was drilling “I can’t” into my subconscious 20 times every day. I wonder what the effect was?

I then consciously replaced “I can’t” with active and softer language. Reframing your trigger phrase with friendlier and active terminology appeals to your subconscious and works to build your confidence through control.

For example, I’ve replaced “I can’t” in my vocabulary with phrases such as:

  • “I choose not to” or “I won’t” — Active language in which I maintain control.
  • “I don’t currently know how” or “I’m not yet sure” — Softer language that maintains the possibility of success if I choose to put in the work.

Yes, it was weird and awkward at first. That’s partially the point. The more I stumbled over it, the more I became aware of how often I said it, and the easier it became to replace it.

Then I built a new inner monologue through gratitude and affirmations. I drill this new track of self-talk into my head every day.

Each day I spend a few minutes focusing on a few things I’m grateful for, and I write them down. The magic of gratitude is that it requires zero external changes in your life. Simply by practicing gratitude, you will start knocking off limiting beliefs.

I’ve also added affirmations to help me frame who I want to be and how I want to show up in the world. I want to be confident and courageous, so I tell myself I am. I want to be worthy, empathetic, and valuable, so I tell myself I am.

The result is a new inner monologue that has eliminated many of the limiting beliefs that I built up over my younger years.

Take Action

No greater elixir exists for limiting beliefs than taking action. The more you do, the more you overcome. The more you overcome, the more confidence you gain. The more confidence you gain, the more you believe.

Don’t think you can get in shape? Sign up for a 10k race or a CrossFit meet and start a training plan.

Don’t think you can learn new things? Start your own YouTube channel, create an NFT project, or start a YouTube channel about NFT projects.

Think you’ve lost your drive? Find a new job or start a side business.

Think you’re too old? Take a dance class or move to a new place.

Start taking action by conducting little experiments to get out of your comfort zone. These experiments help you learn how to function while experiencing discomfort. Maybe this is all you need to quell some of those midlife limiting beliefs.

Taking action is your best friend. Don’t let this gift of midlife pass you by without doing something.

Upgrade Your Circle

One of the most effective life hacks is borrowing the confidence, expertise, and belief from those around you. Therefore, surrounding yourself with the right people is a great way to stifle limiting beliefs.

To understand why it works, start with the reverse. Many of our current limiting beliefs were born from our circle — family, friends, community, and colleagues. Each of our paths is littered with people telling us why they can’t or shouldn’t and why we can’t or shouldn’t. Each little “I can’t” is a cobblestone in the path of limiting beliefs.

Therefore, do the opposite and use your circle to rebuild new beliefs.

Prioritize time with those in your current circle that make you feel great, and expand, or replace, your circle with those that can show you a new path.

Show up at a local business networking event (you may even get free breakfast). Join a board or volunteer in your community. Join a mastermind. Become a leader or teacher at your place of worship. Run for school board. Go to a meetup.

You can also enhance your circle virtually.

Find books, podcasts, and YouTube channels that will help you learn new things, enhance your skillset, and inspire you. Replace the news and its doomsaying talking heads, sitcoms, sports radio, other mindless or provocative entertainment with a circle of virtual mentors.

Spend at least 30 minutes a day with your virtual circle.

Signposts on the Journey of Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

Although I wasn’t fully grown until college, I grew up to be a perfectly average-sized man. This natural inflection point allowed me to overcome the limiting beliefs about of my size. All I had to do was acknowledge what was true and take the win. I’m willing to bet that you have some limiting beliefs hidden deep inside the dark confines of your soul for which all you need is to acknowledge the win to overcome them.

I’ve had quite the journey since that opening day of 6th grade, and so have you — journeys filled with both reinforcements and refutations of limiting beliefs.

I still fight some demons, especially those around money and my worthiness. I’m not entirely sure why these were particularly deep-seated, but they were. I’ve definitely made progress, and I’ve done so through the methods I’ve outlined above.

What are yours? Which moments sowed the seeds of limiting beliefs into your psyche? Which ones pulled the veil and helped you overcome?

Life gifts you with these natural inflection points like puberty and midlife, so don’t waste them. Rebuild your inner monologue, take action, and surround yourself both in person and virtually with those that will help you dismantle your foundation of limiting beliefs.

You are not ready to give in or give up. Get out there and do. We can’t wait to see what you have to offer.

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John Macdonald

John Macdonald

Obsesrver, Life-Curious, Beginner — Writing to try to figure out the stuff in my head