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Getting In Our Own Way

  March 21, 2016   

We all have “self-limiting beliefs”, ideas about ourselves that get in the way of being the full human being we could be. As a coach, I focus on helping my clients dismantle them.

When I work with disabled individuals I sometimes find it a challenge to work out which are the real barriers, created by others and by society, and which barriers they have built for themselves. I had the opportunity to think more about those barriers this autumn when I injured my eye.

Tables Turned

I wrote in December about the “tables turned” experience of being observed instead of being the observer. The medical experience, however kind and competent the medical and nursing staff, is one of being objectified, where the injured or not working part of you takes over from the whole you. The consultants were focused on healing my eye, they were not interested in the effect the laser treatment had on my jaw, neck and shoulders, which all locked up in response to the pain.

My Injury Was Not Visible

I’d torn my left retina in two places - and the doctor did not give me a black eye patch to wear. But it would have been helpful when I got back on the London Underground to explain why an otherwise healthy looking woman wanted to sit down as the trains lurched through the tunnels. Even worse was getting off the tube in Central London and making my way along crowded pavements with commuters looking at their phones and not at where they were going. I held my left arm out and up in front of my face to protect myself. It must have looked strange, even threatening, but it made me feel safer. Being in the car was no better. Even with my husband, ever a considerate driver, at the wheel, each bend and every traffic light jolted. My back and legs locked, holding me braced in my seat. And at night, the bright headlights of oncoming traffic probed my sore eye.

Work Was A Challenge Too

I depend so much on my screens - iPad, iPhone and desktop - and it was painful to use them for more than a few hours a day. I enlarged the fonts, hoping I’d remember to change them back before hitting send. I rationed time on Facebook and Twitter and focused on email and workshops I had to design and deliver. But still, after a long day, my sore eye twitched. Back to the painkillers or a big glass of red wine. I couldn’t read for relaxation so podcasts (thank you, Abnormally Funny People) became my way to unwind and have a laugh. Laughing at my predicament was important, as if my eye was sore, I found myself getting grumpy at reasonable requests from clients, family and friends. And furious at unreasonable ones!

I thought I was pacing myself well. I didn't hunt for work, I just took on what came through my inbox. I didn't go to evening events or didn’t stay long as the noise and the lights made my face hurt. But when I mentioned my pride in managing myself to my husband, he said, gently, he hadn’t noticed the difference.

So what did I learn about real barriers and ones I made myself? I think I was too anxious to keep everything going, and not to admit how much the injury had affected me.

I wonder if that is the most damaging self-limiting belief, that if you don't keep going, people will judge you and think less of you.

And therefore you overstretch and strain when you should rest and recover. The busy world can feel hostile, but I was over-defensive and assumed that others would not be helpful, as they inevitably were once I explained what I needed.

I am lucky. I am recovering from a minor injury which was treated promptly and well. But I’d suggest, even if your injury or condition is not one that’s going to improve, you could watch out for these 3 things:

  • overcompensating by working harder than anyone else
  • assuming no-one will cut you a break if you ask them
  • and not listening to your body when it tells you to stop.

If you can spot them and then change what you’re doing, you will build your resilience and self-awareness. And others will most certainly notice.

By Fiona Anderson, Founder, The Creative Coach