Battling Your Limiting Beliefs

Eep! Beastly Belief! Photo: libertyandvigilance, Flickr

Eep! Beastly Belief!
Photo: libertyandvigilance, Flickr

Fiction writer Yuri Tanaka* thinks she’s nearing the end of her novel. When she’s busy being mom to her two kids or working part-time to support her family, she’s slaved away at this novel. Yet its completion actually worries more than thrills her.

“I think I’m actually afraid of finishing my novel,” she says. “When I was a kid, I was really chatty. I would talk non-stop, kind of like my own kids do now. And my dad would say, Does this story ever end?

To this day, the fear that her stories might offend or, worse, bore people keeps Yuri from completing a novel she began years ago. She has come up against her limiting belief. Never mind that there are other people who admire her writing, yours truly included. Her prose is so gorgeous I want to stare at it all day. And I’m not alone. Members of her writing group have said as much.

“Yours is the kind of book I want to read,” fellow writer Fiona Jordan* has gushed.

Yuri creates lyrical narratives with an environmental bent. I think of her as our very own Barbara Kingsolver. She earned her writing chops with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and publications in literary journals, such as Square One and Mason’s Road.

But what is that against years of indoctrination by your father?

Yuri sips on her iced tea. “To this day, my father introduces me to his friends this way: ‘Yuri’s writing a multi-generational book. It’s multi-generational because that’s how long it’s going to take to write.’”

There’s disparagement and then there’s family disparagement. That is like rubbing salt in a wound and then taking a chainsaw to it.

So what’s a writer to do to make peace with the past?

I pose this question to Yuri.

She tilts her head to consider it before coming up with the perfect answer: trust. “I’ve got to trust that the story does have an audience. I’ve got to trust that I get to add my voice to all the other ones out there.”

Given that Yuri’s father was so crucial to her writing, I add another question. “Is your father your ideal reader?”

She laughs. “I think of my father as a really intelligent man. I know he’s just trying to help. That’s what makes it hard when he’s so critical. But no, he reads authors like Tom Clancy. That’s nothing like what I’m trying to write.”

Got some beliefs cramping your style? Here are some ways Yuri banished hers.

1. Recognize the automatic thought.
Yuri’s automatic thought was, “No one wants to read anything I have to say.” Once she voiced the thought, it was easy to see how distorted it actually was. No one, anything—these words suggest absolutes that weren’t even true for her—or, for that matter, for most of us.

For more on common cognitive distortions, check here.

2. Consider the distorted belief’s upsides.
Even if the only person critical about Yuri’s work is her father, that one person carries a lot of weight. But now that Yuri has awareness, she also has choice. Does she remain attached to her father’s judgments or does she claim her own?

Each path has its upsides and downsides. Were she to complete her novel, she may find herself open to even more attacks than the one from her father. The upside to Yuri for carrying the belief that her words are not worth listening? There’s safety in that anonymity. With no other eyes on her novel, she can feel what she wants about it. Of course, the downside is living up to her father’s problematic views.

3. Choose a more compassionate belief.
If you’re ready to discard the moldy belief, you’re ready to craft a new one. Yuri gravitated toward trusting in her abilities.

If she were more inclined to collecting evidence, she could also say, “A lot of people have read and continue to want to read my stories.” Not for nothing, she’s been invited to read at crowded literary events, including The Center for the American West, The Newberry Library of Chicago and The Peninsula Literary Series.

4. Defend yourself.
Now that Yuri has children of her own, she sees how her father applies the same criticism to them. And it’s clear how much his judgment affects their morale. With her kids, she’s quick to jump to their defenses and draw boundaries.

She might apply the same tools to protect herself. When her father’s critical voice arises again, she could also counter it with this: “I release my father of the responsibility of determining my worth.”

5. Nourish your new beliefs.
New beliefs are like fragile seedlings sown into a weed-infested patch. They’re going to need lots of sunlight, water and nourishment to survive those intruders. Surround yourself with all the things that will allow your new beliefs to thrive.

* Names have been changed to protect the oh-so-innocent 🙂


About Mei Li Ooi

Writer. Editor. Diet Rebel.

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