• tarahthornburg

How to Shed Self-Limiting Beliefs: The Lesson of Crocodile Dundee

As writers and creatives, there is no shortage of material in the world telling us that we should doubt ourselves. The online world is fraught with articles telling us that it is difficult to succeed as a writer, that the publishing industry is crumbling, and that our odds of writing a breakout hit are a million to one.

In the indie world, Facebook groups are choked with embittered writers complaining that their sales are down, that royalties are slumping, and that Amazon’s death-grip on the industry spells the end for publishing as we know it. (I know, I know — I promised you something about Crocodile Dundee…It’s coming. I swear.)

For the record, I have no idea when this indie negativity started. Indies used to be the scrappy little guys going up against the “Big Six” publishers (now the “Big Five”). It used to be people in the traditional world complaining that indies were ruining the industry.

This is one reason that I avoid Facebook as much as possible these days. Most of the major author groups that I am part of are filled with aggrieved writers who have nothing better to do than air their frustrations with life.

But even when we filter our mental input and work to maintain a positive outlook, some self-limiting beliefs still manage to creep in and lodge themselves in our psyches. Whether we are part of the “old guard” or the “new guard,” writers of every stripe are plagued by self-doubt.

We worry that our work isn’t good enough. We worry that we’ll never manage to complete a novel or that it will never be published. If we’ve been published, we worry we’ll never be able to do it again, or we worry that we won’t be able to succeed in a new genre. We worry about money. We worry about marketing. We worry about reviews and our readers. (For the record, Mick Dundee never worried about this stuff, but I’ll get to him in a minute.)

There was a brief window of time when I thought maybe I was “over” self-doubt. I had reached the comfortable conclusion that publishing was changing again — and that I had to spend more money to make money. I concluded that there may come a time when I won’t be able to make a living from my writing, and I had made peace with that.

In the process of becoming an author, I became an entrepreneur. This was an unintended consequence, but it has given me the confidence that I will be able to make a living no matter what the industry (or the economy) does. In fact, my husband and I are both entrepreneurs. We’re hardworking. We’re scrappy. And we live life on our own terms (just in Colorado instead of the Australian bush).

But recently I noticed a new sort of anxiety creeping up inside of me. It had nothing to do with Kindle Unlimited, the rising cost of Facebook ads, or dwindling e-book sales, but it was tied to money, management of the business, and what the hell I was doing with my life.

Right now, I’m working on a nonfiction project that is in my heart of hearts but has nothing to do with my existing author brand. My husband and I are building a house, and we are stretching ourselves financially to do so.

This past Friday I could not sit still. I was finished with work, but I didn’t want to watch TV or read. I had to move. I had to get out of the house and do something with my life, but I didn’t know what.

As I was sitting there on the couch, I realized that I was worried that something bad might happen if I let myself relax. It was crazy, but it hit me like a bolt of lightning and I knew instantly that it was true. It didn’t matter if my rational self wasn’t buying it; I felt it in my body.

I’m not sure what brought about this realization. Maybe it’s all the meditating I’ve been doing or my creative visualization exercises. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what crazy ideas we’ve been holding onto until we begin to practice creative visualization. We’ll start to imagine something that we would like to have happen, and then our brains start to tell us all the reasons that it won’t.

If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Write down something you would like to have as though it were already yours. (“I am a bestselling author,” for example.)

Picture yourself having achieved that thing. Imagine how you will feel. Try to experience it with your whole body. Accept this thing as true.

Now flip the paper over and jot down any and all objections. By objections, I mean reasons that you can’t or won’t have that thing. I promise your brain will come up with plenty.

These are your self-limiting beliefs — embedded narratives that you have internalized after hearing them from family, friends, the media and then repeating them back to yourself.

Self-limiting beliefs are insidious because we usually aren’t conscious of the beliefs we hold. It’s only by bringing these narratives to light that we can begin to dismantle them.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Examine the truthfulness of each belief. Once you have these “objections” listed in front of you, consider any evidence you have to support them. If you wrote, “I’m not a very good writer,” try to remember where this belief first came from and any times in your life when it may have been reinforced.

Did you pick this up from a third-grade teacher? A sixth-grade bully? It might shock you to learn how old and outdated your beliefs are. Now consider any instances where this belief was challenged or proven outright false. Were you shocked to receive a good grade on a paper from a tough college professor? Did you get praise at work for a well-written report? Were you pleasantly surprised when you reread an old draft of a short story? Take these good things as evidence that your old narratives may need an update.

2. Write your affirmation on a piece of paper. Place it where you will see it, and meditate on it at least once a day. (I like to repeat my affirmations once in the morning during meditation and once at night before I go to sleep.) Picture yourself embodying that affirmation as you repeat it, and try to experience your intention as reality.

3. Create a vision board. Cut out pictures that symbolize what you want, and paste them on a piece of cardboard. Hang your vision board where you will see it. (It’s okay if you don’t want anyone else to see it.) You might try putting it in your closet or on your bedroom wall. The important thing is that you have an opportunity to look at it several times a day.

4. Look for synchronicity, and accept help with gratitude. Sometimes when we reach out into the Universe with an intention, the Universe reaches back. If you are a skeptic, try to suspend your disbelief just long enough to accept any windfalls or “help” with a pinch of gratitude.

For instance, if your affirmation is about prosperity and you suddenly receive a refund check in the mail, don’t write it off as coincidence (even if you feel that it is). Accept this gift with gratitude, and tell yourself that the Universe (or God) must be conspiring to help you. Even if you don’t fully buy this idea at first, I promise that it can help with the acceptance of newer, more positive beliefs. At the very least, it’s fun to imagine that the cosmos are aligning strictly for your benefit.

5. Watch some comedies from the ’80s and ’90s. Or just watch “Crocodile Dundee.” I don’t know why, but recently I feel that TV and movies have gotten very dark. Even our modern comedies are usually dramedies in disguise (think “Good Girls” — which, incidentally, I love).

Since art and culture are mirrors of society, it must be because we have all gotten so cynical. While many people think that their cynicism protects them, I actually think that it limits us more than it helps. For this reason, it can be refreshing to dial back to a simpler time — a time before CGI, cell phones, and social media.

Comedies are wonderful because their very premises hinge on the improbable. The lives of their characters are shaped by random opportunities, unlikely matchups, and bold choices.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of viewing the 1986 film “Crocodile Dundee” for the very first time. If you’ve watched this recently, you know that it is very politically incorrect and downright cringe-worthy in its treatment of minorities and transgender folks, but there was something about the simplicity of the premise that made me feel more at ease.

Here’s a newspaper reporter who flies halfway around the world to write a story about a daredevil survival of a croc attack. She brings him back on the newspaper’s dime and puts him up in a fancy hotel, where she floats between him and her schmucky fiancé. I won’t spoil the ending. (It’s great.)

This movie amazed me because nobody in 1986 had any inkling that newspapers would be folding all across the country in 20 years time. Nobody could have predicted the strides we would make in terms of human rights for the LGBTQ community. It never occurred to the characters that a reporter married to her career would be a poor romantic match for a meandering bush-dweller who has no idea what year it is. Apparently, nobody in 1986 was in a hurry for anything (including newspapers stories), and would-be New York City muggers all dressed like Michael Jackson.

There’s something comforting about old comedies because they have the power to make you feel that anything is possible. And it shows just how quickly the world (and our own circumstances) can change.

Do you have any outdated narratives that are holding you back? What self-limiting beliefs will you work on shedding this year?

Photo by Kyaw Tun

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