March 2013: What Holds YOU Back?

by Brad on February 28, 2013

“None but ourselves can free our minds.”  — Bob Marley

Last month’s article evoked many reader questions. Most loved the perspective but struggled with the process of change. Some asked me to trace my own journey as an example. So here are some thoughts that respond to both.

I was a long way into adulthood before I realized there was more to my thinking than … my thinking. I had always believed that I could see and think clearly, and that my decisions and actions, therefore, were wholly my own. Yet when things didn’t turn out the way my thinking said they “should” turn out, I started looking around for clues. With some searching, I came to realize that there were a whole lot of “thoughts” living in my head that I didn’t put there. And with some consistent practice at noticing them, I began to see I’d adopted a bunch of lessons as “truth,” when in fact, they were not at all true for me. But until I noticed them, I behaved as if they were.

17150053I now know that I was observing my worldview, a life framework defined for us by society, the “soup” in which we all live. An analogy: you can’t see the air you breathe, but you’re quickly aware of it if it’s gone … at which point, you probably go into a panic to find it. I was looking at my own air. Our society places high value on some ideas that powerfully hold us back from life. I learned that my world (the air I was breathing) valued and rewarded:


  • Answers over questions
  • Busyness over reflection
  • Doing over thinking
  • Compliance over creativity
  • Knowledge over experience
  • Perceived certainty over risk
  • Social acceptance over inner truth
  • Productivity over fulfillment
  • Being right over learning

You may imagine, or perhaps have experienced, the strain of staying busy, getting it right, always having to have the answer, making sure others will like you, and going along with the crowd. Years later, having explored similar topics with clients, I would add many others to the list, ones that didn’t seem to impact me, but do impact others. Each of us is unique, partly because how life molds us is unique. A sample of other ideas society values:

  • Expedience over completeness
  • Problems over possibilities
  • Our limitations over our potential
  • Fixed beliefs over critical thinking
  • Skills over wisdom
  • Drama over meaning

None of us escaped every one of these stories. Some are so ingrained that we can’t imagine how they constrain us. As is true with most challenges, a simple practice of noticing evokes new choices. For 35 years, I’d been well rewarded for following society’s rules, so change didn’t happen overnight. But the decision to notice did. Had I not begun that process, I’d not be able to do the work I do, nor would I be able to write about it. It’s time to notice your worldview.

Exercise #1: Toward inquiry. Start with both lists above. For each item, don’t ask yourself if you believe it is valid; (you won’t). Instead, look back through your life for clues that you behaved as if it were valid … for you. Wherever you find evidence, name what you notice, and write it down. After looking at every item, and perhaps adding more of your own, allow your learning to “steep” for a few days, so you become deeply aware of the impact these things have had on your life. Lastly, you might draw a picture, with you in the center living inside a box, the edges of the box made up of all the things that have held you from your own inner truth. Doing this has had huge impact for me!

Exercise #2: Toward new choices. Now aware of the stranglehold of a limiting worldview, you’re free to choose a new one, one that makes your life work instead of one that makes it impossible. Despite what you may have learned, there’s very little “absolute truth.” You choose what’s true for you. Here’s your chance to choose big, for the bigger you choose, the more possibility your life can hold. You might redraw the box above, with you inside again, but with the edges now (1) greatly expanded, to signify the newfound space in which you can move around, and (2) made up of self-selected values that are important to you. Perhaps you might include things like “I question everything, but remain open,” “time for quiet reflection allows me to do and be more,” and “my heart matters most.” Your call.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

As a species, we’re driven to question, to learn, to know why and how. This curiosity includes our search for the ultimate “truths” about the universe. How did it form? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Why and how did it happen, and continue to happen? There are perhaps as many ideas about these questions as there are questioners. We don’t have solid answers to most of these, but with continued curiosity, the universe may reveal her secrets.

At another level, the questions change character. Do we live in a universe that is benevolent, a place of unlimited possibility and creative genius, where our personal potential is both supported and encouraged? Or do we live in a universe of judgment, a world of predator and prey, where fear lurks around every corner? Answers to such questions are sought by many of our major ‘disciplines’ – philosophy, religion, psychology, etc.

I believe these questions don’t have good answers, but it’s because the questions themselves are flawed. In my mind, this topic has become more of a debate than an inquiry.

Here’s why I see it this way. Both the question you ask (benevolent or judgmental) as well as the answer you come up with depend not on the universe and what it can teach us, but on the worldview through which you ask. If, in looking at the matched pairs in the article above, your worldview had you choosing the first item in a pair more often than the second, you will see, and therefore find evidence for, a dog-eat-dog world, where there is never ‘enough,’ so you have to fight to get your share. On the other hand, if you more often chose the second in each pair, you will be far more likely to see, and therefore find evidence for, a possibility-filled universe that supports your journey and genius.

No amount of evidence or debate will change your mind (no matter which answer your favor) simply because the debate fails to examine your way of seeing, your worldview, the underlying assumptions that impact your thinking. How about if the universe simply allows? Consequences for your choices, yes; but judgment of them, no. 


Openings to New Possibility

My book: A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom – This ebook offers a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life, and helps you to reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it as a series of blog articles to which you can subscribe at no cost. Most of the book is now out there on my blog; to be continued.

11 Years: 2012 concluded 11 years of monthly newsletters from The Road Not Taken. If you’d like the full set, (132 issues), it’s available for purchase on my website here as a single pdf file.  

Gift ideas: In my spare time, I lead nature tours to some of the world’s special places. I’ve selected a few images from my travels and make them available here on a variety of fun products, from note cards to coffee mugs.

Join The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription offering giving you an opportunity to stay connected, interact, be challenged, learn. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.  

An invitation to bold possibility: Big ideas have big potential. They become your ideas with personal felt experience of them. Gaining personal experience is often difficult because, on our own, we use the same thinking that got us here to take us forward. If you’d like to consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future, contact me, I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path, and together we’ll chart a course into your potential.  

Book of the month Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. This is a book about daring to be courageous, but it also daring in its own right. I heard Brené speak at a conference a few months back, and I found her to be real, powerful, entertaining and vulnerable – an unlikely combination, but one about which she speaks (and writes) with eloquence and impact. The theme here is how we have inherited a culture of “never enough,” how it holds us back, and how to step beyond the pain of its grasp and into our greatest potential. Prepare to be both entertained and deeply touched. …  And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download March 2013 pdf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam Russell February 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

As always, Brad, I admire your writing. It is easily felt as a reflection of your clear thinking, which I also admire! I love your statement: “I question everything but remain open.” I would change that to “AND remain open.” The ‘but’ negates the first half which we don’t want to do. We want both to coexist.
I also love your “me in a box” concept. I had written a similar article wherein there was a little fence protecting a sapling. As the sapling became a tree the little fence became rusted wire cutting into the bark (natural adult protection) of the adult. As you, better than I, give your reader the tools to recognize and snip away those barbs, you invite us to discover freedom beyond expectations.
Bravo, good friend, on another brilliant piece.
Blessings! Pam


Brad February 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Thanks, Pam… I appreciate your kind words … and thank you for your “correction.” And the sapling analogy is such a good one. Thank you! Brad


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