For many years, I believed I was terrible at maths. Somewhere along the line, something happened which I chose to remind myself of again and again, until it simply turned into a belief that “I’m rubbish at maths”. It wasn’t true. I had passed the 11+ which enabled me to go to a grammar school.
In that first year, we had exams. At the time, I neither liked nor disliked exams. They were just a fact of life, a part of school. I did well and was put in the top set. From then on, however, I failed every. single. exam – in maths.” But I resolutely refused to move down a set. In my world view at the time, aged 12/13/14+ I knew in my heart that once I moved down one set, it would be a very slippery slope to the bottom. So I worked hard (I thought) and stuck it out. By this time the “I’m rubbish at maths” story played out regularly in my head, with matching feelings and emotion. After all, hadn’t my teachers said so? It MUST be true. And the “I’m not good enough” story in my head was also taking shape.
Then, a new and rather unconventional teacher helped me turn things around. Mr Triance saw what was happening just ahead of my O Levels, and gave me a TON of work to do. He didn’t give me a chance to think “I can’t do this”. It was work to be done during the summer holidays and it simply HAD to be done. Through sheer grit, hard work and his perseverance and determination to help me see it in a “don’t think about it – just do it!” kind of way, I passed with flying colours, to the astonishment of everyone else.
As years have gone by, the “I’m rubbish at maths” story has returned from time to time – but I now know exactly how to combat this kind of thinking. Here is what you need to do with anything in your life that leaves you with a story that limits your opportunities – a ‘limiting belief’.
If you think you can or you think you can’t you’re probably right
In our brains, we have something called the Reticular Activating System. It’s a kind of filter between our conscious and our unconscious minds. I like to think of it as our little filing clerk. Let’s call him Ralph. Ralph is neither good, nor bad. He just does what he’s told and is there to serve us. If you tell him you’re bad at something he will go and find all the evidence you hold in your unconscious mind to prove to you that you are right. So when I tell Ralph I’m bad at maths, he reminds me of my experience at school, dregs up instances where I might have miscalculated something and agrees with me. And my limiting belief that I’m bad at maths is proven to be true.
How many times have you told yourself you CAN’T do that jump?
A great way to turn this right around and make it work in your favour is to tell Ralph the opposite or to reframe the situation completely and think of it in a different way. What if I tell Ralph I’m GOOD at maths? What if you tell him you CAN do that jump?
- We tell ourselves stories which we believe. Often because of something we heard from another person in authority like a teacher or parent (mind what you say coaches and parents!).
- We start to act as if it’s true and the story begins to define us as ‘Ralph’ serves up more and more evidence to back it up.
Affirmations are a great tool to help us combat limiting beliefs. By saying these positive statements over and over, we are prompting ‘Ralph’ to give us evidence that they are true, instead of the negative beliefs we have been holding. With skating, one of my favourite affirmations is “I’ve done it before, I can do it again”. And if you haven’t done that exact jump or move before, just look back to a time when you were struggling with something which is easy to do now. Then you are reminding yourself of your fantastic ability to learn something new, work hard at it and achieve it with ease.
Re-framing is another great approach. Instead of thinking maths is all about numbers, I started to see it as a bit of a mystery story which needed to be solved. And I like solving mysteries! Olympic Silver Medallist Paul Wylie started to think of a jump he hated as being on a roller coaster, thinking of the feeling he would get on the occasions that he landed it successfully. In this way, he started to look forward to the jump instead of dreading it and believing he couldn’t do it.
So wake up ‘Ralph’ and get him working for you and not against you next time he heads off to the filing cabinet in your head for proof that what you are telling him (or telling yourself) is true!
- Think about a situation in your life where you believe you aren’t good enough at something – it could be at skating or at school, anywhere.
- Now think how you could re-frame the situation and think of it completely differently – like thinking of maths as a mystery to be solved, or imagining you had lights on your toe picks and every move was drawing a light picture. Be imaginative!
- Now ask yourself “What makes me GOOD at this? How do I do this thing well?”
You’ll be surprised at how much your life changes with this positive approach and how much more positive stuff will be attracted into your life!