We Limit Ourselves and Need to Stop

April 24th, 2012

I was watching Stephen Colbert interview Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. He said something that was very powerful for me, that everyone is creative. It’s one of our species’ better qualities. Lehrer amplified this statement by describing how nearly all second graders describe themselves as creative, but this fraction drops dramatically with a few more years of school, and only some 10% of adults think of themselves as creative.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think this trend applies to just creativity.

Everyone can learn to write, do math, understand science, and the like. So many of us learn that we’re not as good as others, which is not a remarkable statement given that the average person is only average at anything. We extrapolate incorrectly from that to a state where we don’t think we’re good at all, or even that we lack the ability altogether. That’s unfortunate.

Everyone can improve their abilities at almost anything with determination, practice, and coaching. Maybe not to superstar levels, or even to superior levels, but certainly to some level of ability.

When you say “I can’t do that” about something that is a birthright of being a human being, you’re lying to yourself. Those lies become self-fulfilling prophecies too often:

I can’t do math.

I can’t write well.

I can’t draw.

I can’t understand complicated things.

I can’t sing.

I can’t speak in public.

I can’t travel.

I can’t talk to the opposite sex.

I can’t…you name it.

If other people can do it, chances are excellent that you can, too, if you just stop lying to yourself. Next time you start saying this about something challenging, try to change the “I can’t…” to an “I can…” and see if that opens up some possibilities. Doing something hard starts with believing that it’s possible. I have no doubt much of my own personal success lies in simply not holding on to limiting beliefs. If I had, I would not have gotten a PhD, become a professor, written novels, run marathons, lived abroad, or be happily married to my wife. Give it a shot. Say it.

I can.


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