July 1, 2024

Disrupting the Fortress: Breaking Free from Limiting Beliefs

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If you’re too tired to read, you can listen to this on Apple or Spotify.

This is my life, and my observations of it, and they change as I change.

If we are living life as a curious and open-minded person, our beliefs are bound to evolve. Yet, for some reason, there is an external resistance to changing opinions or beliefs. People who alter their stance on a topic are called “flip-floppers,” but I only assign that term to people who do it for disingenuous reasons rather than an honest evolution in thinking. There is a transformative power in questioning everything we know and embracing the disruption of our thought patterns and beliefs.

I’ve has cosmic shifts in the things I once believed. I was raised by a United States Marine who became a cop. As his only child, he raised me to be bulletproof. When I would cry, he reminded me I needed to be tough. If I said my arm hurt, he would give me a “charlie horse” on my thigh, and when I winced in pain, he giggled, “you aren’t thinking about your arm anymore, are you?” Oddly enough, I wasn’t. He convinced me you can’t count on anyone but yourself, and my mantra became “trust no one.”

This belief system was instilled in me, and I wore it like armor. My default mindset towards any situation was “suck it up and take the pain.” Then a mass shooting happened in my city where I was the police chief. Five people were killed, and five of my officers were shot. I was gutted, and for the first time in my life, sucking it up didn’t seem like a great remedy. I watched strong-bodied and strong-minded men break down in tears, and I realized that the belief system I’d clung to for most of my life was flawed.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and psychologist, has extensively studied human judgment, decision-making, and cognitive biases. I read his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in my master’s program at the Naval Postgraduate School, and it helped me make sense of the systems that make up the human thought process. By acknowledging that our thinking can be flawed, we can take steps to explore the reasons we think the way we do and then question if those beliefs are serving us. Our beliefs are created by those who raise us, educate us, our circle of friends, and our experiences. If we never step back from these systems to analyze them and challenge their validity, we stay stuck in thought patterns that make us immovable and closed to new ideas.

I believed my “you can’t hurt me” and “I don’t need anyone” mindset was protecting me. The fortress I’d built was impenetrable, and it did a great job of keeping out sadness. But it also kept out joy. While it seemed to offer safety, it ultimately led to isolation and kept me from fostering intimacy and experiencing authentic connections. I wasted a great deal of my life in the fortress I built. The good news is that you can disrupt your thought patterns before you find yourself isolated from the people around you. Thankfully, I leaned into the learning and determined that everything I believed was wrong.

By the way, the evolution of beliefs doesn’t have to be that significant or life-altering. I used to think visible tattoos on police officers were “unprofessional.” The policy in our department dictated that tattoos had to be always covered. This was excruciating for the officers who had to wear long sleeves in the hot summer months. There was a big movement in my department by the inked officers who asked me to change the policy. I questioned my belief of tattoos being unprofessional and finally had to admit that I was stuck in an antiquated mindset. I conducted a poll of our community to gather data and it came back 50/50 for and against tattoos – which didn’t help. The tipping point of my decision came from those who were anti tattoos. They commented that they would be “scared” if an officer showed up at their house with visible tattoos. A few associated with criminality. I realized how preposterous that was. If you call 911 and an officer shows up to help you, who cares whether they have tattoos or not! I had to confront my own beliefs and finally concluded that I was wrong – and I changed the policy. Then I got a few tattoos myself <smile>.

I also used to think people who wore monogrammed shirts were pompous a-holes. Now I’m obsessed with monograms and love to see them everywhere. This has been life-altering. If I can change my stance on monograms, surely anyone can alter their beliefs on more significant matters.

Obviously, I jest, but the message is serious. How many judgements and beliefs do you cling to that have no evidentiary value?

Becoming self-aware is up to you. What thought patterns and beliefs do you have that might not be serving you – or that you just need to revisit? The first step is to question everything you think. Identify your limiting beliefs and ask yourself questions like: “Is this belief based on objective data?” “Is there an alternative explanation?” “How would my life be different if I let go of this belief?” “Should I get my shirts monogrammed?”

Here are some methods for leaning into the process of questioning yourself:

1) Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues and ask them for their perspectives on your behavior and attitudes. Sometimes, others can see patterns that you might miss. But here is the caveat: you must be open to constructive criticism. Your initial reaction will be defensiveness because our beliefs are so closely tied to our identities. Fight the urge to come out swinging. Lay down your sword and lean into the discomfort.

2) Seek out diverse perspectives. If your political news comes from MSNBC, switch over to FOX. Once you overcome the primal reaction to throw your remote at the television, separate opinion from evidence-based reporting. Read books, articles, and blogs from a variety of perspectives, especially those that challenge your current beliefs. Exposure to different viewpoints can help you see things in a new light.

3) Engage in conversations with people who have different backgrounds and viewpoints. Listen actively and try to understand their perspectives without immediately defending your own. Once you rewire your brain from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you will have the shocking revelation that your beliefs are not your identity. You can question them, grapple with them, and ultimately overcome any beliefs that aren’t serving you.

As you reflect on your own beliefs and thought patterns, I challenge you to take the courageous first step towards transformation. Embrace the discomfort of questioning your long-held assumptions and allow yourself the freedom to evolve. Your growth lies beyond the walls of the fortress you’ve built. Remember, your beliefs are not your identity. You have the power to disrupt, question, challenge, and change them. Embrace the journey of becoming the best version of yourself. The world needs your authentic self, unburdened by limiting beliefs and open to endless possibilities.

Send me pictures of your monogrammed shirts and tattoos.

Onward and upward, my fellow disrupters.

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