Self-limiting Beliefs

In celebration of my birthday this month, I will  be posting excerpts from a longer piece I wrote a few months ago. (This is an excerpt from Age: A Manifesto)

“Reality is a projection of your thoughts or the things you habitually think about” –Stephen Richards

You have many roles in life. You may be a mother, brother, accountant, boss, artist, traveler, grandmother, student or daughter. We all tend to consider these things part of who we are and act accordingly. Where does age fit into that equation and more importantly, should it? Should your age be part of who you are?

I recently attended a reunion for a program. I was involved with when I was an age I would consider very young. I became fascinated with how many times I saw genuine sadness in faces, masked by a joke, when they would say, “We are getting so old!” The worst phrase of all was repeated too many times to count, “I am too old for that.” At the same time I was working with culturally defined young people who would respond equally repulsively. “What are your plans for the future,” I would ask. “What are you passionate about? Are you having fun?” “I don’t know,” they would reply. “I still have time to figure it out, I am still young.” One response in particular made me physically, yet uncontrollably scowl at a poor young lad, “I don’t know,” he said to my question of fun. “I guess I am having fun but, there are just so many old people here.”

Judgement, discrimination, self-loathing, excuses and on and on and on. All of these come from our perception and relationship with age. One of my greatest pet peeves is when people of any age refer to older people as the “other.” They say that he or she is so old, half joking, but when the word old comes out of their mouth, the face turns to a sickening expression as if the very word were rotten. What a convenient way to dismiss someones humanity and personality.

It is equally outrageous when someone from an older generation talks about the youth of today as spoiled, entitled, or lazy. Both parties are equally guilty. Youth seem to forget that they too will be old someday and are in fact mocking their future selves. Elders forget that they were young once. Some of them loose the ability to see themselves in a young person. The mirror seems to be cracked and warped by father time. Perhaps the worst thing about age is that it allows us to limit ourselves and what we can do. If you have ever thought, I am too old for this or I am to young for that, then you are an offender of self-limiting beliefs.

Why can’t we simply strive to be better than the person we were yesterday? Shouldn’t our struggle in life be this simple, without our age getting in the way? We as a culture are insane. I am including myself in this insanity. We obsess about our youth for the majority of our lives. I imagine a 90 year old woman, who may be particularly vane, will have wished she were 22 for 70 years. Some people are so obsessed that they actually visit the doctor to have surgery to make them look like they were 22. This is a disgusting misuse of our time on this planet.

The irony is that those who resist age the most tend to look the worst. For example, a young person dressed too grown up, or an old person dressing too young. Think of the creepy high school football star that talks about the good ‘ol days his entire life or the teenager who wants to grow up too fast. This behavior is incredibly sad. The opposite is also true. When someone has completely embraced their age they shine with an inner radiance that is hard to quantify but can certainly be admired. I will admit myself, although I am starting to reveal clues about my age, that when I saw my first grey hair appear on my head I had a sort of crisis. It was as if my youth had ended, that very moment. I realized, as a boy who had just been told Santa doesn’t exist, that I too was growing older. I realized I was not immune to this human invention called time. I wanted to run to the nearest corner store and buy hair dye. My wife stopped me and reminded me that I could resist the inevitable and create suffering, or much more wisely, embrace today and the change that comes slowly to us all. But our society does not help us accept our age.

I recently saw a commercial on TV that illustrates my point perfectly. It was a car commercial that spans the human life in 30 seconds narrated by a clever poem. The commercial finishes with a shot of an old man driving a newly purchased sports car and the poem ends, “…and something new, to remind you of when you, were you.” The first thought that popped into my mind was, you are you. Why is the you from your past better than the you now?

While walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain I met a man from Latvia named Henrick who was struggling with age related self-limiting beliefs. He made such an impression on me, that I dedicated almost an entire chapter to him in my recent book Sunrises to Santiago. He was in his 60s, had been a scientist all of his life, and was thinking about making a very serious and large life change. He wanted to change careers but his circle of friends, family and society were all telling him that he was crazy. Everyone, including Henrick, thought that he was too old to start something new. It is important to note that Henrick had just walked the Camino de Santiago from beginning to end in 22 days. For some perspective, most people half his age, either don’t finish or take 30 – 35 days to walk the nearly 500 mile journey. This trek taught him about self-limiting beliefs and that age truly is just a number. I am happy to report that Henrick has enrolled in a university and is happier than ever. He is focused on making the rest of his life, the best of his life, as they say.

What are your self-limiting beliefs as they relate to age?

There are countless examples of inspiring people who have somehow avoided these self-limiting cultural messages and beliefs. They have provided us a glimpse of what it truly means to live well at any age. A great example of this is Tao Porchon Lynch, a 96 year old yoga instructor, who holds the world record for the oldest yoga teacher on planet Earth. She has received a lot of attention because she has shined a beacon of light on what it means to age gracefully. I imagine examples like her are so rare because of self-limiting beliefs. If you watch her video on YouTube, which has almost half a million views, you may be thinking, I am X years old, and I can’t do that. Her approach to life is nothing short of inspiring and in her video she says simply, “I think that today is going to be the best day of my life.” If you have not seen the video I highly recommend that you watch it here.


Author Stephen Richards wrote, “Reality is a projection of your thoughts or the things you habitually think about.” If this is the case then our age and the self-limiting beliefs about our age are truly only in our minds. Let us cast off this belief system and be more like Tao Porchon Lynch, no matter what our age. These self-limiting beliefs also apply to the very young. Do you think you are too young to start a company, write a book or do whatever it is that interests you? Please think again.

Laura Dekker made headlines a few years ago when she, at the ripe age of 14, decided she wanted to sail around the world, solo. She wanted to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world on her own. Incredibly her parents agreed and the backlash was incredible. They received hate mail and the local authorities in the Netherlands, where she lived, stepped in to try and stop her. People believed they knew so much about her because of one simple number, 14. People didn’t know she was more skilled at sailing than walking. In then end she fulfilled her dream, age be damned. I highly recommend her documentary that chronicles her journey, Maidentrip.

Self-limiting beliefs are poison. Rid them from your own life as soon as you can.

What is one self-limiting belief that you can focus on eliminating in your own life?

For more check out the free 20 page piece, AGE: A Manifesto here.

One thought on “Self-limiting Beliefs

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