Your beliefs are getting in your way.

mental skills Oct 09, 2019

In talking to a client the other day, I compared limiting beliefs to a giant suitcase we insist on dragging around. It’s heavy, the wheels face different directions and we don’t even know how it got this way. All we know is, we can’t put it down and it impacts where we can go.

From the outside, limiting beliefs are dumb, untrue, and unnecessary. Just let go of the baggage. But from the inside, limiting beliefs are precious and we hold onto them like a security blanket even though they don’t pass the logic test.

So why do limiting beliefs matter in dog sports? What’s the connection?

Limiting beliefs are those things we’ve taken to heart, accepted as true, and make decisions because of them. They’ve taken root, become unconscious and reflexive. We also give our power away to them, believing we are helpless against the “truth” of them. They are even likely based on past experience so the “evidence” we’ve collected validates the belief. Limiting beliefs are powerful suckers!

A life example would be, the limiting belief that I have that I’m bad at math. (Anyone else?) I have some evidence to support it (school and grades), but mostly I’ve just resigned myself to this “fact.” Because of my acceptance, I spend zero energy addressing it and I have bunches of little workarounds so that I don’t have to deal. And Google helps, of course.

The only way this limiting belief is going to change is if I want it to bad enough to do the work. And truthfully, I don’t care.

Common limiting beliefs

Here are some limiting beliefs some really successful handlers have shared with me:

  • I’m not a good handler.
  • I don’t have enough experience.
  • My dog leaves the ring.
  • I can’t compete at the higher levels.
  • My dog might get hurt. I choke in big competitions.
  • Of course, I could go on …

These belief systems are limiting the handlers’ abilities to walk into the ring and be successful, not to mention sucking all of the joy out of competing! You can see how limiting beliefs can defeat you before you’ve ever gotten out of you van! It’s rough.

Here’s another whammy: this happens to our dogs too!

Overcoming limiting beliefs

Science tells us that when we experience REM sleep, our brains organize the events of the day. This is how we build references in nano-seconds while awake. Dogs do this too. So when a similar context presents itself, our brain makes a connection whether we’re looking at chocolate lava cake or a congested gate area with a reactive dog. Trigger the amygdala and limbic system and we respond reflexively.

As you can imagine, it takes some work to unravel these limiting beliefs for ourselves and our dogs. But it can be done! We can re-process the days events and consciously turn it around – literally reframe. But you have to want to reprogram yourself and you might need some help getting to the bottom of your fears then turning it around, replacing your limiting beliefs with new, positive evidence.

Many of us have likely done this with our dogs – “fixing” a teeter problem or “getting them over” going into a crate after a bad experience. We strip it all back and start building positive experiences from scratch. In that moment, we are our dog’s coach and advocate. But as we fight our limiting beliefs, who is there for us? 

As humans, we are powerful beyond measure and have many tools at our disposal. The first step is to go deep and really look at where this belief began. Unpack that suitcase. Decide that you don’t need to lug it around anymore and build new thought patterns. And if you decide you want support in this, I’m happy to help!

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