In elementary school, testing identified me as “gifted,” a label that haunted me through middle and high school. I often struggled academically, particularly with writing, and I felt like a failure when I did not measure up to the “gifted” label pronounced upon me. After high school, I continued on to college, dental school, a GPR, specialty training, and finally an implant residency before I became a periodontist. Those years rack up to an impressive 13 years of schooling beyond high school. In hindsight, I can now see that my academic quest was in part fueled by my desire to prove that I could succeed academically in spite of feelings of failure and not measuring up that I had acquired as a teenager. Lurking just beneath the surface were beliefs about my own abilities such as self-doubt and fear that I had to overcome before I could truly succeed.
Our beliefs are feelings of certainty about what is true or not true. They are an accumulation of ideas from our parents, education, society, and life experience that are often subconscious and not fact-based. They are powerful in framing the way we see the world and how we view our own potential. If you were shy or had a speech impediment as a child then you may avoid public speaking as an adult because any thought of speaking to an audience produces feelings of anxiety and stress. Our beliefs may not only limit us mentally but can also affect us physically. For example, when we feel embarrassed blood rushes to our face; when we feel angry our blood pressure rises; and when we are happy our bodies produce “happy” hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Limiting beliefs prevent us from reaching our full potential, but identifying them can be challenging.
Understanding the concept of limiting beliefs has allowed me to push myself, to literally get out of my own way, to push past the uncomfortable feelings and move forward. The 2018 U2 song “Get Out of Your Own Way” has become the perfect theme song for me, reminding me to continually look for warning signs of my own limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are often subconscious and can be lurking where you least expect them. For example, my early educational experiences led me to believe that I was a poor writer and that publishing an article was not a possibility for me. This month I am being featured as the cover article in Dentaltown where I share my thoughts and ideas on robotics in dentistry. Seeing the article online and in print is a little surreal. I count it as one of my greatest accomplishments of 2020.
Getting past our limiting beliefs doesn’t just have to happen in the workplace either. Our 2020 team Christmas party was a socially distanced event held at Playland Skate Center in North Austin. With the entire rink to ourselves, I watched my wife Penny sail around the rink truly enjoying herself, doing something she had not done in close to a decade. When I asked her why she loved rollerblading so much she said it was because as a child she was the worst kid at the rink. She would not let go of the railing and would stress about even crossing the 1-yard gap where you enter the rink. She was too afraid to let go. As a college student, she was determined to learn. She pushed past the uncomfortable fear of falling, practiced, gradually added distance, and eventually, she learned how to rollerblade and ice -skate. One of our first dates was rollerblading along the lakefront in Chicago. Overcoming her fear of falling also taught her to apply the same approach in other areas of her life as well.
We are all glad to have put 2020 behind us. I hope you will challenge yourself this year to discover and tackle one of your own limiting beliefs. Doing so can bring joy, satisfaction, and success.
Dr. Christopher M. Bingham