3 Signs You Are Holding Yourself Back

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Big Leap" by Gay Hendricks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you holding yourself back from reaching your full potential? Do you know you could do so much more with your life, but you just can’t break through a certain threshold?

Many people regularly engage in behaviors that they know are holding them back, yet they can’t seem to help themselves. If this sounds like you, you likely have some deep-seated self-limiting beliefs. Because these beliefs are so deeply embedded in your psyche, you don’t even notice how they are holding you back, preventing you from living up to your full potential.

Here are three signs that you are holding yourself back.

1. You Can’t Say “No”

Living a fulfilled life requires that you prioritize spending time on activities that enhance that state, and avoid activities that don’t. But one of the most common boundary problems people tend to struggle with is saying “no.” When you take stock of what you tend to spend time on, you may notice you invest a lot of energy into doing things you really don’t want to do, because you feel obligated to say “yes” to others. Hendricks suggests you start saying “no” to anything you can that doesn’t align with your state of fulfillment. 

Each time you’re asked to do something, don’t respond immediately. Take some time first to think about whether it aligns with life in your state of fulfillment. Of course, doing things in the service of others often feels fulfilling, so in those cases, say “yes.” However, in some cases, you may conclude that saying “yes” to something would be counterproductive to your fulfillment. For instance, if you’re asked to take on an extra project at work, but that would mean sacrificing spending time with your family, you may decide that’s not worth the sacrifice, even if it would mean extra money. In this case, spending time with your loved ones will enhance your state of fulfillment more than money will. So, you must say “no.” Hendricks calls this an “Enlightened No” because you’re explicitly saying no for a higher purpose—the purpose of living in your state of fulfillment.

2. You Tend to Be Critical of Others

Criticism of others is usually as much, or more, about you as it is about the other person. It keeps you from being able to work harmoniously with others, and puts the blame for failures or problems onto others instead of taking responsibility for those yourself. 

Start to observe any critical statements you make about others, and make note of whether those are productive or not. For example, if your co-worker isn’t meeting their obligations and it’s keeping you from accomplishing tasks, notice how you react to it: Are you addressing it in a productive way, or just hurling criticism? Are you placing all of the blame on them without examining your role in the dynamic?

In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks gives some tips on how to stop criticizing others: Once you take notice of your tendency toward criticism, Hendricks suggests trying to refrain entirely from making any critical statements for one day—this should make you aware of how habitual the behavior is. Then, notice whether your criticisms are things you can do something about, and if so, just do what it takes to resolve it. He predicts, however, that you’ll notice that most of your criticisms are not productive, and when you realize this, you’ll become aware of how unnecessary they are and eventually stop the habit. 

3. You Can’t Accept Compliments

Notice how you react when people compliment or praise you. If you tend to deflect or downplay compliments, Hendricks says that’s a sure sign that you’re holding yourself back. Notice what your reactions are when people compliment you, as that can reveal what the specific limiting belief is. 

To address this behavior, simply pause any time someone compliments or praises you, take a moment to feel the positivity they’re giving you, and say “thank you.” You can use this positive energy to combat the negative beliefs about yourself. Hendricks reminds us that internalizing positive beliefs about ourselves is key to allowing ourselves to feel happiness, and thus helps combat the happiness threshold problem.

Let People Appreciate You

Research has shown that around 70% of people feel uncomfortable when they receive compliments. One reason is that we naturally feel discomfort with opposing beliefs, and when we have negative self-beliefs, a compliment will contradict that. Another reason may be that we feel praise sets the bar higher for us in the future. We may downplay accomplishments for fear that others will have higher expectations of us, and we’ll ultimately disappoint them. 

It’s important to recognize that a compliment is more about the giver than you. When someone compliments you, they want to recognize how something you did, or do, affects them. It may help ease your discomfort if you think of accepting a compliment as doing the giver the courtesy of allowing them to express their appreciation. 
3 Signs You Are Holding Yourself Back

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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