We are all just prisoners here

of our own device.

~Hotel California

The Eagles had it right: we carry our prisons with us in the form of self-limiting beliefs. You know—the ones that keep us from making our dreams come true. Or prevent us from fulfilling our destiny.

Often, our horizons will expand naturally if we just get out of our own way.

But self-sabotage is sometimes hard to recognize. Here are some of the most common ways we limit ourselves.

Narrow thinking

“I can’t possibly do that,” we’ll say. “It’s too…” and then fill in the blank: too difficult, too time consuming, too risky—whatever. That kind of narrow thinking defeats us before we even get started.

Combating those blocking beliefs is easier than we might think. Why not instead ask the question “What’s the worst that can happen if I…..?”

“What if I learned to scuba dive?”

“What if I took that trip to Rome alone?”

“What if I tried online dating?”

Follow that with “What’s the worst that could happen?” Often, we find that the worst that can happen isn’t as bad as we think and usually, it’s not deal breaker at all.

Living to others’ expectations instead of our own

Whose voice are we hearing in our head? Have we lost ourselves because we’re trying to be someone we aren’t? Meeting someone else’s expectations instead of our own?

True happiness comes from living an authentic life. But when our concern for what others might think or say keeps us from making a change we dream of, we need to do some rational thinking. We’re adults now and don’t need anyone’s approval but our own.

Again, the test is “What’s the worst that could happen if so-and-so disapproved?” We might be surprised at the response.

Comparing ourselves to others

I can’t help but think of the Desiderata, so popular when we were young: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

It’s true. We each bring different strengths to the world. No two people are alike.

If we love ourselves and appreciate what we have instead of envying what we think someone else has, we may find the world opening up to us in new ways—maybe even with new opportunities.

Focusing on the negative

Isn’t it true that we remember negative comments we get far more than the positive ones? I’ve done it, too, that spinning out on a criticism, attaching too much meaning to it and giving it far greater power than it merits. Such as the power to keep us from achieving our dreams.

So many in our cohort are going through tough times—job losses, house losses, necessary reinvention. We can either bemoan our fate or show up and build something better and new. As Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

By all means, listen to criticism and take time to mourn any life losses. But to move on we must pick ourselves up and head in a new direction with a focus on the positive. Otherwise, we’ll remain stuck in our bitterness.

Fear of the unknown

Yes, of course, it is frightening to step out into the unknown. But we’ve all done it, whether we realize it or not. By this age, we’ve faced many unknowns: marriage, having children, new jobs, new cities.

Fear of what might happen is a big obstacle for so many of us, but something Martin Luther King, Jr. said can be a great help: “Take the first step in faith,” he said. “You don’t need to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”

So think about it. What would you like to do that you’re not? Can you do it in faith? And why not take that first step today?

Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.