With Barnum and Bailey bringing their 3 ring circus to my town this week, I found myself readying to join the many families who love the "greatest show on earth". I decided to go over early, and watch them setting up. As I walked around, enjoying the many sights and sounds, I ran into Vance, an old friend, one of the many performers who has been working with for Ringling Brothers since 1984. I met him about 18 years ago when I first visited with my children. While he seemed to have put on a few pounds, he looked majestic in his circus garb.
I was so happy to see him, but after visiting with him for a bit, was saddened to see he still had the same issues he's been carrying around for these past two decades. Like so many of us, Vance had been conditioned since a young age to respond a certain way and was unable to pull away from those issues that kept him stuck. Since discovering my path to becoming my own wingman, I’m thrilled how quickly I can now spot someone who is still tied to some past limiting belief. We’ve all been there though, and of course it’s easier to see when it’s not ourselves who are stuck, when it’s not us who have given up trying.
Henry Ford’s words, "Whether you believe you can, or you can't, you are right" rung so clear to me yet again as I hung around Vance.
Gavin de Becker explains the dynamics of learned helplessness in his book, "The Gift of Fear, Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence,"
"You'll never amount to anything"; "You can't sing"; You're not smart enough"; You're a loser"; "You should have more realistic goals"; "You're the reason our marriage broke up"; You're worthless". These criticisms are heard in so many homes around the world, and of course more damaging are the words we say to ourselves. “I’m so stupid”; “I’m such a failure”; “I can’t do it”. These statements are like stakes driven into the ground, with heavy chains attached, and we all reach the point where we believe we can not pull free. And at that point, we can’t”, for when we believe we can't, we can't.
"Unless and until something changes their view, unless they grasp the striking fact that they are tied with a thread, that the chain is an illusion, that they were fooled, and ultimately, that whoever so fooled them was wrong about them and that they were wrong about themselves-- unless all this happens, these children are not likely to show society their positive attributes as adults."
Seeing Vance, I would have liked to show him that the “chain” that was holding him back was nothing more than a thin rope and he could break it with one strong step forward.
By this point it was clear to me I would not be able to help him, but hopefully this message can help you break free of those deceptive shackles that are keeping you stuck.
You see Vance is an elephant, and his behavior, which is known as “conditioned response”, works like this…
"The way circus elephants are trained demonstrates this dynamic well: When young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned that they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be "chained" with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, even though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying.”
So I ask you, have you been “conditioned” to respond a certain way? Are you holding onto harmful memories? Is the “chain” that is holding you back from your goals really just a slender rope?
Today’s wingman practice…
1. Question any and all beliefs that may be holding you back.
2. Give it just one more try and see if it really is an unbreakable restraint.
3. If it doesn’t work, try once more.
4. Look to see if there are any “baby steps” you can take. Think Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in “Shawshank Redemption” and how it took him almost 20 years to free himself from his prison.
5. Start taking those baby steps.
Thanks for allowing me to be your wingman today.