It’s not the circumstances of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs about what those circumstances mean.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had tunnel vision and expected life to be a certain way. I studied my failures until I lost sight of my successes. I surrendered my dreams to feel a sense of comfort. I held tight to my fears and shielded myself from love and happiness by refusing to put myself out there. And as I did all of this, I sat back and wondered why life was so miserable.
Obviously, I was very lost. My own toxic beliefs and ensuing behaviors had gotten the best of me. But after some extensive soul-searching, lots of reading, and diligent daily practice, I learned to do things differently, and I found myself again. I tell you this because I know you struggle with similar inner demons – we all do. Sometimes the ideas and habits we get comfortable with end up killing us inside.
As a veteran life coach who has now spent the better part of a decade coaching thousands of people online and offline, I realize that many of the toxic beliefs I struggled with earlier in life are actually quite common. I have literally seen the same toxic beliefs surface in the lives of new clients over and over again. Here are eight of the most common ones you need to be aware of:
- The present is indicative of the future. – When things aren’t going well there’s a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. For some strange reason this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well. A laugh, a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth, and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
- It’s too late to make changes. – Life isn’t a straight line. There isn’t one right path for you or anyone else. And there isn’t a set timeline of milestones. But sometimes the pressure coming from peers, family, work, and society in general is enough to make us feel completely broken inside. If we don’t have the “right” job, relationship, lifestyle, and so forth, by a certain age or timeframe, we assume we’re somehow broken. And that’s not true at all. You’re allowed extra time when you need it. You’re allowed to backtrack. You’re allowed to figure out what inspires you at different stages of your life. Life is meant to be a series of zigs and zags. It should look like a mess, but a beautiful mess. So whatever situation you’re in right now, just know that it can change if you want it to. It’s up to you. You just have to turn yourself around and choose something new.
- Being vulnerable is dangerous. – We’re all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us. But this isn’t healthy. Love is vulnerability. Happiness is vulnerability. The risk of being vulnerable is the price of opening yourself up to beauty and opportunity. Being vulnerable is not about showing the parts of you that are polished; it’s about revealing the unpolished parts you would rather keep hidden from the world. It’s about looking out into the world with an honest, open heart and saying, “This is me! Take me or leave me!” It’s hard to let go and be vulnerable like this though, because the stakes are high. But remember, nothing worthwhile in this world is a safe bet. Since love and happiness are born out of our willingness to be vulnerable – to open up to something wonderful that could be taken away from us – when you hide from your vulnerability, you automatically hide from everything you desire. (Read Daring Greatly.)
- Being alone is a problem. – Wrong! If you don’t like who YOU are when you’re with someone else, that’s the real problem, and it’s time to change things. Relationships must be chosen wisely. Don’t let loneliness drive you back into the arms of someone you know you don’t belong with. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely. Strive to discover true love – the kind of relationship that motivates you to be a better person – the kind of intimacy that’s rare rather than right there. “But I don’t want to be alone!” you say. Change your mind about that. Be alone. Eat alone. Take yourself out on dates, and sleep alone when you get back. By doing so you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will realize your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the right person who makes you feel even more like yourself, you’ll be sure of it, because you’ll be sure of yourself. Bottom line: Don’t rush love. Wait until you truly find it. A great relationship is worth waiting for.
- Fitting in is a good thing. – Sometimes you likely catch yourself asking, “Who am I to think I can do this?” When in fact you should be saying, “Who am I to think I can’t?” Ignore your doubts. Forget about fitting in. Stand out! Think about it. If you spent your entire life focusing on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask… with nothing beneath it? That’s what happens when you spend all your time trying to be who you think they want you to be. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t save face and lose your soul in the process. Doing so does not serve the world. There’s nothing helpful about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you. You are meant to shine in a way only YOU can. You were born to manifest all the brilliance inside you. And as you let your light shine, you subconsciously give others permission to do the same. As you are liberated from your own fear of standing out, your presence automatically liberates those around you too. (Read Choose Yourself!)
- There’s a perfect XYZ for me. – As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection. We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, lover, and so forth. The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state. Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing. What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow – that perfect house, job, friend or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection. But with a little patience and an open mind, over time, that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home. That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career. That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on. And that imperfect lover evolves into a reliable lifelong companion. It’s just a matter of letting perfectionism GO.
- What everyone does to you is personal. – People are toxic to themselves and others when they believe that everything happening in the world is a direct assault on them, or is in some way all about them. The truth is that what other people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and life experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re average, again, is more about them. I’m not suggesting we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I’m saying that a great deal of hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally. In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- You should never be sad. – The desire for constant happiness only makes us miserable. Because nothing in life is constant. There is neither absolute happiness nor absolute sadness. There are only the changes in our moods that swing between these two extremes. At any given moment we’re comparing how we feel to how we felt at another time – comparing one level of our contentment to another. In this way, those of us who have felt great sadness are best able to feel heightened feelings of happiness after we emotionally heal. We must know misery to identify times of elation. The key on a daily basis, nevertheless, is to live your life in full. Experience the highs and the lows, the positives and negatives, and all the moods present in between. Don’t focus on simply being happy. Focus on living a well-seasoned life. Focus on achieving completeness. Yes, happiness is part of this completeness, but so is sadness, difficulty, frustration, and failure. And overcoming these latter points supports your personal growth far more than constant happiness.
The floor is yours…
If you can relate to any of these toxic beliefs, remember, you are not alone. We all have unhealthy thoughts and tendencies buried deep within us that have the potential to sneak up on us sometimes. As mentioned above, the key is awareness – recognizing these beliefs and fixing them before they work their way into your daily routines.
So, which of these toxic beliefs sometimes sneak up on you? What other toxic beliefs have held you back? How have you coped? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.
Photo by: That Girl Beth
What a great post! I couldn’t agree more. There are so many people who think they can’t change anything once they hit a certain age (or just grow complacent). It’s unfortunate because all it takes is motivation and belief to change things for the better.
Bill Rhoades says
Great article. Lots of good help for me dealing with the baggage i tend to carry with me. Thank you for some great reminders and some new insight.
Perhaps you are unaware that a lot of your content in #5 is material that has been attributed to Nelson Mandela and his acceptance speech in winning the South African presidential election. It’s also in the movie Akeelah and the Bee. The origin of the quote is from Marianne Williamson in her book Return to Love, Harper Collins, 1992.
For me, it’s all about number 3. In the past I let the little negative voices in my head run rampant. They basically scared me out of living and growing to my potential in all walks of life.
The bottom line is that listening to your own lies and refusing to admit that they are nonsense is a sure road to regret.
These days I’ve been calling myself out and have become much better at stating the truth in my head. In most cases: “I’m not doing these things because I am SCARED, not because I don’t want to.”
As always, thank you for the continued guidance through your blog, book, etc.
Fay D. says
I agree with every point, along with the reasons why they are so toxic. There’s such a long list of things which cause humans to push themselves into these states. And you’re right, the toxic repercussions that come from them can be dangerously wrecking to one’s personal as well as professional life.
Something I would like to add is believing that you have to tell other people what to do or what they should or shouldn’t do. People who want to make everyone else’s business their business are highly toxic to themselves and everyone else. It makes them feel important which is very controlling, but also inevitably lets them down.
Thank you both for this post. I read your e-mails whenever they come in but this particular post popped up at just the right time for me, as I’ve been having a tough couple of days and reading this made me realize that I do more than one of these toxic beliefs, involuntarily. Now I can actively work on changing my mind.
Wow, lots to think about here for me. I really tend to idnetify with 1, 5, and 7. I am always looking to be a people pleaser so when I get that rejection, even as a guy, I do feel slighted.
Even though I try not to think that the things that are happening to me from others are not personal, I do tend to get my back up thinking that it is a definite sign that they are trying to offend me. Fortunately I have a pretty long fuse so I am able to internalize, reflect, and determine if it is them or just me.
Your article here is precious. It is very helpful to me. Thank you.
I cannot agree more. The issue is that most of what you listed in the post is so embedded in our culture and we are raised to think that we should be happy, fit in and find our perfect match, and that everything else is a failure.
Kirk Mayers says
Of all the things you guys have ever written, this one hits the hardest.
You have identified every belief I know I must change but find it difficult to do so. I feel on the verge of depression (another one) and every day is a struggle. Your classification of these beliefs as toxic is an understatement. They seem small and simple but are insidiously evil.
When your mind feels like its going in a million different directions at the same time, try very hard to hear what your heart says. It usually seems to have the best answer. I am trying to stop being guided by my mind and being guided by my heart.
I am just getting into NLP and this article fits so well with what I am learning! I totally agree – I have spent so much of my life tied to ridiculous beliefs that were untrue and unhelpful. I think that change is now essential and that I don’t have to care what the world thinks. I’ve just started documenting my own journey to a better life with my blog rebootingme.com.
I’m definitely going to be returning here as so many self-development blogs are just shallow platitudes but this is honest, realistic and has real depth.
Thanks for giving me inspiration!
I related most to #7.
My biggest problem was that I took personally the things people did to me.
It even happened with family members.
But when I realized that they’re acting from their inner selves and their beliefs, was I able to focus on myself and do what’s best for me.
Not from a narcissistic point of few, but from the realization that I have to take control over myself and stop blaming others.
It meant that I had to distance myself from people who are making me feel bad. Those who are unable to listen.
It meant listening to myself. To what I feel good about.
And if those people want to get close to me, it would be on my terms.
Thanks Marc and Angel for these great tips!
Tammi C. Walker says
You nailed it with this post. It is simply great. #5 struck a chord with me as well as all of the numbers. I am a life coach too and a cancer survivor. I am being thrust into the public, well because I am volunteering and I am in a production here in Chicago for survivors. I don’t really like a lot of attention and it feels weird. But I have to do this because others have told me I am giving them courage to live their dreams. Thank you for this great article. -Tammi
Just wanted to mention… I’ve been received your daily inspirational tips for years. And I wanted to thank you for doing this, every day. Your tips are so much more than tips: they provide insights and paths, and have fuelled my daily morning journaling.
So, thank you: what you do is wonderful and I look forward to continuing to read you.
Again an article that hits home. I have the toughest time trusting and apparently my body language is a barrier for others to approach me according to feedback I have received. If they only knew the person behind that body language.
Regarding your point on not rushing relationships, and waiting for the right one… True. Better to be single, than to wish you were.
Arnie B. says
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Sandra Robb EA says
This article is so perfectly on target! I want to share it with everyone. Thank you for reminding be that vulnerability, although painful sometimes, is a good thing regardless.
Melissa Wilson says
I agree with all of these. I’m glad that you mentioned #1, the present is indicative of the future. We can get hung up on this for way too long and be held back unnecessarily because of it. It never ceases to amaze me just how much someone can change in their lifetime, and I think more people need to realize that and not lose hope for themselves.
I was in such a mess yesterday, and by night really had enough… i am a Christian and confessed my anger to God as i knew it wasn’t good. Anyway the word i got was i needed a fresh perspective, and the point on looking though old lens resonated with me so much, also things change and seasons and for those who are so weary and tired. This will all come to pass and after a long hard tough even desperate winter the spring is just round the corner, look for the new buds and new shoots, its hard but if you don’t do it you might miss it, seek encouragement and be an encourage, they have been good food for the soul, love Jacqueline xxxxxx
I can certainly relate to #7, it’s something I decided to come to terms with and change this year. As irrational as it may seem to the better adjusted people out there, For example my lizard brain interprets the actions of tail-gaters personally, believing in some twisted fashion that those that tail-gate are just being malicious and mean to me. My rational, human side comes to more realistic conclusions, that it’s morning and people are late for work, but that side almost never won the argument – I intend to change that.
Jill Frazier says
Sage advice, succinctly stated.
Hi there, I’ve been struggling with a number-7-issue. As a highly sensitive one I naturally take things personally and I don’t realize that what others say ain’t supposed to effect me so deeply but just inspire or show me something easily.
Of course thank you for publishing this piece as well as the rest so that I know that the moods i often have aren´t bizzare at all.
Thank u so much. Everything discussed above touches my life.
I feel relieved from my worries even reading your posts. I get the same feelings when I read the Qur’an.
I’m still trying to get your book. I hope I will get it soon.
Thank you so much for this post…it comes at just the right time, when I am at yet another low point and a crossroads. I am constantly second-guessing myself.
Normally when I subscribe to a blog or website I end up unsubscribing a couple weeks later due to disinterest, but everything you guys post is so on the money and helpful to me when I’m struggling, which is a lot. I am a highly sensitive person (HSP- would love if you wrote a blog about us some day if you haven’t already!) and a survivor of physical, mental, and emotional child abuse. As such, life is and has always been very difficult for me to navigate. I have long internalized every single toxic belief I read here, but I have hope for myself.
So thank you again for helping keep me hopeful and helping to ease the confusion of my life with your constantly supportive body of work.
Point number 4 is a gem and is one that I strongly identify with! Thank you so much for this article.
I tend to combine 1 and 2 which makes them the worst for me. I feel that my life is over and the best has come and gone. I believe that since the past has not led me to my heart’s desire then that in itself is proof that it shall never be. I hate thinking this way but it is tough to “prove” to myself otherwise. Marc & Angel’s posts help a lot by suggesting that I stay in the moment. But once I look in the mirror or see how my peers have deteriorated, the “cycle of proof” that it is over starts again.
julia woodman says
As ever, you have delivered another invaluable post. Thanks for sharing.
Great post. Number 6 definitely resonated with as I’m a ‘recovering’ perfectionist.
Dear Marc & Angel , I am constantly amazed at how your blogs speak to me at the right time. I have a critical illness and am having to deal with giving up professional work at 45. There are so many related issues, some of which perversely are because I am doing pretty well on my treatment. I have a few practices to keep me “up” and one of them surrounds dealing with toxic thinking – your blog today is especially related. Thank you for all your deep , inspirational & touching blogs. My best wishes to both of you.
David Ingham says
Wow great post I am getting in the discipline to read 3 blog posts every day to be present and absorb the content, and not just surf the web mindlessly and look what our found your post 🙂
I have been blogging now for over 12 months and I still worry about what others think.
In my head I say should I post my Blog on my Facebook what will people say?
Will they like it, will I get any bad comments and all these thoughts start coming in and I have to stop them.
But now after reading your post I need to make a stand for myself and not get to involved on what others think but to share my option of what i think and leave it at that.
Thanks for giving me the courage to step out and be me even if I am making myself vulnerable.
My favorite is tip #8. The desire to be happy all the time is an unattainable goal . A well lived life is not a flat horizontal line from birth to death; a well lived life has vertical depth as well.
We must sit with the deep sorrows as well as the inexplicable joys in order to experience the full realm of being human. I believe in the end we will look back and recognized that we really “lived”.
Number 4, closely followed by number 3.
I think the toughest part is that the loneliness can lead you to jump into things when you aren’t ready. It’s a lot easier to read about accepting being alone than it is to live it. Self compassion is the key, I think. In fact it might be the key to overcoming all of those toxic beliefs.
I love the part about not jumping into a relationship because of afraid of being alone. I struggle with this and thank you for helping me understand that it’s okay to be alone and grow. 😉
This is such a great post, so many just assume that things are normal and that’s how it’s supposed to be because that’s how their reality has always been.
I recently left my home in Maine with a fully packed van and drove across the country to Las Vegas to start a new job, so #4 fits my life on point right now so I’d like to expand.
Many are afraid to be alone because they don’t enjoy who they are or where their life is headed, so they spent time with other people to distract themselves and it’s a quick fix to their self esteem.
Overtime this only break us to the ground.
Before you can truly love someone else, you must learn to love yourself, and the only way to love yourself is to discover the person that you really are.
And I know no other way to do that then to spend good quality time with the person you face in the mirror.
Thank you for the post, and showing us how these beliefs should not be a constant in our lives!
AJ Walton says
I think one of the things that gets us stuck is the idea that there’s a perfect set of circumstances that will make us happy.
We’re either trying to hold on to something, afraid of change, or running to/from something else.
Another trap is spending too much time reading/reasearching/learning and not enough time in action.
It’s easy to get caught up in motivational material that feels like personal progress while forgetting to do the actual work required to make positive change.
Michael Gregory II says
I know the one that usually gets me is becoming vulnerable to someone and then allowing them to hurt my feelings again.
It could be a pain to get close to someone in a friendship, but one day it suddenly breaks away. It’s not an easy feeling to soak up and deal with.
I became cautious of getting too close to people because I was afraid of receiving those same feelings again if we no longer spoke to each other.
Now that I think about it, I suppose I do tend to take things personally. Whenever I hear a failure of some sorts that occurred in a project I’m part of, I feel like it was somehow my fault for it happening. I blame myself for its failure because I should have known how to fix it. But blaming myself shouldn’t be the case. There are simply some things out of my control and the faster I accept, the easier it’ll be to move on and find a way to fix it.
This is great! Thank you for your inspiring and fearless article. I have recently split up with my husband and am living with our toddler in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language yet (we moved here in September and split in November). I realised that I wasn’t being my authentic self and didn’t want to be with him. Its taken great courage and vulnerability to be on my own here but I know it will be rewarding in time as I’m following my heart.
No pain..No gain…
Marc Chernoff says
Everyone, it’s been a busy week (a good kind of busy), but Angel and I finally got the chance to read through your comments. And as always, you continue to inspire us. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt insight and feelings with us. And thank you for the kind remarks and continued support. 🙂
Lately I’ve been talking to a ton of people who really feel that change is impossible. Not just for themselves, but for other people as well. I can absolutely see how toxic it is to their love life and work life.
I know change is possible. In fact, I know that change is what makes happiness and success possible. It’s all a matter of choice.
It’s very true that a lot of people view their relationship as being “imperfect”, when really their soulmate is right by their side …. they just can’t see it. They strive for perfection in their relationship, when in reality no relationship is without bumps. If you have a partner that gives you space and understanding that goes a long way. One that is truthful and honest and always puts you first in life, so many would give the world to have a partner like that.
That’s so true. My prob was that of perfectionism and worrying what people think about me. I have learned a lot.
Thank you Marc and Angel for this wonderful article. I have saved it to read a couple more times.
Currently I see 3, 4, and 7 as areas where I could clearly improve. In 4 thank G-d I made a lot of progress, not by choice, by living alone these past many months, loaded down with schoolwork…that’s one way to get to know yourself.
7 I noticed a few weeks ago and realized how paralyzing it was. I kept attributing peoples’ lows to myself and because of that wouldn’t even let myself be there for them…so 3 fits in there too.
So much work to do!
I was married to this toxic narcissist for 20 years and spent all of my adult life living “beneath” this emotionally abusive person. However, these people never help themselves because even though they can’t sit still because they’re not comfortable in their own skin, they never think for a second that they’re not perfect. They put on aires to get what they want from people, put down and hurt the very people they love and manipulate masterfully, everyone around them. They never once consider that they need to change. Additionally, they don’t stay alone to mourn or reflect long enough to acknowledge their own needs. They need others to manipulate and put down to feel happy. Wow! I feel like a master myself after divorcing and learned your “7 things to start doing in 7 days” all by myself this last year. Although it was difficult and my kids referred to me as pathetic and lonely while he immediately moved thru the next two “loves of his life,” I know that he will never find happiness because it’s the happiness within that he has not taken the time to seek. I now forgive him and feel bad that I could not help. On the other hand, I am happy and excited to finally have a life being true to myself, having worked through these sorrows, and to be able to recognize hapiness without that person. Having just found someone to fall in love with and be vulnerable with, I never knew (in a total 27 years) with the ex, that at 46 years old, I could feel like a whole person again. Nor did I ever think that a damaged person such as I, could be the love of someone else’s life. You hit the nail on the head! Thank you Marc and Angel!
Yeah, 8 and 5 caught my interest.
I am just about through my 50th year and am struggling with #2.
I can relate to most of them… What I really love about reading this it’s never too late your never too old to change. ..thank you so much I need this. ?
#9-Everything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault (playing the victim).
You’re 100% right! And the more I work on myself, the more I accept that I can mess up and live through it, that people genuinely want to be helpful and connect, the happier I am. It’s taken me about 4 years of really thinking and learning, and I’m on this path of introspection forever. But we’re all the same, we all want love and respect, to be heard and appreciated. We don’t really want to be miserable, we just are so used to it. Love to you!