Following is the full transcript of Stanford lecturer Lauren Weinstein’s talk titled “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” at TEDxPaloAlto conference. This talk focuses on how to break free from limiting beliefs.
Lauren Weinstein – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
This elephant has incredible strength. She can uproot a tree with her trunk alone. Yet she will remain in captivity, held by only a light rope. Despite her ability to easily break away, she doesn’t even try.
It starts when she is young. She is first tied down when she is small and not yet strong enough to break the rope. She will try at first, try as hard as she can to break free, and try and try, but eventually realize she can’t.
Suddenly, something attaches itself to her that is stronger than any rope or chain or fence. It’s the belief that she can’t break free. It’s this belief that holds her back — despite her ability.
I’ve had these same beliefs — you may have too — beliefs that held me back, beliefs that led me to feel unfulfilled in my work, to struggle in my relationships and to live a life that was far from the one I am living now.
It was only when I became aware of my ropes and actively pulled against them that I found myself in a different reality.
HOW DO YOU BREAK THE ROPES THAT TIE YOU DOWN?
Don’t believe everything you think.
When I was six years old, I had a favorite baby sitter, Amber. One morning, my mother told me we couldn’t have her babysit because she didn’t have enough money to pay her.
So that afternoon, I started my first company. I gathered rocks from around the neighborhood, painted them with my art set, and went door to door, selling them to our neighbors. That night, it was Amber and I on the couch together.
When I was young, I was bold, outgoing and fearless. I wore what I wanted or didn’t want to wear, guided by my own voice that told me what would make me happy.
I was also in love. His name was Fernando, and he was wonderful. As with everything else, I wasn’t afraid to grab him with both hands.
As I grew older, this picture started to fade. My exuberance was replaced with timidness, my leadership with conformity, my boldness with fear.
I don’t think any of us leave childhood without some ropes despite our parents’ best intentions. I grew up with a mother who was determined to give me the perfect life. Armed with love and good intentions, she did everything for me to help me be perfect.
I’d pack a suitcase to go on a school trip, and she’d unpack it and repack it in a more perfect way. I’d be ready to turn in a school art project, and then she’d add her own brush strokes to make it better.
Later she told me when my choice of boyfriend or apartment wasn’t good enough. Although she just wanted what was best for me, I stopped knowing what was best for me.
An unconscious rope was formed. I shouldn’t trust my own voice and my own ability, and I feared not being perfect.
Other ropes attached themselves too. I grew up in a family filled with yelling, loud voices and strong opinions. To keep the peace, I learned to stay quiet, to not rock the boat, to become invisible.
In school, I came to believe it’s more important to blend in than stand out. And the pain of an early heartbreak led me to hold back in my relationships so I could avoid getting hurt.
These were my ropes.
This isn’t just my story. Like the elephant, we all come to believe certain things in childhood that weren’t true — or at least are no longer true. But we still live with them as if they are.
If you’ve ever felt not good enough, alone, unwanted, unloved, invisible, powerless, like you don’t belong — these are your ropes.
If you’ve ever felt you can’t trust yourself, trust others, speak up, stand out, ask for help, let others in, be accepted as you are — these are your ropes.
These ropes hold us back.
I found myself defaulting to others’ opinions when I should have been trusting my own, staying quiet when it would have benefited me to speak up, and blending in when I would have been happier if I had to courage to stand out.
This led me into a series of jobs that ranged from tolerable to miserable. In one, I hoped I’d get sick so I could stay home from work. It led me into a series of relationships in which I lacked confidence in myself, the other person and the relationship. These never worked out.
My beliefs affected the way I perceived the world, which changed how I acted, which led to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I felt small, and my world became smaller.
What we believe has powerful effects. Decades of social psychology research backs this up. In a study performed at Dartmouth College, an ugly scar was placed on participants’ faces with makeup. They were then sent into a room for a conversation and asked to report how people responded to them with this ugly scar.
But here is the twist. Right before they left, the experimenter said, “Hold on a minute! We just want to touch up your scar a bit.”
Rather than touch it up, they removed it entirely. So unbeknownst to them, the participants went into their conversations, looking completely normal.
Despite this, they came back and reported how awkward their conversations were, how people avoided looking at their scar, had trouble making eye contact, and were tense and uncomfortable in the conversation.
Their beliefs about their scar led them to see things that weren’t really there and to make meaning of innocent behavior.
What could have been a perfectly normal conversation instead became an awkward one. Their beliefs created their reality.
Other studies show the same effect. Highlight an Asian woman’s Asian identity before a math test, she’ll perform better. Highlight her female identity, she’ll perform worse.
Lead a group of men to believe an athletic task is diagnostic of sports intelligence, white men perform better. Lead them to believe it’s diagnostic of natural athletic ability, black men do.
Give someone a white coat and tell them it’s a doctor’s lab coat, they’ll perform better on an attention task than when told it’s a painter’s coat.
In all of these cases, same people, same abilities, same tasks — different beliefs. And in each case, it was their belief that raised or lowered their performance.