12 Jun Overcoming Limiting Beliefs, with Karen Brown
My guest today is Karen Brown. Karen is a recognized thought leader in the fields of leadership and professional performance, specifically in the areas of the unconscious mind and optimizing your thinking for elevated levels of endurance and success.
She is an ultra-endurance athlete who competes around the world. In fact, one of her biggest recent accomplishments was qualifying for and finishing the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii!
Along with being an expert in neuro-linguistic programming and mental and emotional release, she’s also an executive coach, sought-after speaker, and best-selling author. Karen’s most recent book, called Unlimiting Your Beliefs: Seven Keys to Great Success in Your Personal and Professional Life, has been winning awards and accolades. It has also inspired me to invite Karen on DREAM THINK DO to talk about breaking through those limiting beliefs that creep in and start to shut us down.
I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
- Free Micro Solution Video Series: velocityleadershipconsulting.com/dtd
- Karen’s Book: Unlimiting Your Beliefs book
Let’s get to it.
Karen, welcome to DREAM THINK DO.
Thank you, Mitch. I’m so thrilled to be here.
Okay. I do want to dive into your concepts on limited beliefs and breaking through those things, but I’ve always wanted to ask someone who completed an Ironman World Championship, what was it like to round the corner and see the finish line?
Ok, let me set the scene a little bit. I am an amateur athlete, nowhere near pro level, and that is to say that I’m a bit slower than the pros. My time at Ironman World Championships was 15 hours, 45 minutes. When I was rounding the corner, as you said, it was nighttime. It was about 10:30 at night, 10:45 at night. There was total blackness, a sky full of brilliant stars, and two miles away from the finish line, you can hear the roar of the crowd.
Oh wow. Even at night?
Hey, and by the way Karen, just so you know, for me to just do the swim, I still wouldn’t have been done with just the swim part by 10 o’clock at night. So it’s still very impressive.
So you’re two miles out, and you start hearing the crowd.
Yes, you start hearing the crowd, and then you can just faintly make out Mike Riley’s voice, who has been the voice of Ironman for 30 some odd years now. He’s the one that says the iconic, indelibly memorable, “Karen Brown, you are now an Ironman,” when you cross the finish line. It was the most magnificent day, Mitch.
Now I’ll say the journey to get there was very, very difficult, and there were plenty of times when I wanted to quit and worried that I would quit. We can go into that later. But that specific day, there was never one moment when I wanted to quit. It was joy and bliss and wonderful, and I say this knowing that it was a billion degrees, it was like the surface of the sun hot. It was humid; asphalt was melting, we had torrential rains at the turnaround point in the bike, we had big waves for the swim, incredible crosswinds on the Queen K for the biking portion. So this was no cakewalk. This was very challenging.
The part that I tapped into was my journey to get there. This was a lifelong dream. This was something that I wanted for 28 years. The day that I was there, and I was racing alongside all of my heroes, all of the icons that I had seen over the years on the coverage, specifically the icon that touched off this entire lifelong dream of mine, Julie Moss. It had been 30 years to the day since she had competed originally in the second Ironman World Championships that ever televised, and she came back that year and raced one more time.
Oh my gosh.
She wanted that to be her swan song, and I got to race alongside her.
Wow! Did you know that going into it, or was that something you found out along the way?
It was something I found out two days before the race. A friend told me that she was in town. Kona, Hawaii is really small, it’s a very small village. I went down into the village by the start of the race, and there she was giving a press interview.
She was so close, I had to stop myself from running up to her yelling, “Julie, Julie, Julie, you’re the reason that I’m here,” etc. But I decided not to encroach on her prep time.
But it was magical racing alongside her.
I love that. Isn’t that the picture, though? If you go after a dream like this, some of the best gifts that come along the way are the surprises, the things you don’t know, the things you couldn’t have even scripted. But it’s those things that you get to unwrap along the way that are so beautiful. I love it. I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times. It is a little taste of heaven. But when you’re doing something like this, it’s got to feel a little bit like hell, too, because I know you’re going over these flats that are volcanic, just black coverage, just pulling in the sun on you. Not easy at all.
I know you are truly an expert on helping people break through their own limiting beliefs, identifying those, and calling them out. What was a limiting belief? It doesn’t sound like you had many limiting beliefs the day of. But what for you, Karen, was a limiting belief that could have derailed this whole dream pursuit of the Ironman?
The limiting belief that derailed it for 28 years was the thought of, “Well, they are elite athletes, and I’m a recreational athlete. Who do I think I am that I could think that I could get there?”
Wow. That preaches, right? Take out Ironman, fill in the blank. That’s one of those limiting beliefs we all hear sometimes, “Who do you think you are to go after that, to achieve that, to be what those people, who do you think you are?” How did you start to break that down? How did you even realize that was one of the things that was holding you back?
It’s a great story. First of all that is the essence of a limiting belief, right? It’s when we say something like, “Well I don’t have enough time, talent, skill, money, support, whatever it is.” That is by very definition limiting belief because we’re the only ones that are thinking that or saying it. It’s not like it’s written in stone somewhere as an absolute.
For 28 years, I would go through the same process. I would see the Ironman World Championships coverage on TV, and I would just happen to catch it every year. I never remembered when it was, but I’d be flipping through channels one Saturday, and boom, there it would be. I was immediately stopped in my tracks, mesmerized, and every single time I would end up crying, because it brought out these emotions in me, and I later identified what the emotions were. They were this nagging feeling of what if I have what it takes to do that inside of me, and I’m not using it? I’m not tapping into it? I’m just playing small and safe.
That’s exactly what I was doing. That was the intuition, the opportunity knocking on the doorway that was the pathway to who I was meant to be, what I was supposed to do. For 28 years, I held myself back with that limiting belief until 2010, when I took a class, and the class was about something else, but in part of the class, we learned how to conquer and transform limiting beliefs. I can share it with your listeners today, because – this is the cool part – it is scientifically proven to work on anything and for everyone. It works in every single instance.
I know everybody just grabbed their phone, or they leaned into the radio, or whatever it is, wherever they’re listening, they’re like, “All right, Karen. What the heck is that?” You just got everybody’s attention. So tell us more.
Okay. There are two parts. The first part and this is exactly how you conquer and transform a limiting belief into an unlimited belief, okay? This works best if you write it on a sheet of paper because that’s one of the keys to getting into, opening up your unconscious mind.
Your unconscious mind is a million times more powerful than your conscious mind. We think we’re walking around making conscious decisions and taking actions on those every day, when really what’s happening is everything is driven by our unconscious mind, action, inaction, thoughts, everything. Okay?
So, regular 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, and on the left-hand side, write down your limiting beliefs. Example, mine was “I can never compete in the Ironman World Championships.” And then, finish writing all of them, because what I discovered when I went through this process is I thought I only had that one. The problem was I had a lot more than that, and they were all bouncing around in my head every day like a ping pong ball, and yet they were stopping me from doing other things as well. So write down an exhaustive list. Get them all out of there.
Let me ask, before we move on because I like this. What kinds of questions did you ask yourself? I know some folks can tap into that presenting symptom, that big one, to be able to say, “Oh, I know it’s that.” But what other kinds of questions did you ask yourself to be able to dig in and get at some of those other limiting beliefs that maybe weren’t top of mind?
What is it that I’m not doing that I want to do?
Mm, that’s good.
What is it that I haven’t admitted to anyone else that I want to do?
That’s awesome. You then go on to say what’s holding me back or those kinds of things? What are those things I wish I were doing, could be doing? What are the limiting beliefs that are keeping me from that?
Right. Yes. The second question to ask is why? Why am I not doing that?
I love it.
That’s awesome. What helps to set up that activity? Heading to a coffee shop? Time at home uninterrupted?
I do think quiet time is helpful for this. I would say alone time, certainly. I tend to do my best thinking in the morning when I’m fresh, and I’ve had some really great coffee.
Oh, amen. Yeah.
For listeners, do this when you’re at your best, when you’re going to do your best thinking and when you can be in a distraction-free environment. You don’t need hours to do this. This stuff is hanging out in your unconscious, and as soon as you shut off the noise, and you ask yourself these questions, the answers are going to come rapidly, and you better have your pen ready. Just write them down as they come out. You can probably do this in minutes.
I love it. I think in some ways putting a time limit on it is probably healthy too. You don’t want to spend two hours just in this. Plus, as a recovering perfectionist, I would love activities like this but think, “Well, I’ll wait until I have that perfect weekend away in a woodsy cabin somewhere.” Right? If you wait until the perfect timing to do something like this, or wait until you have a full day to do it, it’s probably never going to come. So I like saying, all right, get them out, but do it in 15 minutes, or limit your time to do this part of the activity so that you can then get into the next part to. I love that. That’s great. Those are great prompting questions to help you to uncover the ones that are top of mind, but also some of those that might be hiding out in the deep recesses as well.
Then what’s next? You’ve got them down on paper. Where do we go?
Okay. We’ve written our limiting beliefs on the left-hand side of a piece of paper. Then on the right-hand side, write down the opposite form of that belief, which is an unlimited form of it. In my example, who do I think I am, I’ll never compete in the Ironman World Championships. So the opposite, unlimited belief on that is I will compete and finish the Ironman World Championships.
Wow. What did it feel like to write that down for the first time?
When I thought about the Ironman World Championships, I broke out in a cold sweat, and I thought I would vomit.
That’s when you know you’re on track is when you at least throw up a little bit. Right?
That’s my dream. Yep, that’s it.
Was this a continuation of something you’ve always been doing or was this something new for you?
It was totally new. No, I was not. I did not grow up doing endurance athletics. I was active, and I had participated in organized sports, and I was essentially a recreational runner and mountain biker. I had never ridden a road bike, I didn’t own one, and I was such a horrible swimmer. If you threw me into a lake, I could get by and probably survive, not drown, but it wasn’t going to be pretty.
This is kind of a funny short story, and it’s in the book. After I decided to pursue the Ironman, after unlimiting my beliefs, of course, and hiring a coach, and begging that person to take me on because I was a super no one in this world, and I wasn’t even a triathlete, I was all proud of myself because I was training. I was an Ironman in training.
I was at my local gym, and I was swimming, and I thought I was killing it, Mitch.
“Are you guys watching this over here? Hello?”
Right next to the pool where I was swimming, there was a hot tub. Let’s just say there was an older, robust gentleman in the hot tub. He was watching me, and he got out of the hot tub and came over to the end of my lane. When I got there, I came up out of the water, and I had a smile on my face, and I had on my Ironman in Training swim cap, I’m all proud of myself, right? And he goes, “Are you okay?” I said, “What?” He said, “You know, I wanted to come over and check that you’re okay, because you look like maybe you were really struggling.”
Thank you, sir.
Yeah. I guess I have a lot more work to do.
Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious. What a great story. At least as a writer and a speaker, you can look at those situations and go, “At least I can put that in the book someday.”
What I want listeners to get from this: I am not a highly talented or naturally talented athlete. I work my tail off for this, and I have to in every single thing that I do. This does not come easily to me. I’m not a speedster. I do these things because it causes me to learn new things, add new skills, expand myself, actually find what’s possible. That’s my frontier. That’s my pilgrimage. But I did not grow up that way. I didn’t have that until I pursued and trained for and ultimately achieved the Ironman.
That’s amazing. I have to ask a follow-up question, because I love this activity, left side limiting beliefs, right side unlimited beliefs. You go from who am I to go after the Ironman to I will compete and finish in the Ironman. I love that. But I’m guessing that anyone with a limited belief is gonna immediately say, “But what do you do to the dogs of hell that come after you once you write that unlimited belief down,” It’s one thing to write it, but then the limiting statements are still there over on the left. So how do you continue to reinforce that unlimited belief and start to take that as truth instead of the limited belief?
Yes, great question, Mitch. Here’s what we do to solidify it and get it to happen, right? It’s not like we’re just setting a wish out there-
Right, it’s not magical thinking.
Right. Then carry these limiting and unlimited beliefs with you. Either carry the sheet of paper, or take a picture and keep it in your phone, or whatever, but keep it with you. Because now comes the pattern change that has to happen for you to be able to accomplish that goal or dream. Here’s how it works. When you notice that you are thinking that limited belief, like “Who do I think I am to compete in the Ironman World Championships?” Then you have to do a pattern interrupt, which means you’re actually verbalizing out loud – and this can be in any setting, in public, in private, whatever – you’re verbalizing the unlimited belief out loud. “I will compete in and finish the Ironman World Championships.” By doing that, you are reprogramming, or you’re making new connections in your brain, because, before this, your brain always stops itself at, “I’ll never compete in the Ironman World Championships.” So it takes that pattern interrupt and taking a different action every day on it so that then it becomes the new connection, the new thought pattern in your unconscious mind.
Then you’re creating that new pathway. I heard somebody recently compare establishing new neuro-pathways in your brain. He said it’s similar to dropping a hot ball bearing on a block of Swiss cheese. It just burns right through and creates a new path. That’s exactly what you’re talking about as far as it starts to establish a new pattern. I love that you’re saying say it out loud, because there’s power in that, especially with the unconscious and subconscious mind. But I would think how you’re holding yourself, facial expressions, all of that probably ties into it as well.
Absolutely. Yes. And, here’s the part two of it. When you’re saying that unlimited belief, tap into whatever dream or goal, it’s linked to. For me, it was the Ironman. Another way that we tap into the power of the unconscious is through visualization, what something will look like to achieve. Also, what it will sound like, and what it will feel like. When I would do this, I would literally say, “I am going to compete in and complete the Ironman World Championships.” At that same time, I would go to a visual of me running down Ali’i Drive toward the finish line. I could feel the Hawaiian air on my skin, and I could hear the deafening roar of the crowd, and I could feel the energy, and I could feel all of that.
That actually causes those neuro pathways to get formed more quickly and very strongly. Then you’d better get out of your own way because your unconscious mind is unleashed to help you do this. For me, all of a sudden I would be in these conversations or see things on my phone or online or just happen to read something that was what I needed in my next step in that journey. You’re like, “Where did this come from? Wow. This is the perfect thing. I need this right now.”
Absolutely. You start to see those things; they start to open up. That is awesome. So for you this started back in 2010?
Yes. When I took that class, I was 44, and up until this time, Mitch, I was successful, at least outwardly. I had been an executive, a corporate executive. I was a business coach within the companies that I worked before coaching was even a thing. I was athletic, I had participated or competed in some events, like the Bolder Boulder 10K, and my claim to fame at the time was that I had completed the Pike’s Peak ascent due to a bet, wanting to beat my boyfriend at the time, wanting to beat his time.
But those things all have the same common theme: I knew I could do them. They didn’t cause me to vomit or break out into a cold sweat, because I knew I could do each of them. They weren’t going to stretch or expand me beyond what I perceived my own limits to be.
It was at age 44 that I finally learned how to unlimit my beliefs, and I looked around and said, “Wait a minute. Nobody’s stopping me from this. Nobody is telling me I can’t pursue this.” It was only me this whole time that was standing in my own way. And I am done with that.
So I went all in, I looked for a coach, I interviewed three people, I hired the person that at age 50 was number three in the world. I basically said, “Here’s the thing. If you coach me, I will do everything you tell me, and I will never give up.” And no truer words have ever been spoken because that was it.
She laid it down, and I would do it. There were tears; there were exasperating moments. There were some tough things that I did. That could be a whole other book. Because unlimiting beliefs kept cropping up. At one point, I hit a plateau in swimming and running where I wasn’t getting any better. I was just staying the same, treading water. I used this limiting/unlimiting exercise again. Then I was able to progress and get faster and better at both.
Continuing to use it, and the other six keys in the book, I was able to achieve this 28-year dream in two short years.
That’s incredible. I love that. I love the story with the coach too. I think so often when we’re trying to beat those limiting beliefs; we think we’ve got to do it by ourselves. It’s about busting through those limiting beliefs. But you also need some help along the way, and that takes a lot of humility. But that’s what it takes to get to that success. I love it.
I want to dive into at least one more of those principles. This is gold so far. What’s one other strategy that will help in that process, continuing and moving forward?
One other strategy is having no discipline. Absolutely no discipline.
Again, you are so good at getting people to lean forward, leaning into the speaker. “Okay, now what? What did you just say?” All right, talk to us about what you’re saying.
All right. It is a play on words. What it means is having the discipline to say no to the things that are going to get us off course from what we’re trying to achieve. We’re in the perfect society for this right now because there are so many distractions. You want to look through a new lens that will help you identify and see very clearly, immediately these things that you have to say no to.
Here’s a good example. Once I was pursuing this, I would have two or three workouts a day. Yeah. Two in the morning before I ever got to work, and then one at night to wrap up the day. At the time I had actually taken on a new leadership position. I was CEO and owner of a big real estate office that was failing, and I had to turn it around quickly.
Usually, when you’re on a new job like that, the tendency is to just work all hours so that you can turn it around. I didn’t even have that luxury because I had to be at the pool at 4 am, which meant I had to wake up at 3:30 PM. I had to get a swim and a bike ride in before I had to be at the office at 8:30 AM . Then I’d get a run in at the end of the day and have to be at home and have dinner, clean up, pack up for the next day, and then be in bed by about 8:30 at night so that I could get up the next day and start it all over again.
What I had to say no to was staying up past 9 o’clock, watching the late news, or a show or a movie – whatever. I had to say no to eating a bunch of junk, which I had done all of my life.
But it is so, so tempting. It’s like, “Ah, that’s just a couple more push-ups tomorrow.” Yeah.
Oh yeah. And, if you are really cutting it close on time like I was, the easiest thing to do is to buy processed food. Because you might have another limiting belief. “Well, I don’t have time to make my own food.” No. I had to make my own food. So I had to come up with a way to make it assembly line on the weekend so that I had everything I would need during the week.
You have to say no to things that clearly are not going to get you to your goal. The more things you say yes to, the quicker you’re going to say no to achieving your goal.
Very true. I love you’ve got the primary activity and secondary activities to back that up. What are some of those secondary activities? Let’s stay with this example. You decide, “Okay, I’m going to eat better, and I’m going to be in bed by 9 o’clock.” What are some of the things that you do to help reinforce that?
I connect doing those things with crossing the finish line at the Ironman, or achieving whatever it is I want to achieve. If it’s a business goal, same thing. My schedule equals my goals, and I connect each one of those things that I’m choosing to do, that I get to do, that will make it easier and quicker for me to get to my goal.
Because otherwise, it can feel like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this, I don’t get to do this, I can’t do this,” which isn’t helpful. It causes us to go into almost a victim mentality and question why we’re pursuing this goal.
I would imagine if you’re tempted to binge watch that next thing on Netflix, saying, “I’ve gotta go to bed” is an entirely different exercise than visualizing the finish line at the Ironman.
I love that. It’s important. It’s one of those things that we’re talking about, new beliefs and new habits to back those beliefs up, and those are the kinds of things that help you to complete dreams like this. I love it.
Karen, we could talk for another four hours. This is great stuff. I know that you put together some additional concepts for DREAM THINK DO-ers so that they can spend a little bit more time with you, learn more about this. How can people get more access to you and specific tools to go deeper in this?
I’m excited that I’m going to give to your listeners something exclusive. I don’t offer this to anybody else. You’ll want to write this down. Go to velocityleadershipconsulting.com/dtd. You will get a playlist of five short what we call micro solution videos on how to use these techniques to achieve greater success in your personal life.
Karen Brown’s most recent book is Unlimiting Your Beliefs: Seven Keys to Great Success in your Personal and Professional Life. You can grab it wherever books are sold, probably easiest is Amazon, but it’s everywhere, so go check it out. Again, her website, velocityleadershipconsulting.com/dtd for the special resources she’s making available for DREAM THINK DO-ers.
All right. Karen, what’s our last word of wisdom? What’s something you’d offer that person that’s saying, “Okay, mine’s not the Ironman, but I’ve got this thing, fill in the blank, that thing that seems impossible but gosh I want to do it.” What’s one last piece of wisdom you might offer them?
There’s a quote by Karl Jung; He’s a famous scientist that discovered and researched a fair amount of neuro-linguistic programming and the unconscious mind. The quote that I love by him is, “What you resist not only persists, it grows until you deal with it.” I add a last part to that, which is that I think that which you resist persists and grows until you deal with it, and is the biggest opener to your success.
Case in point: I struggled with this lifelong dream of mine for 28 years, this gargantuan dream. At the time that I started to pursue it, I thought, “This doesn’t have anything to do with business or my professional life. This is just a personal dream, a personal goal.” What I realized was it was the biggest catalyst and opener to my business, my professional life. It permeated everything. By pursuing and achieving the Ironman and then stepping through that gateway to much bigger things, it was the biggest difference maker in my life. I look back and think, “Gosh, I really wish that I wouldn’t have wasted 28 years to do it.”
I love it. All right, gang, I hope you enjoyed that. I know I did. I will use some of those strategies right away myself. I liked that approach, and I appreciated the wisdom that Karen had to offer. Let me know. Swing over to mitchmatthews.com/180, and leave a comment. Let me know what you’re going to try based on this conversation. I always love to hear from you.
THE BAGGAGE GIVEAWAY:
I think this episode’s going to help a whole lot of people.
So, I want to inspire you to spread the word.
Since letting go of limiting beliefs is like letting go of baggage… I wanted to give away a bag.
But in this case… it’s a bag you’ll want!
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Let’s help the world to let go of their limiting beliefs and baggage… and let’s get you a sweet backpack in the process!
Be sure to leave a comment below. Let me know what stood out to you! What’s something you’re going to try from Karen’s strategies? And/or… what’s something that works for you when it comes to dumping your limiting beliefs?
I can’t wait to hear from you!