Limiting beliefs are thoughts that often hold us back from achieving a desired outcome. An example of this is internalizing negative criticism received. Instead of being an opportunity for growth, the dark side of criticism is that it can make us believe we are not talented enough, innovative enough, or qualified enough. That we are not enough. Often, this depends on how and when it is delivered.
According to the National Science Foundation, 80 percent of thoughts are negative, and 95 percent are repetitive.
We can gather from this that our limiting beliefs can become harmful thought patterns that stop us from reaching our full potential.
But are we entirely to blame for our limiting beliefs? Unfortunately, they can often be ingrained in us from our environment.
As a general surgery resident, I recall a particular case during which I was operating with an attending surgeon and a medical student. With the belly open, the attending surgeon handed a stapling device to a medical student and asked her to fire it.
She went through the steps correctly. However, the device did not fire. I could see her becoming more nervous as the attending grew impatient.
“I don’t understand how you can’t do this!” he exclaimed. “It’s not that hard. Anyone should be able to do it!”
This made the situation worse. I noticed her hands start to shake slightly. The scrub tech and the nurse exchanged glances. They were uncomfortable. Everyone was silent. Nobody wanted to provoke him.
I took the stapler out of her hands. I noticed that the device itself was the issue. It had been loaded incorrectly, and that’s why it wouldn’t fire.
“See?” I showed the attending, who acknowledged the issue as well. Then, he moved on without another word to the medical student.
Yet, despite the circumstances being out of her control, she was still the recipient of fault and blame.
Unfair? Yes. And unfortunately, too common in medical training environments and beyond.
But can we do anything to stop ourselves from internalizing the harmful effects of our environment? Or should we simply accept them as feedback despite the harsh delivery?
As I debriefed with the medical student, we discussed a two-step process as an outline.
Firstly, we would do everything we could within ourselves to be excellent. That meant, before every operation, she would prepare, ask questions, be on time, help where needed, and bring a good attitude. Once that’s done to the best of her abilities, I offered that’s all she could do. There’s always room for improvement, and that’s a part of training, so we should be prepared to receive criticism.
That said, medical trainees have a hard time drawing boundaries and often internalize unnecessarily harsh criticism that is poorly delivered. It is usually given in such a personal way that it’s easy to think it’s about us. But what if we thought about the person providing this overreaction to a simple malfunction that is easily fixed? Think about all the trauma they must have had to incur to be so easily angered. So easily triggered.
Are they OK?
They probably haven’t been for years.
Is it essential to make their trauma into your own limiting beliefs?
Or can we change the culture by becoming aware of these damaging patterns and changing our reaction to the hostility of others?
Alexandra Kharazi is a cardiothoracic surgeon, mother to four-year-old Harper, and a passionate writer. She can be reached on her website, Alexandra Kharazi, MD, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok. She is the author of The Heart of Fear: A Surgeon’s Collection of Stories on Adversity, Passion and Perseverance.