As an advisor to executives who is constantly reminding influential people with power, that listening and understanding is critical to leadership success, I know this headline is a huge risk. The truth is that listening is important, but it can also be what is holding you back and the cause of many bad decisions. We all hear messages as we go up the ladder; many of them have served us well. For example, hearing from a boss, “You have the talent to be a successful executive.” At the same time, we have all heard messages that have served as limitations.

Why does a two-ton circus elephant not just pull the little stake out of the ground and run free? The answer is so simple, yet creates complexity. The stories I have heard about young elephants make complete sense. As young elephants they are secured to a rope attached to stake in the ground. The elephant tries at a young age to move forward and pull the stake out of the ground, but is unsuccessful. Over time, the elephant learns that they are not able to break free, and they stop trying.

This is true for all of us! We internalize messages that we make permanent and learn to stop trying. A personal example of this is when I was young, I had a hard time with those math problems that had the little star on them to illustrate they were the most difficult. I was told to not even try them because they would take me too much time and I would likely not figure them out. So what did I do every time I saw a hard question? I gave up. I learned to not even try. It wasn’t until later on in life that I realized I was holding myself back and every time I hear myself telling myself “you won’t be able to do this” I reframe it and take on the challenge with an open mind.

The key is to become aware of messages that create barriers and then take action. I call them Barrier Beliefs. Just the other day I was talking with an executive that believed he wasn’t good at strategy. When we talked further, it turned out that the person was actually very strategic, but just became intimidated any time they needed to be “Strategic.”

Identify what messages you have heard throughout your childhood or career that have created Barrier Beliefs. They are not facts, just messages and we have the choice to listen to or not. Ask yourself, “Where did I learn this,” and “what can I do to break free from this limitation?” The more you focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do, the more successful you will be. You will also find yourself having less stress and more energy.

The OnPoint Point: We all have messages that we have listened to and made part of our limitations. Find a way to become aware of what they are and break free. Be the elephant that pulls the stake out of the ground and moves forward with purpose and pride.