Conquering Limiting Beliefs: The Journey To IRONMAN with Karen Brown
Our guest is a master coach with over 20,000 coaching hours delivered to date. She’s an active athlete and corporate leader. As a coach, she’s done it all. She’s had incredible success but something was missing and it had been for 28 years. It was her secret dream of competing in the IRONMAN World Championship. For 28 years, she held herself back from entering the competition because she had this one limiting belief that she couldn’t do it. Each year as the entry day passed by, that limiting belief crushed her ability to take action. It was only after she discovered a mind hack, a powerful lever to access the unconscious mind, conquering her own self-defeating action that she finally went all in and pursued the IRONMAN, achieving her dream in just two years. She’s here to tell us exactly what she did, what those discoveries are and how we too can apply them in our own life to achieve anything we want. Welcome, Karen Brown, to the show.
Thank you, Mitch. Thrilled to be here.
It’s great to have you, Karen. What we’d like to do whenever we bring someone of your power and ability onto the show is we like to start at the beginning. People want to know where you came from. Give us an overview of where this incredible career of yours started.
Going way back, I was the child of the late ‘60s and I grew up with what I later found out to be two alcoholic parents. While I was still a baby a few months old, my mom left my dad for good reason. The next, five, six years of what is usually the most formative years of our lives where a lot of imprinting happens. I had the wonderful example of watching my mom as a single mother be able to earn a living and support my sister and me, which was quite a feat back then. This was the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and that there just weren’t any other single moms anywhere. This was something amazing. At the same time, she always told me that I could achieve anything I wanted to.
What’s so powerful about your story is that it is actually something that is in common with many of the incredibly successful people that I speak with. In fact, it’s in common with my own story as well. This is what happens, we watched somebody overcome adversity. It’s a blueprint of sorts that we file away never to in fact understand the formation for many of us until much later in life. Tell us what happened after that.The essence of addiction is to fill up a void. Click To Tweet
It becomes our model. It gets filed away in the unconscious and then it becomes our modus operandi, if you will. What I did is excelled in athletics of a recreational variety, I’ll clarify that. Even when I started to pursue the IRONMAN, I was completely recreational. I didn’t own a road bike, I had never ridden one. I was probably one of the worst swimmers ever to jump into the pool. I had to beg my coach to take me on. I had never done a triathlon and I had never run a marathon. I want to be clear with everybody, even though I’ve done this really big thing, even some tougher races than that after, the things that I’ve done as a leader and with my company, I am like everyone. I have no special talents. This does not come easy to me. I have to work my hind end off to achieve the things that I do coming back to this mode of operation. I climbed into the achiever mold, if you will. I was driven from a very early age. I had a real drive and will to succeed. My mom would say stubborn, I would say tenacious. She’s probably right. I had this ability to never give up.
It crossed my mind as you were saying this. Do you think that came in a sense from this desire to escape what looked like potentially a difficult life in the very beginning of your early years?
Yes, specifically the underlying thought in the deep recesses of my unconscious mind, which was I’m not enough. I became an achiever to show myself and everyone else that I was enough that I could do it.
Many people take different approaches to dealing with the same issue. In my life I turned to drugs, I turned to narcotics even. That was my way of escaping and it wasn’t until a little bit later in life that I realized that that was the issue and rid myself of all of that. I then entered into that place where I was a super high-achiever as a way of proving to myself actually that I had value.
This could be a whole other show because after doing all the research, training and experience in the coaching world. Using myself as the guinea pig and being fascinated by human behavior, I firmly believe that a lot of our actions every day come from unresolved trauma. What you said, what I experienced, what I lived is proof of it. Had we revealed and become aware of that trauma and healed it much earlier, I know for me it wouldn’t have taken me 28 years to achieve my dream in the IRONMAN. I would have had a much more fulfilled, full balanced life and not having to be this crush it all the time, I’m going to show you achiever. What you said about it manifesting or coming out in addiction is how it comes out for a lot of people. It’s, “How does that trauma show up?”
It’s, “What do you get addicted to?” For me it turned out to be hard drugs, heroin. For you, it turned out to be extreme physical activity and for others, it turns into so many different things. The most important thing of all though is where does it take us? I have to take what I said back because that’s not the most important thing of all. The most important thing of all is how do we feel as we go through this period of our life? That is a very critical question. If what you’re feeling is power, success, you’re feeling confidence and you’re feeling love, love of yourself from yourself, that’s even more important than the activity. I suspect that many of us, including myself did not feel those things early on in life.
We’re trying to fill up that void. Some people fill it up with hard narcotic drugs. I filled it up with actually achieving and I’ve seen other people try to fill it with food, sugar, shopping, gambling. The list is endless, pick whatever unhealthy relationship with because that’s the essence of an addiction.
You got through this period of your life. You were in school and you were an athlete. Where did you go after that? After you completed your education in college, where did life take you next?
Remember that back at the time we’re talking about, which was ‘86, ‘88 that time period. You didn’t have to have a four-year college degree to be successful in the world. I’d like to argue that you still don’t have to but we’ve also created a society where you do have to have a four-year degree, to do anything, to check the box. It was not the case back then when I graduated from high school and I didn’t think that I needed to go to college. I had a love for fashion, movies and what was I going to do with those two things? My boss at the time in the fashion industry was also a great role model for me. Very tough, accomplished, she did have a soft spot for me but she gave me some tough love. She sat me down one day because I was in the management track at work. She said, “I will never promote someone into management who has not gone to school, gone to college.” I was mad. I stormed out of the office. I quit the job and I went and found another one like, “I’m going to show you.”
I let her words actually sink in and I thought, “She’s probably right.” I didn’t go to a four-year school. I went to a junior college in fashion. What was I going to do with that? Lucky for me, I worked that gig for a while in retail store management and was very successful at it. I took to it like a duck to water and then wondered what was next and fell into commercial real estate. Lucky enough, I also found two people that shepherded me in that business who saw potential in me and poured into me. Teaching me everything they knew so that I could thrive and flourish and that’s what I did.98.2% of everything we do and everything we think in a day comes directly from our unconscious. Click To Tweet
There are two things you said I wanted to go back and talk about. The first thing that you mentioned was this feeling of not needing to go to college. I’d never graduated college but I’ve dropped out of some of the finest schools in this country. The point is though back then at least for me college is we’re not keeping up with life. I’ll give you an example. I was in the Electrical Engineering Program at Northeastern University to become an electrical engineer. The word electrical even is an old word. I was involved in computers. I was building microcomputers and coding them by hand at the time that I was going to college. I would go back to school after my co-op and they were teaching vacuum tube technology. It was like, “This isn’t the real world. These guys are ten years behind where I am every day in my little co-op job.” That’s when I made the decision that I would leave school and pursue what I thought at the time was going to be my career. I certainly did but the thing that happens to many of us is we get to the point where someone comes along and does something or says something. We have this reaction and you and I had exactly word for word the same reaction that changed our lives. Those words were, “I’ll show you.” You did, you showed them. You went into real estate and you were incredibly successful. I know that because I read your bio. Tell us about that.
I then jumped from the frying pan into the fire because I was the tender age of 23 or so. I jumped into a male-dominated field. I was honestly stupid enough and driven enough to not even pick up on that fact that the men didn’t want me there. They were overt about it. I didn’t have any of that problem going on. They were not kind and so it was tough. I was blind to it. I was so driven and could see what I wanted to achieve so clearly. At the time the biggest thing that I could envision was sitting in the high seat in the corporate world, in commercial real estate, that was as big as I could think of at the time. It didn’t even occur to me to have my own business or carry out a mission that would change the world. I want safety, stability and to be the big boss.
That was because you were at the beginning stages of what would later become a very incredible career. That’s very understandable, how could you think or want more than that at the time.
I say that because professionals have a much broader vision, a bigger vision of what they would like to achieve than I did back then. My vision was limited.
We’re growing up, these are the years that we’re evolving and we’re creating. These are the creation years where we’re forming ourselves and we’re experimenting. We don’t know what is going to happen. We take risks and chances. Sometimes they pay off and in many times they don’t. Part of the lesson or at least I learned is you’ve got to keep taking those risks if you want what you expect to have in this life. You did in fact take some risks. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?
The first risk was jumping into this male-dominated field. I barely even knew what I didn’t know. It scares me thinking about going to work back then, all that I didn’t know and all that I thought I knew. It was that bravado and that drive that enabled me to be successful despite constant challenges. That was a risk and lesson number one. The next big risk that came along because I kept progressing. I got into that pool, jumped into the deep end, swam around, found my legs, kept going further, higher and wanting more. I realized in coaching people, being fascinated by human behavior that there was this missing key. Something that I couldn’t put my finger on. I would get fairly far with a client and then something like a brass ring that we couldn’t touch. They didn’t know what it was either. I’m not saying that they were holding a secret. Neither one of us knew what it was, long story short came to find out it was what lies in and the power of tapping into the unconscious mind. Here’s what I found to be absolutely true, 98.2% of what we do in a day, everything we do in a day, everything we think in a day is unconscious. It comes directly from our unconscious.
That’s a big number.
Only the very miniscule balance is conscious thoughts and actions. Here’s the interesting part, we think every day as we’re going through our life, our work, conversations with people we’re in a relationship with that these are all conscious choices and thoughts that we’re having. The lion share of them are not.
Are you saying that the unconscious patterns of thought are seeping into our consciousness? Are you saying that the thoughts that we’re conscious of are stemming from our unconscious mind?
The former, our unconscious thoughts are seeping into our consciousness and they come out through our words and actions.A limiting belief comes from a limiting decision that we make earlier on, usually through comparison bias. Click To Tweet
Since the human mind is set up in such a way that it must always be right and since we all think we are original in our thinking, then there’s this trick that the unconscious mind must have to play on us. It’s got to make us think we had that thought ourselves.
It’s very good at that.
Karen, you’ve gotten me so curious. I’ve got to understand how you did what you did, what did you discover? Give us the process of how you stumbled upon this and how it became the basis of your work?
You mentioned that for 28 years I held myself back from pursuing this personal dream of mine, this gargantuan, scary, big, hairy, audacious dream of mine to compete in the IRONMAN World Championships as a recreational athlete. I was taking a business class in 2010. They started talking about limiting beliefs and explained that it is a scientific phenomenon that happens in our unconscious mind. It goes exactly like this, when we think or say, “I don’t have enough talent, time, money, support to achieve X.” That’s a limiting belief and it comes from a limiting decision that we make earlier on, usually through comparison bias. For me, what happened was at age fourteen, I saw the IRONMAN World Championships on TV. I saw a college student by the name of Julie Moss leading the race the entire day. Unfortunately she hadn’t fueled properly, succumbed to exhaustion and ultimately lost the lead. Although she did finish the race, it was brutally ugly. She would collapse into a ball on the pavement in Hawaii.
She would have to summon all of her energy to just crawl and then push yourself back up to a crouching position, standing and then walking. Slowly she would begin running again until the whole thing replayed itself over and over. It was brutal to watch and it was indelibly burned into my brain. I thought two things, “What is this first of all, that would compel a person to do that?” I didn’t know what the IRONMAN was at the time and second of all, “Where is she getting the strength to continue?” It would be so much easier for her to give up. I became curious and I also felt this emotional connection to what she had done to this race, to this crazy thing called the IRONMAN that I had no other connection to. I had no reason to be connected to this race. What I found out is that I had made a comparison of myself to her. Looking at her on the screen I thought, “She’s a triathlete. She’s a professional. Someone’s probably paying her to do this. She does this all the time. This comes naturally to her and I am none of those things. I am not going to be able to do that.”
Did you have that realization while you were watching her? Did you say, “I’m comparing myself to her?” That’s a limiting belief or did it happen later?
It happened right then in about three seconds all unconsciously. That’s how comparison bias works. This is why I said about the lion share of our thoughts and actions every day are unconscious but we think they’re conscious. We think that we’re making conscious choices every day. No, they’re all coming from our unconscious and most of the time we are unaware of the whole process that’s going on because it happens at light speed. It’s that rapid.
It’s programming, it’s supposed to happen that fast and it’s supposed to be invisible. It’s supposed to basically feed you everything that you need to “stay safe.” What your unconscious mind is doing all the time is trying to keep you safe because taking any risk is dangerous.
If you think about caveman times, that’s exactly what our unconscious minds were created to do, to keep us safe, to keep us alive another day. Here’s the problem though, in modern day that’s like a bug in the system. The way that manifests is we say, “I want to do that,” like the IRONMAN World Championships. There’s our unconscious mind getting in our way saying, “No, danger, we can’t do that. We’re not going to be able to do that. We are not going to do that.” Which is how fast, actually faster than I can talk, a limiting belief gets formed and first of all, it’s a limiting decision. Remember that I said it happened at age fourteen for me. That limiting decision stays there, it’s the bug in the system causing my limiting belief every time for 28 years I would think about pursuing the IRONMAN. The other thing that I learned along the way and it wasn’t until after I started pursuing the IRONMAN because I was able to conquer and transform that limiting belief and turn it into an un-limiting belief. The other thing I learned is limiting beliefs were in every other part of my life and in my professional life. When I was able to unlock through this big, hairy, scary dream, I found the other limiting beliefs that were holding me back in other areas. I was able to do it in the same way.
In essence what happened is you woke up, you instead were sleeping up until that point in time, where your limiting beliefs were controlling your thinking. You thinking that was your thinking but it wasn’t. It was coming from a conscious mind but then you woke up. You were able to finally see past the point of what was coming out of your unconscious mind and examine it, as if you stepped away from yourself, looked back and said, “That’s not who I am.” Was there a mechanism or a toolset that you used or was it simply a realization and then later you unraveled how to fix that?We're all put on this earth to help each other. We're all in this together. Click To Tweet
There’s absolutely a toolset which is a three-step technique. That is part of what I’m going to share with your audience. Awareness is the first piece of it, you can’t do the active change to get this transformation to take place with awareness. You can become aware of it but it takes the two other steps of changing in the moment. You have to rewire that thought pattern. It begins with awareness. First of all, what is the limiting belief? That starts by asking a very easy question to unearth it. Step two is to write out the opposite of that limiting belief, which then becomes the un-limiting version of the belief. Mine was, “I will compete in the IRONMAN World Championships.” Here’s where the work begins, you have to be aware of when you have those thoughts every day.
When they come, you have to interrupt them and then verbalize the new belief. This is where it gets fun because at the time I was doing this, I was leading an office of about 120 to 150 people. I would literally stop in the middle of whatever I was doing when I had that thought and say out loud, “I will compete in the IRONMAN World Championships.” You can bet I got some interesting looks and some questions. Here’s the cool part, I believe that we’re all put on this earth to help each other. We’re all in this together. We can make it easier or tougher on each other. We’re going to make it easier on each other when we help each other. I would bring others along. When I would verbalize that, I would say it proudly because I knew how important the work of change was that I was doing. When people got curious, I would open up to them and tell them exactly what I was doing. Then every single time, the next day the same person will come back to me and go, “I realized that my big dream is this. My limiting belief is this.” They will start going down the same road. It was wonderful.
To summarize, step one is identify the limiting belief. Step two is to write out the opposite of that limiting belief. Step three is to interrupt those limiting beliefs and replace them consciously with an un-limiting belief. This reminds me a lot of the work of a woman named Byron Katie. She asks a question, “Is that true?” Follows that with the question, “Is that really true?” It seems like this is a little bit different process, Byron’s processes are all about releasing pain, which extends into limited beliefs and then eventually into destructive behavior. It sounds like you guys are on similar pathways, would you agree?
What I see Byron Katie’s brilliance is releasing pain. Specifically, that’s a pathway to releasing trauma. For limiting beliefs though, if it’s really ingrained as mine was, over 28 years this thought pattern, same thought pattern, multiple times a month, every year. If you ask a question like, “Is this true?” Your default thought pattern reactive answer is going to be, yes. You have to ask a better question to get through the unconscious mind. That question is, “What’s stopping me from achieving X?” which is your dream. When you ask a question that starts with what instead of a yes or no question, if you’ll stay with it, your unconscious mind will come up with the answer.
I liked that a lot, it’s simple and it’s relatively easy to start. I don’t have to fully commit because I happened to like some of my limiting beliefs. The same point, you could try them out, you could try this out with one and see how that goes. If you push a little bit and make it happen so that you in fact do release and replace that limiting belief, you could do it again and again. I like it.
Test it out. Take it for a test drive.
I’m going to do it. I sure will. What you started to do then was, first of all, there was that moment in time and you’ve identified what was going on as having a limited belief. That by itself is very unique. That doesn’t happen to a lot of people. I would think that the moment where you had that realization, “I’ve always wanted to do this but I can’t because I got a dentist appointment on the same day.” Any excuse that your unconscious mind will serve up to make it sound logical to your conscious mind. There it was and then somehow you said, “No, I don’t accept that. I can do this. I will be able to reschedule that dentist appointment.” Clearly, there was that moment where you were able to see that when frankly most of us don’t. Is there in fact the process that would help somebody locate a limiting belief or is it anything that you say that you can’t do?
Two things on that. First of all, by asking yourself the question that I posed, “What’s stopping me from achieving X?” Sticking with that question, what you’ll find is there’s probably more than one limiting belief that’s causing your inaction. That’s what I found for sure. I had one main limiting belief, which was, “They’re elite athletes. I’m a recreational athlete. I can’t possibly compete.” That was the main one but there were sub limiting beliefs I’ll say like, “I’m not a fast runner, I’m not a good swimmer.” What I found was I had a whole lot more of them bumping around in my brain.
You had to get rid of the first one to uncover the balance of them.
I did them all at the same time, all of the first ones that I could unearth. Here’s the thing to remember, your unconscious mind is a million times more powerful than your conscious mind. It works at lightspeed. The unconscious mind is what created these limiting beliefs. It makes sense that it will transform them and you can transform them quickly. I’m living proof from 28 years then to two years.Your unconscious mind is a million times more powerful than your conscious mind. It works at lightspeed. Click To Tweet
As you get through to the point where you have identified a limiting belief and written down the opposite of it, the third step, which I think must be the hardest, which would be to spot when these limiting beliefs show up again and then actively replace them with an un-limiting belief. How do you do that? You’re in the flow of a day’s work and all of a sudden life is happening. Are you running a sub-routine that watches for them or something?
It’s actually quite easy once you become aware that the limiting beliefs are there, that they’re happening. Once you walk through that first step of revealing them then you’ve ripped the lid off Pandora’s Box and you can’t shove it back on. It’s automatic then you see how often you’re having these unconscious limiting belief thoughts that you never realize consciously were there before but now you do because you’ve revealed them.
What happens if you go to replace a limiting belief with an unlimiting belief and you still fail at what it is that you wanted to do? Does your unconscious mind say, “I told you that you couldn’t do that?” How do you handle the steps between feeling unable to accomplish something or be something or do something and then failing when you try, what do you do then?
You fail forward. What you just hit upon is that you’ve got to do the work. I didn’t cross the finish line at the IRONMAN in two short years without going from five one-hour workouts per week to 24 hours’ worth of working out two and three workout sessions a day. The large learning curve of becoming a good swimmer, a fast runner, an effective road cyclist and putting it all together. That was the work. In doing that work, I failed forward so many times. I’m surprised my face isn’t totally flat like a pancake from falling on it so much. I often say I’m like Thomas Edison. I find the 999 ways that something cannot be done or will not work first before I find the one that is successful. It’s because I was emotionally so tied into this dream and that’s another key in the book, tapping into the dream. It has to be a big, scary, audacious, gargantuan dream that touches you emotionally, even rocks you to your core. There’s going to be some limiting beliefs that come up when you open that box up, that actually contains the motivation to keep you going through those failures so that you can evaluate and say, “I’ve got to take a different approach here. What am I going to do differently now so that I can still achieve my dream?”
Unlimiting Your Beliefs: 7 Keys to Greater Success in Your Personal and Professional Life, go on Amazon and buy that book. This has the key to unlocking your ability to overcome your own limiting beliefs. Karen has written this book as a gift to humanity, so take advantage of that and go get that book. You and I could probably talk for hours and hours. We have so much in common and I loved your story so much. I wanted to talk a little bit about something, a very generous offer that you’ve made and that you have created for my audience. Tell me if I’m right, what we talked about before sounded a little bit astounding to me that you would be giving this away. From what I understand, you’re giving away both the tool and the technique to get rid of limiting beliefs and including a mini-course on releasing what’s holding you back. Is that true?
That is true.
Karen, that story that you’ve told comes from many years of hard work, the life that takes maturity and experience to develop. The next question is all about how life has played out for you and where has it left you now. Who, in all of the space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
I’m going to list a few people and then reveal what they all have in common. Some you will know and some you won’t. Neil Armstrong, Penny Chenery, Richard Rohr, Carl Jung, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, Tom Bilyeu, Alan Turing, Einstein, Dr. Don Shirley. These are all people who caused a ripple for the good or for the betterment of the world.
I don’t know some of those people but the ones that you mentioned that I do know, I would have to agree. That ripple has continued to reverberate throughout humanity from the moment that they evolved into presenting that work to us. What a great way of describing who you’d like to take a walk in the park with. Unfortunately, it would become a crowded lunch table. Could you pick one you think?
Penny Chenery was the owner of the winning race horse of all time, Secretariat. She’s from Colorado. What I love about her and her story was first of all, she penetrated a man’s world. The world of horse racing was dominated by men. She stepped into that, with such ease and grace. She did things that no one had ever done before, no one had ever heard of. Selling shares in a horse that was unproven for as much money as they got, at that time was never before done. She’s such a precedent for that and believing wholeheartedly in her horse. From the coin toss to the race when Secretariat won the triple-crown, unwavering and a prime example of failing forward. She kept failing forward. This all happened because her father took sick and then he ultimately passed away. She had to make some tough decisions. Her husband at the time who was a prominent attorney said, “You need to sell that horse. You’ve got a bird in the hand, you need to sell the horse.” She said, “No, I’m not going to. I believe I see something else here.”
It’s that belief, that drive is what makes people successful. You could tell the story about Elon Musk, Bill Gates and about Steve Jobs. It’s that same drive that knowing beyond knowing that what you’re doing has not just power and potential but is your mission in this world. As we talk about mission in this world, I’m going to get to the grand finale that changed the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
It’s actually three missions but the first one is eradicating limiting beliefs and transforming the world.
That is one big mission. Honestly, the world needs this so badly. There are others who claimed to be on that same mission. I see you as having the tool set and the drive to make that happen. On behalf of humanity, thank you so much. Thank you for being on my show and more importantly, thank you for sharing what you’ve learned, which you didn’t have to share and you did. That is going to make all the difference in this world and I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on. I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you and your audience. Let’s all help each other. We don’t need to struggle from limiting beliefs, we honestly don’t. Let’s all help each other eradicate them.
To the audience, get those gifts. Get her book and get busy. Thank you, Karen.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Karen Brown
- IRONMAN World Championship
- Unlimiting Your Beliefs: 7 Keys to Greater Success in Your Personal and Professional Life
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