Are Toxic Beliefs Holding You Back?

Richard Koch, who wrote The 80/20 Principal (great book, btw!) about how 80% of one’s results in both business and life come from 20% of their efforts, is about to come out with a new one called 80/20 Beliefs. Similar concept: That 80% of your actions in life come from 20% of your beliefs. So you’d better make sure you truly believe those beliefs.

In it, he asks the question: Have you ever held a strong belief about something that you have since decided was not serving you? The answer for me was yes. Absolutely. Many. and then I realized that most of those beliefs were about my life in relation to the cello:

I love classical music, so I should become a professional musician.

If I don’t practice my craft every single day, I am a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to perform. 

We have the career that other people give us.

Making art at the highest level possible is more important than anything—certainly money, and relationships too–because if a person doesn’t care about the music as much as you do, they aren’t worth your time.

If you’re not depressed, difficult, or tortured in some way, you will never be a great artist. 

Only important people at important institutions can create industry-changing projects and initiatives. Not your standard freelancing musician. 

And the kicker: 


I will be a cellist forever. I will never do or want to do anything else for as long as I live. 


These beliefs were held by everyone around me. We grew up with them. They were passed down from one generation of musicians to the next. These beliefs were handed down to us from J.S. Bach himself, people! 

But at some point, somehow (and I credit my classic Gen X upbringing. A Latch Key Kid with babysitting income–basically had to raise myself. Hell, I even had to *gasp* do my own homework!–I’m looking at you Gen Z 😉 



Anyway, I guess some of that independence found its way into my belief systems, and they started to crack. The first to go was that I began to refuse to be “tortured” I wanted to be happy, and I was pretty sure that being happy wouldn’t REALLY get in the way of my being a good cellist. 

Then I decided that having a healthy relationship, paying my mortgage, and being a happy and satisfied human being WERE important parts of life. 

Then I started to understand that maybe taking some time away from the instrument not only didn’t get in my way but actually made me a BETTER musician. Whoa.  mindblown. I took a month off and went to Morocco to work in an orphanage. No one knew I was a musician. It was glorious. 


And so, one by one, those long-held beliefs started to get questioned. The last one standing was the one I have just blasted through, and it seems to be the one my colleagues want to know every detail about. 


We don’t necessarily have to do this forever. You might want to–and that’s great! I have had many mentors throughout my career who were as passionate and dedicated to their craft on the day they died as they were when they were just starting out. That’s wonderful…for them. But what I have never heard spoken of is the idea that a career as a professional musician could be merely 1 chapter in a long book. 

Koch refers to them as toxic beliefs. It’s not that the belief itself is toxic, it’s that holding onto that belief NO MATTER WHAT can hold you back. 

I’ll be honest. When I decided to stop performing in order to write and coach more, I figured I just wasn’t as dedicated as my colleagues. I didn’t love it as much as they did (and I loved it a lot!) but the number of people who have emailed, DM’d called, and texted me to say something along the lines of  “Holy cow! I didn’t know we were allowed to just STOP!” told me that I wasn’t alone in that toxic belief. 


Fez, Morocco.


There’s an unspoken message about how much we have sacrificed to get here, and that it was a life-long calling. Something more valid and important than just some “job.” And of course, because it’s such a competitive field, if you’ve made it, why would you just give it up? 

Thankfully, I was able to override that belief, and instead took on a new belief “It’s my life, and I only have one, so I should spend it doing the things I want to.” 

Obviously, you’re not all musicians here, and obviously, there are all sorts of Toxic Beliefs that could be holding you back. Why, I bet you could think of 6 Toxic Beliefs before breakfast! 

How can you know? Here are a few steps: 


1. Question your regular actions

Why do I make my bed every day? Why do I belong to this club? Why do I have a glass of wine at the end of a long day? Just ask, and explore your own answers. 


2. Ask people around you

We can see the toxic beliefs that are holding other people back far more easily than we can see our own. (While you’re at it, ask them what they think you’re really good at, too. You might be surprised.)


3. Notice the things people around you do, say, or act upon that drive you crazy 

Why? What belief do you have that they are going against? It might be a perfectly good value-based belief that serves you well. But it might not be. I know someone who always criticized others for going on fancy vacations. She felt they were throwing their money away instead of spending it on more important things. It wasn’t until later in her life that she discovered the joy (and importance) of creating new memories and experiences through travel. 


4. Try turning your usual actions on their head 

You can start in small ways–no need to set fire to your life! Always hit the gym in the morning? What happens if you go in the evening? Take a different route to work. Do your hair differently. Pick something different on the menu next time. In other words, practice flexing the muscle that questions what you do and why you do it.


5. For every strong belief you hold, ask if the opposite could be true

To stick with my main example, above, if my original belief was “Classical music is a lifetime career. We don’t retire. We will do this until the day we die.” Then the opposite belief would be “Classical Music can be a temporary or part-time career. You can stop whenever you like and choose to do something different.” 

Is that true? As bizarre as it sounds to anyone raised in the classical music world, yes– technically, the latter belief IS true, isn’t it? And if your brain came up with the follow-up thought: “Yeah, but nobody DOES…” You, my friend, are not alone. 



When you start to question why you do the things you do, you will likely find very good and true answers to many, if not most of them. You go to the gym in the morning because that’s when it fits in best in your current schedule, or because you really love that 6 am yoga teacher’s class. 

But you might find some surprising things popping up as well. Values and Beliefs can be wonderful compass points for us, and can lead us down a path of a joyful life well-lived. Sometimes, though, a rigidly held belief can hold us back from that joyful, well-lived life, and I don’t want that for any of us. 

Happy detoxing, my friend!




P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out how to step things up in your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals and begin to realize their true potential.  You can grab it here for free today.

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