Lessons from a Hammer


This is a lesson I learned by bending a hammer

According to one of my coaching textbooks, “Any habitual pattern of thinking is called a belief.” I think that is the clearest definition of belief I have ever read (Sorry Mr. Webster.)

For most of us, our beliefs have been formed by life events. Our deepest and most entrenched beliefs began when we were kids, as parents and peers told us who and what we were by word and action. As we go through life, other events, and other people continue to change our beliefs, and at a certain point in our lives, our beliefs about who we are and what we are becomes entrenched.

They become our identity.

This works pretty well for most of us. We develop an identity. We come to know who and what we are and all is well. Until…..

Until we get to the place where we are stuck. When we want to grow and move past where we are in life.  That desire to move beyond can be professional, relational, spiritual, creative – or all of the above.

Where ever we want to grow, we sometimes get to a place where we are stuck, and we’ve been stuck a long time and we can’t figure out why. We can’t find our way past where we are.

Generally, we have a whole list of reasons that are holding us back. The bulk of them are either external factors (money, time, yadda, yadda, yadda.), or internal factors (“I have never been good at ____________.”.

One of the things I have learned in life is that if you can get past the internal factors, the others melt away. I’ve seen it in my own life. And I’ve seen it in the lives of people and companies I work with. And, I have learned, it is almost always, ALWAYS, false beliefs that hold us back.

Which brings me to the hammer.

My father was a wonder with his hands. He could refinish furniture, work on cars, build things. He was crazy good. And he often had me help him as a boy.  And I am afraid I was not so good. Honestly, I could not even hit a nail straight. Patience was not one of my dad’s virtues, I am afraid, and so for most of my life, I heard about how incompetent I was at doing anything with my hands.

It was a constant refrain. Loud, rude and constant. By the time I left home to go to college and start a life, it was one of my core beliefs. I was clumsy. I was not good at doing things, making things, fixing things. Pretty much, by the time I was eighteen, I had stopped trying. I knew what I was and what I wasn’t.

Years went by. I never did anything in the build or fix realm. I knew how bad I was at it all. By the time I got married, ten years out, I didn’t even have tools in the house. Why waste money on tools when you were as incompetent as I was?

At some point, though, my wife and I bought a house. And I had to go buy a hammer to pound in the post for a mailbox.

I bought the hammer and pounded that big metal stake. Well. actually, at first, I missed it as many times as I pounded it, but as I went on, pounding into the rocky soil on Bent Mountain, I began to get better, and by the end, I was hitting that post every time.

When I was done, I looked at the hammer, and the metal shank was bent. Noticeably bent. Evidently, I had bent it pounding the stake into rock. As it turned out, the bending of the hammer was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because suddenly, with that hammer, I could hit nails all day long, perfectly.

You see, I am blind in one eye. I have been since I was a tiny kid. When I took my first eye test in elementary school, they were shocked. “Why didn’t you tell us you couldn’t see out of one eye?” the asked me.

“I didn’t know you were supposed to see out of both of them.” I replied. It was my normal. And mostly it isn’t a big deal. Except for one little thing. When you only have one eye, you have no depth perception. And you need two eye to triangulate on  and hit the nail, put the screwdriver in the slot, etc.

The bent hammer, as it turned out, adjusted for my lack of depth perception. And voila! I could hit a nail.

Which got me thinking – how many of the other things around the house could I do. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as incompetent as I thought I was. As I believed I was.

Turns out I am pretty dang handy. I have since done tons of projects, finished a basement, built porches and tool sheds, refinished furniture, worked on cars, rebuilt antique lights. I go a little slower because things like sticking a screwdriver in the slot of a screw is slow going, but I am pretty handy after all.

My belief was false. And it held me back. It robbed me of the satisfaction (not to mention the savings) of doing work myself.

It is the same thing for most of us. We believe things because we’ve been told again and again, or we have come out of some event or series of events in our life attributing our failure to the wrong things.

These false beliefs can be all kinds of things. Maybe you carry some of them around yourself. Here’s a sampling….

  • If I don’t please everyone, they may reject me. And that would destroy me.
  • I have to be perfect in everything, or people will think badly of me.
  • I need someone stronger than me to rely on.
  • My past determines my future
  • Anger is always bad.
  • I am not smart enough (or talented enough) to be ( FIll in your choice here.) .
  • I am too…. (fat, thin, loud, quiet – you get the idea.)

Oh it is a long list. A long, long list. This is just a sampling. (I’ve had to push through a few of these myself, by the way.)

Our beliefs propel us. Our beliefs shape us. And our false beliefs hold us back. In fact, it is almost always our false beliefs that hold us back. I’ve been the poster child for this fact, and it has prove true (are you ready for this?) in EVERY SINGLE CASE of people I work with who have wanted to move futher. I don’t use the word every very often. But I use it here. Loudly. Jumping on the kitchen table and swinging my arms and shouting. Every. Single. Case.

What does that mean?

If we are stuck. If we are stymied. If we have been in the same place too long and really want to move past where we are to what we want to be, the path runs through our beliefs. We hold the key.

And the first step is to examine our beliefs, closely, and figure out which ones are true, and which ones we only THINK are true. There’s a process for that, and I’ll talk about that process in the next essay.

Be well. travel wisely,


PS: I still own the hammer, and use it all the time. It’s one of my most precious possessions.

Magnetic compass on a world map

One comment

  1. […] Last week I wrote about false beliefs, and how they often hold us back. I have been the poster child for this, and at times, I still am. Whenever I feel like I can’t do something, I find that it is some false belief holding me back, not reality or the long list of things I use to make excuses. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s