Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#111 How to Reclaim Your Potential

In The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #111, I explain how our innate state of potential becomes narrowed and finite due to personal experiences; often early in life. From these events our sense of self can become limited and we may attach to limiting personal beliefs. Utilizing principles from quantum physics, I demonstrate how we came to these false beliefs and how we can transcend them, illuminating the pathway for us to once again stake claim to our infinite possibilities.

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #111

Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.

Hello everybody and get ready for an interesting ride in today’s episode. I’m going to be explaining a phenomenon in quantum physics. It shouldn’t be difficult to understand and as a reminder to all my listeners, I’m not a scientist and in fact, I was an average student at best in science. But my new book, The Possibility Principle, explains how we can profit and benefit by looking at some principles of quantum physics to better understand our own lives and to make some adjustments in embracing the messages from quantum physics to allow us to live resiliently, joyfully, without fear, and on and on.

In today’s episode, we’re going to be looking at how we can reclaim our lost sense of potential. Going to begin by explaining this phenomenon of quantum physics and how we can apply it to our own lives. One of the fundamental aspects of the quantum worldview is that elementary particles can sometimes exhibit what’s called a schizophrenic nature. I’m using that term not in a clinical sense, but using the word schizophrenic to suggest it has a split personality. Physicists refer to this tendency in what is known as the wave-particle duality. Ordinarily, we believe the things either are or are not, that they are distinct in nature. This either-or thinking can also be called binary thinking, which leaves only two paths open to us. Binary thinking is a major aspect of how we observe and construct reality. And in later episodes, I’ll be sharing with you what is wrong with that limited way of seeing reality.

But this either-or reality apparently doesn’t apply in the quantum realm and is questionable in our everyday lives as well. The quantum reality exists in a series of what is called probability waves, which have an infinite number of potential outcomes. This means that when a particle is not being observed, it doesn’t exist as a particle. It exists as a wave or a waveform. In quantum language, that’s a state of pure potential, also called superposition, pure potentiality. This term superposition proposes that as long as we do not know what the state of any object is, it actually exists in all possible states. In that sense, the wave represents pure possibility. And the act of observing the wave reduces the wave. The wave collapses and it becomes a fixed thing, a particle. This is called a wave collapse.

Now, this may sound removed from our day-to-day world of relationships, fears, and anxieties, but I have found that metaphorically speaking, a similar thing occurs in our lives. When we have particular experiences or make certain observations of ourselves or have them made of us, typically in childhood by parents, a teacher, or friends, we experience the psychological equivalent of a quantum wave collapse. You see, as newborns or infants, if not at conception or in utero, we resemble the infinite potential possibilities of the wave. Our personality, our identity is not yet defined and exists in the state of pure potential. Notwithstanding matters of genetics, environmental influences, or considerations of astrological or karmic influences, our identity is not determined and fixed. But before long, we start to move from the potential of the wave to the thingness, the particular quality of the particle. The personal evolution of our personality gets stunted and our growth becomes fitful.

How did this happen? Let me share a story to provide a backdrop.

One day in my office, a client I’ll call Jill recalled the words that her mother spoke to her when she was about eight years old. Her mom said, when I was pregnant with you, I told your father I didn’t want another baby. Despite the fact that her mother was otherwise devoted and loving, Jill’s acutely personal takeaway was damning. She felt unwanted and therefore unlovable then and ever since. She carried this core belief with her throughout her life. Her own inner monologue was perpetually self-critical, confirming her belief that she wasn’t lovable. The snapshot that Jill took of herself early in life became etched into her psyche and became her embedded truth. Jill’s beliefs affected her relations with her husband, children, and friends. Notwithstanding that her husband Bob was lovingly devoted to her, Jill questions his loyalty and truthfulness in light of seeing herself as unlovable. Her belief about herself was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. She forced Bob to withdraw his love as his frustration mounted. What Jill experienced is not uncommon, for what we believe to be true about ourselves and others contributes to our reality-making process. Prior to her mother’s remark, Jill’s identity, her personality, her sense of self could have evolved in an infinite number of ways, but that range of possibility became narrowed by that one short sentence.

I call that a wave collapse. Ordinarily, even a single but significant experience is sufficient to collapse our personal wave of potential. Jill experienced a powerful wave collapse after her mother spoke one particular sentence to her. Sometimes, all it takes is a hurtful statement or even an embarrassing experience to reduce the potential of our personality to a narrow, restricted self-image. These events don’t need to be traumatic. They could in fact be subtle. Yet in these moments, our state of potential, our possibilities fade. It’s as if we’ve taken the snapshot of ourself and become frozen in time. I call these confining wave collapses.

In contrast to defining wave collapses that usher in defining moments and help us break free. In confining wave collapses, we’re no longer the potential of the wave, but we have become the finiteness of the particle. And we carry this picture of ourselves with us throughout our lives, allowing it to burden and limit us. We actually lose the authorship of our life story. We no longer write the narrative. We become a character in the narrative already written. The initial wave collapse, I’m speaking of confining wave collapses here, sets up a recurring incidence of similar experiences as our beliefs about ourselves and others become self-reinforcing. You see, what you think of yourself shapes your interactions with others and with yourself. This habit obstructs our ability to change or to evolve as we cling to a false perceived truth of who we are. The themes of subsequent collapses may vary, but they’re often self-limiting, if not denigrating. We may generate thoughts like I’m not good enough, or I’m not smart enough, or even more simply, I’m not lovable. The actors who perhaps unwittingly participated in scripting our personal beliefs are typically our parents, but they may be our teachers, friends, relatives, and in some cases, even strangers. We cling to these habituated beliefs about ourselves in accordance with our primary wave collapses. In spite of new events, which should create dissonance and have us look at ourselves differently, like Jill’s husband being so loving, they fail. And we tend to remain rooted in the way we see ourselves.

Part of the reason that we experience change is hard. We become embedded in the groove of our self-referencing beliefs, which blocks the opportunity for growth and change. Less dramatically than hurtful comments or abusive actions, the patterns of family dynamics may cause us to acquire certain personality traits. These influences tend to be chronic rather than acute and fly beneath our radar screen. For example, if you grew up in a highly conflicted or alcoholic family, you may have coped by developing a people pleaser or peacemaker persona. We can think of this chronic condition as an extended wave collapse rather than the result of an acute single event.

I had referred another client, Helen, to meet a colleague of mine so that they might explore matters of mutual interest, professionally that is. Helen made an appointment to meet with Jim at a conference that he was attending. When Helen arrived, Jim was engaged in conversation with others and he didn’t notice her waiting to introduce herself. Shortly thereafter, Jim left the conference without acknowledging Helen. Helen said to me, I guess I just wasn’t important enough for him to meet me. She reported this as though it were an established fact instead of an interpretation, an opinion of her own making. I asked her how she knew this to be true and whether there might be other explanations. For example, I knew Jim to be notoriously absent-minded. Could he have forgotten he was supposed to meet her or maybe he didn’t notice someone waiting to introduce herself. In fact, he overlooked appointments with me in the past and I certainly didn’t conclude that I was unimportant. I suggested that Helen saw herself as not valuable and she was projecting that insult onto Jim. At first, she resisted this possibility. She relayed this in compelling stories though, which revealed that as a child, she felt like her mother’s servant, waiting hand and foot on her mother, a reversal of roles so to speak. And her entire childhood was about her obedience to her mother. Helen was deprived of the value that every child deserves and so she basically felt unimportant. This chronic wave collapse had disastrous effects on her self-esteem. Throughout her life, her thoughts almost automatically continued to affirm this affliction. I’m not important. I just don’t matter. Our primary beliefs about ourselves have been generated by our wave collapses, which orchestrate the quality and nature of our beliefs and thoughts. If like Helen, our core belief is that we’re not of value, we can predict the kinds of thoughts we might then experience. These thoughts measure ourselves against others and the predictable result is that we see ourselves as subordinate to others. These thoughts and their resulting feelings can leave us trapped inside a self-induced container of low self-esteem.

I’d love to show you my appreciation for your subscribing to and rating this podcast by offering you a gift to one of the following. The Power of Mind, a live talk that I gave, or one of my digital eBooks, Creating Authentic Self-Esteem, Overcoming Anxiety, or Raising Resilient Children, and lastly, Cultivating Resilient Relationships. Once you have subscribed, please send an email to mel at mel schwartz dot com and just let me know which gift you’d prefer. Thanks.

I’ve given you an extensive explanation of what happens in a wave collapse. Now let’s turn and look at how we can return to our state of pure potential. To free yourself from repeating harmful and confining wave collapses, consider this tenet of the possibility principle. In the nanosecond before your next thought, you exist in a state of pure potential. In the space between your thoughts, you are similar to the wave, full of possibility. But once you attach to the next thought, the ensuing wave collapses and we create a reality in that moment. If we continue to have self-limiting or injurious thoughts, we remain adhered to the damaging effects of primary wave collapses. In therapy, clients often experience a breakthrough with me, a significant moment during which a highly anticipated insight becomes clear and illuminated. This event can present a new state of potential and with it, the possibility of a breakthrough, a defining moment. The person I’m working with will then select which reality to summon by thinking either, that’s great, what a relief, I’ve broken through. Or regrettably, their thought might be, what’s wrong with me? Why is this taking me so long? The first thought is self-affirming and offers relief and possibilities, while the second is self-critical and resists progress. You see, the thought you select will chart your path.

Simply put, the thought we engage will summon the reality of our next moment. We can move forward in breaking into new terrain or we can summon an old familiar thought, abandoning the insight. Obviously, we can choose vastly different experiences. The potential is all that exists prior to your next thought. Our struggle with change is in part caused by our habituation and habit of old thought. Old thought defends its territory. It doesn’t loosen its grip on you easily. Helen’s confining wave collapse of feeling devalued set in motion her lifelong inner narrative. I could see the automatic nature of her thought coming from the statement, I guess I wasn’t important enough for him to wait for me. This type of thought, instinctive and programmed, burdened and afflicted Helen, as similar thoughts burden and afflict most of us. I worked with her to identify that thought and separate from it so she could see what the thought was telling her. This established another principle for her. If you can learn to see the thought, you don’t have to become the thought. As we talked further, I asked Helen whether she attempted to contact Jim after the conference. She continued to cling to her story. There wasn’t any point in doing that because she had been blown off. I suggested that her thought had told her that she was blown off, but how could she actually know that? What she was doing was creating a storyline to conform to her beliefs and her personal history. Was she actually replicating wave collapses from earlier in life? Was this her thought stuck in an old groove? When I pressed her, she couldn’t offer proof that she knew her story was true. Now if we can’t know for sure that our story is true, then we need to look at how we confuse our story with being the truth in any given situation. I asked Helen if it was plausible that she had believed an untruth about herself her entire life. She reconsidered and acknowledged that she might be personalizing events around her meeting with Jim so as to conform to her self-image. When I explained to Helen the theory behind wave collapse, she grasped the concept. I asked Helen to envision an alternative and positive wave collapse in which her mother had been maternally inclined and actually doted on her. What then might her belief about herself be? She permitted herself this alternative point of view and considered that perhaps she wasn’t irrelevant. Doing so meant that she also needed to embrace her discomfort as she moved beyond the limits of her familiar zone.

Our work then focused on helping Helen break free from her addictive tendency to malign herself or more precisely the habit, the tendency of her old thought. From that point on, her progress was impressive. She started to value herself and this shift in self-esteem led to her experiencing her relationships in an entirely new way. When Helen learned to sever the grip of her old identity, she created the opportunity to select a new and positive wave collapse. A defining moment with self-affirming thoughts. Breaking free from the predictability of confining wave collapses simply requires uprooting the repetitive thoughts that inform our old belief. Notice the repetition of these old thoughts in lockstep with the wave collapse and that will enable your shift. The quantum worldview of the universe tells us that reality appears to unfold inexorably and perpetually from a pure state of potential. Earlier I referred to that as superposition. For us to access the universal potential, we must devote ourselves to apprehending that possibility, which lies in the instant prior to collapsing the wave with our next thought or feeling. Our thought literally summons our constructed reality. These thoughts emanate from the groove of old wave collapses and therefore our thoughts represent our past experience. Learning to take a new snapshot and actualize new thinking will help script a new experience allowing you to participate fully in your own evolving reality. Reading how the wave collapses in our lives informs a sense of self that’s just essential in priming the pump for your change process.

Often the meanings we attribute to the events of our personal history prevent us from creating effective change and we become reduced and see ourselves often as victims. Many adults have memories of abusive, loveless, or disappointing childhoods because they didn’t receive the nurturing and love that is every child’s birthright. If we choose to keep focusing on the limiting events of our past, then we choose a present and a similar future that replicates the past. At some point we need to stop choosing to believe the meaning we ascribe to our past and script a different present. I’m not suggesting that we avoid or suppress painful memories. By all means, we need to bring them into the light and process them. The goal though is to disarm the old memories and eventually release them. The thought that we choose in the present moment is almost entirely responsible for who we are in that moment. Remember the moment you choose a thought, the accompanying feelings arise as well. So if we continue to summon old habitual thoughts, we’ll never reclaim the potential that awaits us. What we are seeking are new wave collapses, defining moments that implant positive self-reflections as we grow past the grip of the negative ones.

In working with Jill, I asked her to reconsider what she could have said when her mother told her that she didn’t want another baby. Jill could have said, that makes me feel terrible and unwanted. Had she actually said that at that time or any time later, she might have experienced a positive, defining wave collapse, which was self-affirming. Simply reliving that encounter in a way that gave her some power became part of her healing process. By expressing her feelings, she was able to establish a much stronger, worthier sense of self. Now instead of thinking I’m unlovable, which spoke to her fixed state of being, she could reframe her belief. I’ve thought of myself as unlovable and now I know why. Now this belief is amenable to change. Let’s try an exercise. Think of a core belief you hold about yourself that limits your experience of yourself and your life. We think of these beliefs as truth. They may range from I’m not smart enough to people don’t respect me. Or it might sound like I’m a poor communicator or conflict makes me uncomfortable so I avoid confrontation. Whatever the core belief is, once you’ve identified it, ask yourself how you came to this belief. You might recall an embarrassing, shameful or traumatic moment from earlier in life when this truth took hold. For example, you raised your hand in class to ask a question and everyone laughed at how silly your question seemed so you decided to never risk that exposure again. Now you play it safe and think long and hard before you speak. Or your belief could have been caused by more chronic circumstances like growing up in a volatile home and coming to believe that you couldn’t really take the risk of sharing how you felt. These are the confining wave collapses that have created your limiting beliefs about yourself. They were caused by a specific moment or chronic moments in which you felt shamed or ridiculed.

Now imagine yourself finding your voice. Tell those involved how you feel about what just happened or what they said to you or did to you. Finding your voice in this way helps you release yourself from the bondage of these confining wave collapses. Reflect on how different your beliefs about yourself would be if these events never happened. If your beliefs about yourself were informed by chronic rather than acute circumstances like having an alcoholic or abusive parent or growing up in a volatile home, remind yourself that these beliefs were a product of your experience. Now imagine yourself being raised in a loving and supportive family. You see how differently you might feel about yourself? Once you choose to reclaim your potential, you stop being a victim of damaging circumstances. Say to yourself, I don’t need to be imprisoned by my past if I choose to free myself from my limiting beliefs. You are more than your experiences and an infinite potential awaits you as you allow your identity to break free and evolve. Once you learn to see how your beliefs are informing you, you’re free to break into new terrain and achieve defining moments.

Witness your thoughts and recognize the story they’re telling you and don’t confuse them with being the truth. You can learn to rewrite your story. Many individuals were fortunate enough to have experienced exemplary, defining, beneficial wave collapses that affirmed them and helped them to secure a strong sense of self. This typically leads to authentic self-esteem and these people can craft their personalities free from constrictive encumbrances. But for those of us who haven’t yet experienced such a gift, we can learn to overcome our burdens and reach our full range of possibilities. The way we’ve been trained to think that change is hard or implausible once again grows out of our operating worldview. This belief in inertia developed from the mechanistic worldview that I’ve described many times before in which Newton pictured reality to be like a giant, inert, lifeless, hapless, machine-like universe. And we became the cogs in that machine. The new worldview coming from quantum physics suggests that there is no separation. Everything is in perpetual flow and movement and we can be too. We can embrace that potentiality which invites us to free ourselves from aspects of the past that didn’t serve us. We don’t need to stay stuck like a fixed state of the particle, but we can ride the possibilities of the wave.

I hope this has provided some insights for you. And now there is much significant work to be done in learning to understand the nature of old thought and break free from it. In a previous episode entitled Breaking Free from the Grip of Old Thought, I do explain the techniques for doing this. And of course my book, The Possibility Principle, goes into great detail as to how you can identify your wave collapses and begin to break free from the old thought that limits you.

I wish for you the opportunity to break free from any old wave collapses that limit you and to establish some new defining wondrous moments so you can reach out and embrace the possibilities that await you and that you deserve. Until next time, be well.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.

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