How Your Beliefs Shape Your Future as a Filmmaker

How Your Beliefs Shape Your Future as a Filmmaker

In 1954, Roger Bannister was looking to achieve something no person ever had.

He was attempting to run a mile in under 4 minutes.

Yet at the time, nobody thought it was possible.

The best doctors and scientists of the day concluded the human body just wasn't capable of the feat. It would buckle and break under the pressure, they said.

Yet that didn't deter Bannister.

He trained and trained and trained. Every single day. And eventually, he began to see the sub 4 minute mile not just as possible, but something he had to do.

And on May 6th, 1954, he got his shot.

The conditions weren't ideal. It was brisk day, and the track was wet. But he knew that if he waited, someone else would break the record before him.

So Bannister took off.

He began his last lap just a hair behind where he needed to be to break the record. He needed to do the last last in 59 seconds.

As he crossed the finish line, he collapsed in exhaustion.

Embed from Getty Images

Over the loudspeaker, his time was announced.

3 minutes, 59 seconds, and 4/10ths of a second.

Bannister had done the impossible.

He had proven that we're all capable of more than we think, of more than anyone thinks.

And sure enough, it was only 46 days until someone beat his time.

A year later, three runners beat the four minute mark in the same race.

And over the past half century, over a thousand runners have pulled off the feat once universally believed to be impossible.

I tell you this little story because it highlights the power of what we're talking about in this episode of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast.

Your beliefs. The stories you tell yourself about what's possible and what's not. And how some beliefs hold you back from reaching your potential.

Trust me, of all the years I've been studying psychology and personal development, this is the most useful, powerful thing I've learned. When you get your beliefs in order, things start to fall in place in multiple areas of your life—your career, your relationships, and more.

And today, we're going to dive into this sticky subject, head first.

So here's a sampler of what you'll find in episode 2:

  • What beliefs are, where they come from, and why you probably have quite a few inaccurate ones.
  • Why our "internal stories" are so important when it comes to our film careers and our lives.
  • Some of the most widespread beliefs that consistently hold filmmakers back.
  • Three strategies for identifying your own self-limiting beliefs.
  • How I overcame a lifelong belief about "being bad with money."
  • The art of setting up systems and routines to build any new belief you want.

This episode features snippets from my conversations with Alex Ferrari from Indie Film Hustle, Curt Jaimungal from indiefilmTO, and Zack Arnold from Optimize Yourself.

You can listen and subscribe through iTunes, Stitcher, PocketCasts, Radio Public, Spotify, and the Google Play Store.

If you enjoy today's show, it would mean the world to me if you'd leave a rating and review on iTunes. That's the best way to support this small indie show and to help new filmmakers find it!


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Practical Takeaways from Today's Episode

What are beliefs?

Quite simply, beliefs are stories we've constructed in our head about about how the world works, and our place/capabilities within that world.

It's our brain's job to make sense of the crazy amount of physical and emotional stimuli we experience. Our brains are trying to give us consistent certainty and pleasure in a chaotic and uncertain world. And beliefs are one of the core mechanisms by which they do that.

Some beliefs are essential to keeping us safe (both physically and socially). Beliefs like...

  • If I put my hand on a hot stove, I'm going to burn my hand.
  • Or, if I run naked through a shopping mall, I'll probably get tackled by security guard before getting hauled off to jail. Then my family and community will look down on me.

Many beliefs though, aren't fundamentally true like that. These are generally in the realm of what we believe about other people, about society, the film industry, and about ourselves. They're simply assumptions based on incomplete information.

Yet we treat many of these untrue or incomplete beliefs with the same reverence as we would beliefs about burning ourselves on hot stoves or running naked through public.

These are the beliefs that get us in trouble and stop us from reaching our potential.

Why your beliefs are so damn important

Ok, so why is any of this a problem? I've got three reasons for you.

  1. More often than not, we're not aware of our fundamental beliefs. They exist in the background of our consciousness running the show without us really knowing it.
  2. Even worse, most of us don't choose our beliefs. They come from a variety of sources over the course of our lives. Our earliest experiences, our parents, culture, school, jobs, and the people we've surrounded ourselves with.
  3. And as we move through our lives, our beliefs tend to reinforce themselves. They become stronger and more entrenched in our lives.

Key takeaway here. You probably have beliefs that you don't know about, that you didn't consciously choose, that are only getting stronger and more entrenched as you move through life.

And if those beliefs happen to be negative, it's a major problem. Here's why.

  • Our beliefs shape our actions.
  • Our actions shape our habits.
  • Our habits shape our future.

If we don't have the right kind of beliefs, we'll never take the proper actions to build the future we want. It's as simple as that.

So now let's start getting more specific, and really look at how this applies to filmmakers.

Common beliefs that hold filmmakers back

There are a ton of different beliefs that could be sabotaging us (a lot of them are about money). But in my years of working with filmmakers, there are a few beliefs that seem to pop up again and again. Here they are.

  • "I'm a certain gender, skin color, etc, and people like me just don't succeed in film." (You may think I'm being an asshole by saying this is a self-limiting belief. I'd challenge you to look up whether there are people of your gender/skin color succeeding in film. I guarantee you there are. They might have faced more obstacles than other people in getting there, but they overcame and succeeded in spite of that. You can as well, if you stop telling yourself your dreams are impossible because of your immutable characteristics. It's a bad strategy.)
  • "I'm not a real filmmaker until I live in LA or NYC and make features for a living."
  • "Other people only succeed because they're rich and well connected."
  • "The only way to make a lot of money as a filmmaker is to go to Hollywood and compromise your values."
  • "I'm just not talented enough to get noticed in such a noisy world."
  • "Film festivals are the only route to get my films seen."
  • "You either sell out, or you're a starving artist. There is no in-between."

All of these are demonstrably false, but people believe these stories so deeply that their actions inevitably fall in line with them.

And while all of these bum me out, I think that last one about "selling out" is the worst, because there are very, very talented people who tell themselves that story, then subsequently don't make any money. Their work would be beneficial to society and culture if they could overcome that belief, and they'd get paid what they genuinely deserve, but they'd rather live in a prison of their own making and stay in the poor house forever.

That's the kind of power that beliefs can have over our entire lives. And in this case, that belief negatively affects the world around us, because we're not allowing our work out into the marketplace. So everybody loses when beliefs like that are allowed to flourish.

A personal example of a limiting belief I've overcome

Before we move to the "solutions" half of this, I just want to share a personal example of a shitty belief that I've dealt with throughout my life.

The belief was: "I'm just bad with money."

And for years, this belief played out in all of the most predictable and unfortunate ways. I was irresponsible. I bought things I couldn't afford with money I didn't have. I never had more than $50 in my savings account. I didn't set money aside for taxes as a freelancer.

And I felt bad about all of these things, but it wasn't worth me doing anything about it because of the story I was telling myself. I just wasn't the kind of person who was good with money. So why bother?

A little later, I'll share exactly how I broke out of this negative pattern of thinking and got my money in order.

But first, we need to learn how to spot the beliefs that are holding us back.

Identify your beliefs

Before you can can change your beliefs for the better, you have to learn how to spot the ones that are holding you back. Here are three methods I recommend.

The "on the spot" method.

When you find yourself sabotaging yourself in some way, or you find yourself in some kind of emotional pain related to filmmaking or creativity, stop and see if you can spot the underlying beliefs that are driving your action.

Ask yourself, why did I just make that choice? What was the line of thinking that drove my actions?

Make sure not to judge your thoughts or overthink it. You want this to be as close to stream of consciousness as possible, because that's how you get to some of those deeper beliefs.

In these cases, it's really useful to write stuff down, or journal, as close to the event as possible, because the closer you are, the more you'll be able to tap into underlying stories that drove your actions.

The "fill in the blank" method

Describe a situation you’re struggling with (e.g. “I can’t make a film”) and add the word “because” at the end of it, then finish the sentence out loud or in a document. And answer as many times as you can.


I can’t make a film because I don't have enough experience. Don't have the right equipment. Don't have the right connections. It won't be good enough to live up to my expectations. No one will ever see it anyway, so what's the point?

See how that works? Every single one of those is a limiting belief. And I'm sure we could come up with plenty more.

Like before, the key to making this work is not judging or overthinking your answers. In fact, the closer you can get to stream of consciousness, the better. I like to do this in writing or in a mind map because it allows me to get thoughts out quickly. I tend to overthink when I'm speaking, but when I'm typing the words just come.

Surround yourself with people who are achieving the kind of results you want in your life

Ask them to point out your limiting beliefs to you. Because self-limiting beliefs are glaringly obvious to high achieving people.

A great way to do this is with a mastermind group, where everyone gets together (in person or online) to work through their film and business goals and keep each other accountable.

Are your beliefs holding you back?

The techniques above will help you dredge up a ton of beliefs. Some of those beliefs will be good and useful, others not so much.

So when you find your underlying beliefs, ask yourself two questions.

  • How do I know this is true? Question every assumption you make and find what's really true. Basically, use the socratic questioning method, or act like a journalist. This is how you find the beliefs that are based on real, verifiable information, and the ones that have no logical foundation.

    If you can find evidence supporting both sides of a particular belief, choose the side that will empower you the most—the side that will help you get ahead in your career and life.

  • Is this belief serving me? Be honest with yourself, and figure out where it's moving you closer to you goals in life, or is it standing in the way.

If your answers come back, "I can't prove it" and "It's not serving me" then you've got a belief worth changing. Which is a perfect segue into talking about how to change beliefs.

How to change your beliefs for good

First off, if you want to change your beliefs, you must commit to it 100% and you've got to understand that in order to solve a belief problem, you have to start at a foundational level, not a tactical one. Anything less and you're just putting a bandaid on a stab wound. Trust me on this one.

Let's get back to my story about being bad with money.

I've tried multiple times throughout my life to get my finances in order. But instead of attacking the underlying story, I'd just try new tactics, or worse, download some cool budgeting app and tell myself I'd succeeded in getting good with money. Nope.

In order to solve a belief problem, you have to start at a foundational level, not a tactical one. Anything less and you’re just putting a bandaid on a stab wound.

Every time I'd do this, I would be back to my old ways within two weeks. Because that's how beliefs work. They perpetuate themselves, and half-assed behaviors (even if they're well intentioned) are never enough to rewire that belief.

Now, here's what finally worked after years of being bad with money.

First, I got fed up with being broke and in debt and being constantly stressed about money. The pain was just too great to bare anymore. I imagined how my life would end up if I kept making shitty money decisions, and what I saw terrified me.

This is important. Usually the drive to change your beliefs comes from moments of pain, moments where you truly understand the consequences of not addressing the belief that caused that pain.

So I decided that I was going to change my story around money, and use my new story to change my habits.

Here's the process I went through:

1. The first thing I did was come to terms with all of my bad decisions in the past. And forgive myself for those bad decisions. I told myself, "I didn't do all of these things because I'm inherently bad with money. I did these things because I told myself a bad story, and I made bad decisions. Simple as that. From now on, I'm going to tell myself a good story, and make good decisions."

This is important. Because when you're changing your beliefs, you're really changing your decisions and actions. It doesn't matter how many mental tricks you do if your new story isn't backed up by consistent action.

2. Next, I asked myself, what kinds of actions would I be taking if I was good with money? Here are the answers I came up with. I would be sticking to a budget and not using my credit cards at all. I would separate my business and personal finances completely, and consistently stash money away for taxes instead of freaking out every April.

This is all extremely simple stuff. Notice that I didn't dive into anything crazy like asset allocation, buying into bitcoin, or anything like that. No, when you're changing a belief, you have to start with the basic behaviors that will build a solid foundation for your new belief. Walk before you can run.

3. And so I started building a budget and working with it every day. I made it a habit that I do first thing every morning. I go through, import my expenses and categorize them and make sure they fit with the money I've budgeted. By the way, if you need a great system for budgeting, check out a piece of software called YNAB. It rocks my world.

4. I'm sticking to that one core daily habit, while slowly but surely incorporating more advanced things with my money. I'm working to make more, systematizing my business finances, and even saving a little bit.

But I'm aware that if I disregard the basic stuff and stop doing it, the whole thing comes crashing down. That's why I continue to budget every single day, and always consult my budget before making new purchases.

5. I've slipped up a few times, buying things that blew up my budget, but I always immediately get back on the budgeting habit, and adjust accordingly. Again, I know that if I disregard the habit, the new belief disappears as well. And keeping the new empowering belief of "I'm good with money" alive and well is my top priority.

Key takeaways from my story about changing beliefs

I generally don't do much teaching through personal examples like this, so here are the big lessons to takeaway from my story.

  • So, first big takeaway, to get the results you really want in your life, you've got to rewrite the harmful stories you're telling yourself first, and then let new behaviors and actions flow from those stories. Those actions are important though, because without them, a new belief will never stick around.
  • The best time to make a change in your story is at peak frustration, those moments when your story has led you to a bad place. Use that energy to not only find and change your story, but build systems and habits into your life that incorporate the behaviors you need.
  • Ask yourself better questions to bolster your emotional state and identify what you should be doing. In my case, I asked myself, "How would I feel if I didn't have to worry about money every day? If I was good with money, what actions would I be taking?
  • Reinforce your change in story with small wins. New stories always feel awkward and insincere at first, but through consistent actions, you can prove to yourself, and to the world, that your new identity is here to stay. Those daily or weekly actions are how you'll eventually come to believe your new identity is real.
  • You will probably regress and make choices in alignment with your old story again. Seems to happen to everybody. Don't beat yourself up. Instead, treat yourself like the hero of your own story. And really think about storytelling fundamentals here. The hero has to suffer setbacks and defeats along the way, but always triumphs in the end and becomes the person they want and need to be. That's the essence of storytelling, and it's true for your life as well. Maybe start by adopting that belief :)

So that's all I've got for right now you in terms of changing your limiting beliefs. However, there's one other episode this season that you should listen to if you're interested in going down this road. It's the episode on "Turning Pro" and showing up every single day. Like I mentioned earlier, it's essential that you build new habits and routines around the beliefs you want in your life, and the process of Turning Pro is exactly how you accomplish that.

Further Reading and Resources

Web Comic: You're not going to believe what I'm about to tell you - The Oatmeal

This is my favorite piece of content on the entirety of the internet. It's all about the beliefs that become part of our identity, and how those beliefs stop us from seeing the world as it truly is. Please read it.

Article: Rewriting Your Story - Ramit Sethi

This is the article that finally convinced me that I had to change my story about money earlier this year. I hope it'll motivate you to change your limiting beliefs as well.

Article: What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking - Harvard Business Review

Did you love the story at the start of this episode? Here's a great thinkpiece on the global significance of that moment, and why should never accept that things we want are impossible, in business or life.

Book: The Power of Story - Jim Loehr

This is the definitive book on changing the internal stories that guide your life. I've read it three times now, and it just keeps getting better every time.

Book: Awaken The Giant Within - Tony Robbins

I always assumed Tony Robbins was a cheesy motivational speaker. But I read this for the first time this year, and it's legit. The chapters on beliefs, values, identity, and rules alone are more valuable than just about any other personal development book I've read. And this is a big-ass book with a lot of chapters. A little outdated at times, but so, so useful.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your film career to the next level?