Limiting beliefs are the lies that we tell ourselves about what we aren’t able to do. Somewhere along the line you created a story about who are to explain why something happened to you, and have carried it with you through life.
Have you ever dreamed of doing something amazing? But then when you dig into the idea you realize that it’s something that you’re just not good at and that’s going to stop you from accomplishing it. What’s that story you’re telling yourself? And is it even true?
Limiting beliefs are these weird little explanations for things that we have made up somewhere along the way – usually a time in our childhood. Maybe someone told you that you weren’t very good at something, or maybe you had a bad experience and the reason that you gave yourself for why that happened is because you weren’t good at something.
It could have been something traumatic like abuse or being attacked, but it doesn’t have to be. As children we are sensitive beings with brains that are not completely formed yet and are ready to believe anything a grown up has told us. Santa Claus, anyone?
So if when you were six you struggled to make friends because you were awkward then you might tell yourself that you not good at making friends — then spend your whole adulthood struggling to make friends.
Or maybe you never really noticed that you struggled to make friends, but then an adult pointed out that you only had one or two friends and that that was because you’re socially awkward. And that’s the belief that you’ve lived with all this time.
I don’t know about you but I’m not exactly the same person I was when I was 6. That doesn’t stop your brain from clinging to this notion that might not even be true.
Childhood isn’t the only time that limiting beliefs can come our way, though. Maybe you’ve started down this road of personal development and you’re growing and changing in amazing ways. It’s likely that someone around you feels threatened by these changes and probably has hurled a cleverly veiled or blatantly obvious limiting belief at you.
You’re not smart enough to start your own business
You’re too fat to run a marathon
You’re too lazy to get a promotion
Any of these sound familiar?
Whether it’s family or friends or yourself, limiting beliefs are everywhere. The key, however, is to find the ones you have internalized and bust through them.
Today I’m giving you a step by step method for kicking your limiting beliefs to the curb.
SELF FULFILLING PROPHECIES
Part of the reason that limiting beliefs are so hard to overcome is because they have this sort of self fulfilling prophecy air about them. If you’re struggling because you think that you’re not smart enough or motivated enough to get that promotion then it’s likely that you won’t ever get it — even if those things you think aren’t true.
What happens is that when we don’t think we have the chops to accomplish our goals, we don’t ever bother to try. If you don’t think you’re smart enough to get a promotion, do you even put in for it? And if you manage to put in for it, do you fight for it? Do you try to network with the people that will get you there?
Then you don’t get the promotion because you didn’t do what it took to get there, and then there goes the self fulfilling prophecy part. Again you didn’t get a promotion so clearly you simply aren’t smart enough — so says you brain.
It’s in this way that we make our own limiting beliefs come true – which then reinforces the belief even further.
Another problem is that because of the limiting belief we tend to only be able to look at the situation from one perspective. It’s like we’re forced into one spot. If we would just move a little to the left we could see the answer, but the limiting belief makes you think that there’s no point in moving, so you don’t. It’s not that you can’t, it’s just that you figure it’s useless, so why bother?
Then to top it all off you’ve got a belief system that’s baked into your brain that includes something called “confirmation bias”. It means that once you believe something you will generally go around looking for things to confirm this belief. You’ll put more weight to things that go along with what you believe and less weight on things that go against what you believe.
If you submitted 3 articles and 2 got published, but one didn’t, you’ll disregard the ones that got accepted as a fluke, then you’ll put more weight on that one that you missed and use it to reinforce the belief that you’re not a good writer.
It will also take you more evidence to overturn that limiting belief you have in your head than it did to make it in the first place. Especially if you’ve spent years (or decades) reinforcing it.
Because of all this it’s unlikely that just sitting down and telling yourself you’re good enough or writing affirmations every morning is going to just change your mind. There’s more work to be done than that.
THE EFFECTS OF LIMITING BELIEFS
Because we are in our own heads 24/7/365 it becomes very difficult to see the forest for the trees. We have a tendency to believe everything we think and often get stuck on thought patterns that may or may not be true.
And because we live in our heads, in can be difficult to notice any of these thoughts. They have become so ingrained in our perceived version of ourselves that we struggle to separate them at all – even if there’s evidence that they aren’t true.
For example, a limiting belief of mine was that I don’t have enough time. Now that’s not necessarily a belief about who I am, but it is a belief about my situation.
I struggled to overcome this belief and found myself not even trying to accomplish certain things because I didn’t even think that it was possible. This idea was further reinforced by friends and family that perceived my life to be super hectic and how could anyone get anything done with all that I do? I, of course, accepted this as reinforcement to my limiting belief.
In reality it’s all about priorities. I was simply prioritizing things that didn’t really matter to me over what I actually found to be important. An act, I discovered, that was fueled both by the limiting belief and by the fear of what life would be like if I grew into my potential.
The real amount of time I actually had only came to light when I finally wrote out a schedule. A schedule that I hadn’t bothered to write out because I didn’t even think it was worth it. In fact, in my head I was so busy that writing out a schedule would just freak me out and overwhelm me further.
See: self fulfilling prophecy.
When I finally forced myself to do it I began the process of overcoming the belief. That one thing wasn’t enough to completely prove to myself that I did have time, but it put a good chink in the armor.
I can’t tell you how much productivity that I probably wasted in those days before I convinced myself to make the schedule. I could probably have an empire by now, but my limiting beliefs had me so paralyzed, I didn’t even believe it was possible.
UNCOVERING LIMITING BELIEFS
Your limiting beliefs have probably been with you so long that they’ve cleverly woven themselves into the fabric of your mind. You’re so used to seeing them and accepting them as true, that it becomes difficult to separate what is actually part of your identity (I love dogs!) and what is a lie you tell yourself (I’m too old to start a business/travel/take a Zumba class)
In order to find your limiting beliefs you need to look at your life as it is and compare it to where you want to be. Then consider what’s stopping you from getting from here to there? What is the story that you keep telling yourself about why you can’t?
If that doesn’t unearth them, then it’s time to pick a goal and make an action plan. When you go to write out what you need to do to get there, what parts are you hesitant about trying to accomplish? Do you find yourself giving up half way through the action plan because you just don’t have the time/resources/energy/focus/intelligence/skills/ to do all that?
There are your limiting beliefs.
Any time you notice your brain giving you resistance about doing something that you really want to do, there’s probably a limiting belief in there somewhere trying to protect you.
If you grew up poor, for example, and have managed to pull yourself out of it, you may continue to fear spending money. Even on a little thing for yourself that’s totally in budget, would make you happy, you’ve been thinking about for forever. Even the thought of buying it might make you feel guilty.
In there is a well woven thread that needs to be picked out.
While the limiting belief is truly one of your brain’s attempts to keep you safe, it isn’t doing you any good when your life if is completely different from when it came up with the belief.
PULLING OUT THE THREAD
Now that you’ve identified your limiting belief it’s time to get a hold of it and separate it from your identity. It seems like it should be fairly easy to remove once you know it’s there, but the thinking around I don’t have time or I’m not good enough is a deeply ingrained habit that will take work to break.
Step 1: Self Awareness
Examine your life and look for the places where you tell yourself your limiting belief but you actually have evidence to the contrary.
For example, you tell yourself you don’t have the chops to be a leader, but your boss continues to put you in charge of special teams — this is evidence to the contrary.
Regardless of the story that you’re telling yourself as to WHY your boss keeps doing this (she’s desperate, we’re short staffed, I’m the best of the worst, etc) this is a real life example of why your story is a lie.
Step 2: Flip the Script
Once you’ve found several pieces of evidence it’s time to mentally add some weight to this information instead of blowing it off as a series of coincidences or flukes.
If you passed 9 tests but failed 1, the 1 was a fluke, not the 9 — regardless of the story your brain is trying to tell.
The key here is to flip the script. Instead of looking at your wins as flukes, look at your losses as the bumps in the road.
If you feel like you don’t have time, stop looking at all the places you don’t have time, and start looking for the places that you do.
Change your focus, change your life.
Step 3: Act As If
Ever heard the term fake it til you make it? This is a horrible turn of a phrase for something that actually works.
There is no faking a skill that you do not have. I couldn’t fake my way through an engineering exam, or driving a motorcycle, or a skydiving session — even if I wanted to.
What I can do is push forward the more confident side of my personality while I give speeches, or be more open and outgoing in social settings, or ask for help watching the kids so I can get my work done.
I am not actually asking you to lie on your resume to get the promotion. What I am asking you to do is consider what someone who had the capability to get that promotion would do? Would they apply? Then would they contact their referrals or mentor to discuss the opportunity? Would they network with the management that’s making the decision?
Can you do these things even if it doesn’t seem like it will matter?
Can you act as if you’re the type of person that would do things, and then go do them? Because if you act a certain way long enough it will become part of who you are.
This is how habits are made, and changed. You need to change the behavior that you normally do in response to a trigger over and over until it sticks.
If in meetings at the end when the leader asks if there are any volunteers you normally shrink and hide and hope not to be chosen, then it’s time to force your hand up. Every time you do that it will be easier and easier until you don’t have to think about it any more. You will become the person that volunteers for projects and is now a go to person that would be considered for that promotion before they even listed the job.
You change your habits —and in turn your life — one action at a time.
Limiting beliefs stem from stories that we have made up about why things have happened to us. They are often false, but may have been with us for so long that we no longer challenge them. By taking some time to examine your beliefs and change your behavior, you can kick these lies to the curb and grow into your best self.
If you’re struggling to find or get past your limiting beliefs, contact me here. Coaching with me can help you find all the stuff that is blocking you from reaching your goals.