Breaking Free of Limiting Beliefs
It's no secret that limiting beliefs can hinder your progress towards your desired life. Perhaps you're feeling stuck and unable to achieve your goals and aspirations, and it's because a detrimental belief is lurking in the shadows and convincing you that you're not good enough. These negative, self-defeating beliefs concerning our worth, capability, and value impact our ability to think big. Instead, we're gripped with fear and wonder if we even belong in this world.
It's a vicious cycle that traps us in inaction. To avoid experiencing fear and inadequacy, we hide who we are and refrain from pursuing our aspirations. Taking risks appears impossible, and success is out of reach. We believe that we cannot achieve more or better, reinforcing our limiting beliefs.
But how do you distinguish these self-limiting beliefs?
Pay close attention to the language you use.
- "I'm clueless when it comes to finances."
- "I'm destined to be single."
- "My past failures are indicative that I'll never make it."
These statements reveal deep-seated beliefs that reinforce negative thought patterns and hamper progress.
Sometimes, you may be unaware that limiting beliefs are at play. These hidden beliefs are called 'iceberg beliefs.' However, by scrutinising your choices, you'll detect clues pointing towards these self-defeating beliefs.
Do you recognise any of the following scenarios?
- You resolve to exercise regularly, but after a few days, you choose to surf the internet or watch TV instead.
- You have a great business idea, but instead of pursuing it, you play it safe and accept a salaried position.
- You dream of taking a much-needed vacation, only to find an excuse to stay home instead.
- You want to be more social but turn down event invitations.
When our actions don't match our words, a limiting belief is often to blame. We may wonder if we are sabotaging ourselves, but these beliefs exist to protect us from imagined dangers.
Researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey from Harvard Graduate School of Education found that most people live with fear every day of their lives. Moreover, they discovered that people develop an "immunity to change": they want things to be different but act as if change were impossible, trapped in a vicious cycle of limiting beliefs.
Here's how our internal systems work: they help us manage our everyday anxiety by providing defence mechanisms to resist what feels threatening. However, these defence mechanisms also result in false beliefs such as "I will be alone if I divorce" or "I won't get another job if I lose this one." So, even though they may make us feel safe in the short term, they can lead us to believe in things that aren't true. Furthermore, these limiting beliefs can cause unintended long-term consequences when we choose based on them.
When they go unchallenged, these beliefs can negatively affect all areas of our lives, such as work, relationships, finances, and health. They cause procrastination, lack of motivation, and lower self-confidence. Limiting beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies, preventing us from creating opportunities for good things to happen.
It's like carrying a heavy backpack while hiking through a scenic environment. Even though we enjoy the views, the backpack's weight slows us down. If only we could take out the rocks, we would appreciate the hike much more. But instead, we leave the weight there, assuming that suffering is necessary to reach the end. Unfortunately, these assumptions can discourage us from trying in the first place.
Do you make excuses, complain, engage in negative thinking, say limiting things about yourself, blame others, resist what makes sense, procrastinate, or have anxiety? These are all signs of limiting beliefs.
Liberate yourself from limiting beliefs with these seven steps. But remember, there is no one right way for everyone. Start by identifying your belief system.
Do you ever find yourself making excuses or engaging in negative thinking? As a result, you may resist doing things that would logically make sense for you. These are all signs of limiting beliefs; if left unchecked, they can lead to poor outcomes in all areas of your life. But fear not! By taking these seven steps, you can start to liberate yourself from these beliefs and create opportunities for good things to happen. So let's get started by identifying your belief system.
Identify Your Belief System
1a) Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I doing that's obstructing my progress?
- What am I resisting in this situation?
- Why do I believe that this feels so difficult?
- How can I increase my enthusiasm for this choice?
- What must be resolved for me to set a higher standard for myself?
- What am I ready to take full responsibility for?
- What do I gain from blaming others?
- Which value conflicts with my goal?
- What stories do I tell myself about what I should or shouldn't do?
- What negative pattern am I repeating with this choice?
- What do I gain from maintaining the status quo?
1b) If the above questions lead to overthinking or confusion, free write for 10-30 minutes to discover your deepest thoughts on your goal.
1c) Do you relate to any of these common misbeliefs?
- If someone else succeeds, there won't be room for me.
- I'm not strong/smart/good enough.
- I don't have enough time/money.
- I'll never give or earn enough money.
- I have to remain in this relationship because there will be no other.
- I'll be happy when... (fill in the blank)
- People never change; I'll never change.
- I'm responsible for others' happiness.
- I must work harder than others to be successful.
- I'm destined to struggle.
- I don't belong in this world.
- I can't...
- I'm too old/young/etc.
- I'll be rejected if I speak my mind.
- It's always my fault when things go wrong.
- I'm not worth listening to.
- Self-promotion is unethical.
- I've tried before and failed so I will fail again.
- This is as good as it will ever get.
2. Acknowledge the Gifts of your Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs protect us from pain, so what needs are being met by yours?
- How am I deriving pleasure by holding onto this limiting belief?
- What positive intent does this belief bring me?
- What value am I gaining by holding onto this belief?
3. Find the Evidence: Is the Belief True?
When you identify your belief, ask yourself if it's true. Then, when looking for evidence, encourage yourself to think flexibly and with curiosity.
- Is this belief accurate?
- Have I always held this belief?
- Was there ever a time when I didn't believe this?
- Are there times when this belief makes no logical sense?
- What evidence is there that disproves this limiting belief?
4. Test the Assumptions
Big Assumptions underly all your choices – some of them not very helpful ones. What do you assume is true that you must live by your limiting beliefs? I invite you to test these assumptions to move beyond them.
Start small, with something not too triggering. Ideally, this will be something from your everyday routine that would be easy to work on. For example, you may believe that you have to answer every email immediately for fear of damaging relationships.
Taking the example of the email, identify ahead of time exactly what behaviours/choices/activities would prove the assumption false. This may be choosing to delay responding for two hours. Then notice what happens. Take care not to interpret; instead, observe.
If you are still determining what you are observing, you may wish to have someone provide objective feedback afterwards. Emotions make it hard for us to see what we actually do so that this feedback can be precious. Reflect on the results. What actually happened? How were you feeling on the inside?
Be prepared: you may need to run multiple tests, as our beliefs are usually correct. Running many small tests over time will tease apart what is true from what is false in your story until you are free.
5. Recognise Old Patterns
Get to know what might lead you back to old habits. For example, if you notice that having too much to do in a day results in you feeling anxious and working faster to cope, take some time to rehearse a more adaptive response for those moments.
What key mantra would support you in responding to the stressor differently? For example, it might be, "This is a moment to slow down. I have tools to organize myself differently so I don't burn out."
6. Identify New, Liberating Belief
Once you know your old, faulty belief isn't true, but it still stops you from living the life you want, what belief would be accurate and liberating for you? With the overly full agenda and the limiting belief that you must get it all done faster to preserve your value, the liberating belief might be: "My worth simply exists, and I don't have to prove myself. I'm free and powerful in choosing how I spend my time."
Some other empowering beliefs might be:
- When I feel afraid, I can choose to feel excited instead.
- I'm responsible for the life I create.
- My learning is a sign of strength and engagement in my own life.
- My dreams are worth striving for.
- I choose to see change as being in my best interest.
- I'm beautiful as I am.
- I'm lovable as I am.
- I belong in this world.
7. Notice Your Successes
Create an Evidence Bank for the New Empowering Belief!
What wonderful and inspiring effects do you see when you live your life based on this new and liberating belief? What are you feeling inside? What happens on the outside? Are people responding to you differently?
Awareness of and attention to this truth strengthens it like a muscle. The more you notice your feeling of calm during a situation that used to be challenging, the more you'll see the power of your new beliefs.
Hold onto that power! Continue to choose yourself, your worth, your value and your inherent ability to learn.
If you are looking for deep guidance, I am available as a Mindset Coach to assist you break through limiting beliefs, limiting decisions and negative emotions ~ Julia Anastasiou
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