Do you ever feel like something is holding you back from accomplishing a dream or goal that you have? That little voice in your head that makes you question what you want to do and you end up talking yourself out of doing it? And in the end, you justify why you can’t or shouldn’t do it. We do this because of our negative limiting beliefs.
Negative limiting beliefs only become limitations when we choose to follow them. Such beliefs can seem so real to us that it is hard to question and resist them; yet in most cases they are generally false. So why does our mind play these cruel tricks on us?
It happens at the subconscious level and many times comes from what we have been taught by our parents, teachers, or others, or due to something we experienced in our childhood. But what we believe to be true and what is reality in many cases are two very different and separate things. The purpose here is to help you separate the two – fact from fiction.
What are Limiting Beliefs and Where Do They Come From?
Limiting beliefs are as they sound – beliefs people have that limit them from doing something. It might be about duties, abilities, permissions, or a whole host of other things. Many times, these limiting beliefs are caused by low self-esteem and keep us from realizing our full potential both in our personal and professional lives.
For example, if I believe I can’t sing, then I might never take singing lessons to learn how to sing. In my mind, it will not help, so why even try. However, if I change that belief to one where I can’t sing right now but I could learn if I took lessons, then I’m allowing myself to learn something new. Now that previous negative limiting belief is one that is positive and will allow me to grow in that area.
Limiting beliefs can come from a variety of factors that we have encountered during our life, including:
- Faulty Logic
Usually this limiting factor comes from something that has happened to us that resulted in some kind of damaging consequence, and because of that negative outcome, we believe it will be the same if we try it again. For example, if you touch a hot stove, you burn your finger, so you refrain from touching hot stoves again.
In cases like this, it’s easy to see that such neurological connections can be beneficial and sometimes even necessary for maintaining our self-protection and well-being. However, most things in life don’t have such a simple one-to-one correlation between cause and effect to be able clearly identify what the specific damage-causing factor really was in the first place, nor do we or our environment or the people surrounding us remain in a fixed state all our lives where the same circumstances will always produce the same results. So, the usefulness of experience has its limitations and is better used as a guide in our conscious thinking and investigative processes rather than blindly deferred to as insurmountable fact.
This limiting factor has to do with what we are taught. If we learn something that is wrong but we believe it to be true, then we may never try it because of what we were taught to believe. But how do you know if what you were taught is in fact true or not without trying it? You must test it out yourself to validate if what you believe is true or not.
This can be based on decision errors that may or may not be correct. If we have determined that there is a low chance of success (or a high chance of failure), we may decide not to do it for fear of failing. But are the factors that went into the decision in fact correct or true? And what could we do or change to increase the chance of success or lower the chance of failure?
When we fail at something, most often we form an excuse as to why it did not work. We tend to use this excuse as a reason to not try it again. But is our excuse a valid one or one that we made up to justify the failure? In this case, we must dig deeper beyond the excuse to identify the real reason of failing. Most likely it is something that can be corrected so that the next time we try it we either succeed or learn new information that puts us closer to eventual success.
Often, we choose not to do something because of a fear. It could be founded or unfounded, but just the thought of what the outcome could be is enough to deter us from doing it. And it might not be even a fear we experienced, but one we know happened to somebody else or that we heard about. But you are not them and second-hand information rarely conveys the full story enough to make reliable conclusions from, so someone else’s experience doesn’t mean you will have the same outcome. Here again, you must put your hold-backs to the test to validate if your fear is really founded or not.
The Power of Belief – Both Positive and Negative
In short, negative limiting beliefs generally prevent us from getting what we really want out of life. They tell us subconsciously that we don’t have the money, connections, talent, skill, ability, or whatever words you want to plug in, to do what we really want to do. Believing these limiting beliefs does several things, but what probably is the most damaging is they erode our self-esteem and, in the end, diminish our quality of life, both personally and professionally.
Do you find it strange when we can find a million reasons not do something, but can’t find one good reason for doing it or at least attempting to do it? Limiting beliefs are so strong that we accept them as fact without even really thinking about them, much less challenging them.
However, positive beliefs can just as strong. By focusing and changing a negative thought to a positive one, we will eventually change our behavior to one that is positive instead of negative. When we make an effort to frame our beliefs more positively, we can then think we do have or can obtain the money, connections, talent, skill, ability or whatever, to do what we really want to accomplish, so that we no longer waste time and energy feeling frustrated and held back from pursuing our potential, or continue damaging ourselves with untrue conclusions of inadequacy and the pain – and possibly self-destructive coping measures – they cause.
But keep in mind that actual reality did not change; it was our belief in the idea and how we chose to practically apply it that changed. It was a shift in thinking from one that we could not to one that we could by turning a negative thought into a positive one.
Beliefs are a powerful thing – more powerful than most of us think. Many times, they shape our self-identity and are behind who we are as a person. This is one reason why they are so hard to change! But by the same token, it is also why putting the effort into changing them when needed can be the most impactful investment we can make in changing ourselves.
How to Recognize Our Limiting Beliefs
Before you can change a limiting belief, you must first identify what it is. And while we all have limiting beliefs, many are not relevant or are not really holding us back from critically important things. Some might even help us focus on what we deem most important and satisfying rather being a true limitation or sacrifice. So, first we must identify the ones that need changing and not worry about the ones that don’t have any detrimental effect on us. Here is how we do that.
First, we make a list of the areas in our life where we feel challenged. Typical areas include finances, relationships, health, fun/adventure, work, and other areas we may feel are less satisfying than we think they should or could be.
Next, we must identify beliefs in these areas that are holding us back. Some examples in the area of finance might be a belief we will never be well off or have enough money to live out our values or increase our standard of living. If we hold on to these beliefs, then we are at risk of them becoming self-fulfilling prophecies by their diminishment of our morale and motivation to find solutions for change.
After identification, we want to prioritize our limiting beliefs, starting with the one that has the most impact on our life at the top and working down from there. Now that we have an ordered list to work from, we can start changing these negative limiting beliefs into positive ones that will empower us to succeed in whatever challenges we take on.
Look at the belief at the top of your list of priorities for change, and ask yourself, “Do I really know this to be true?” The reason to ask yourself this is because your limiting belief might be due to one of the factors discussed earlier, and if you don’t challenge yourself with such questioning, you will never know if it is true or not.
One of the first ways to challenge it is to ask yourself if you have had multiple experiences with this belief to know that it is in fact true. Or are you believing it based on what someone else told you and have not really experienced it yourself? Determine if your source of belief was valid or not by researching the topic and see what genuine experts have to say about it and what actual evidence you can find to support or contradict your feelings, or what alternative outcomes could exist from utilizing available tools or strategies that you may not have known about or considered before.
Now imagine how your life would change if you were no longer burdened by that negative limiting belief. All of a sudden it is like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders, thus allowing you a new freedom to explore that belief as a positive one now instead of negative.
The final step is to create a positive belief that you know is true based on your research or experiences. Keep repeating and acting on that belief until it is ingrained in your mind as something positive and productive, and track over the near-term the change in the way you act and feel since your belief changed.
Techniques to Change Limiting Beliefs
Now, let’s explore some techniques on how to change these beliefs that we have identified that are limiting our life.
Journaling is a great technique to get our thoughts and their resulting feelings down on paper and to give us more clarity on a subject. It is much more definitive than just thinking about these things. There is something empowering – more approachable and manageable – about seeing things put down on paper. To use journaling for limiting beliefs, pick a topic. It could be a dream, desire, goal – anything. Next, do a brain dump and write down everything that has to do with that topic – positive and negative.
Now sift through what you wrote down and find negative thoughts and feelings, paying attention to patterns or trends that you may see emerging. Now focus using any of the other techniques in this section and turn the negatives into positives.
As we have learned, negative limiting beliefs can produce results in our life that we don’t want, but because we believe them to be true, we often don’t realize that we can change the results to something more positive. To reverse this trend, start by asking yourself these three questions:
- What have been the results in different areas of your life?
- Of these results, which ones are not in alignment with what you really want?
- What areas of your life have you tried to improve, but consistently failed in?
Limiting beliefs are often lurking in areas of your life where you have experienced past failures, so these are the areas where we will start.
Step 1 – Write down the thoughts and emotions evoked in the areas of your life where you feel you have failed. Also note the intensity of each or how strongly each one affected you.
Step 2 – Acknowledge that subjective negative beliefs causing your thoughts and emotions are probably not true and definitely not unchangeable. This can be hard as you may have long believed that your convictions of inadequacy are true and felt these convictions repeatedly reinforced by their self-deprecating nature, so in a way, you are questioning your very self-identity. But you must challenge them to change and get past them.
Step 3 – Start by trying to put a positive spin on one of your negative beliefs. For example, if you feel you have failed at having meaningful relationships in the past, tell yourself that you have learned what to look for and how to better manage yourself to be more capable and appreciative of having a meaningful one now, since you have gone through the experience of having unmeaningful ones in the past. In other words, consider your past as productive education that will move you forward to your goals, not as validation that you will never reach them.
Step 4 – Consider how to start translating your positive beliefs into real-world implementation. Continuing with the relationships example, you could start by asking yourself how you would act in social gatherings where potential partners are in attendance, or in any setting for that matter (work, office, restaurant, coffee shop, etc.), where you could meet people that could lead to a meaningful relationship. How would you act differently than in the past?
Step 5 – The first time this will be scary, but now act on that positive belief as if it is true. In other words, get yourself out there and start meeting people the way you envisioned it in Step 4. You may stumble a time or two, but by taking action on your newfound positive belief, you will be solidifying that your new belief is true and that you can do this. Keep reinforcing this positive action, as each time you do, you further erode the old negative belief that you could not do it and prove to yourself that you actually can.
Because the amount of inputs and possibilities available in the real world would be far too numerous for us to consciously and continually sort through and track, our mind filters and decides what it thinks we should be made aware of at the conscious level, or what we perceive as reality. And because much of what we believe happens at the subconscious level, many events, possibilities, and options may never enter our current awareness because of the filtering effect of our beliefs.
But by turning negative beliefs into positive ones and repeating those affirmations over and over to reprogram our minds to consider them as relevant and important, we can move more of what we are not aware of to our conscious awareness, which opens up a whole new world of opportunities and options for us to explore.
Imagine that you are lying down with your eyes closed and living the dream that you want to live. Whatever that happens to be, do these visualizations of how things could be once daily for several weeks and you will move some of those negative limiting beliefs to positive ones. The key to making this translate into positive reinforcement as opposed to just more frustration of unfulfilled desire is that you must feel as though what you are imagining has already happened or is in the process of happening. It may take some time and effort for your visualizations to become truly concrete, but as an added bonus beyond the immediate effects of cultivating a more positive mindset, the exercise will force you to more clearly define your goals and how they will play out in your life, which will in turn help make the actions you need to take to start reaching your goals more clear.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of your thoughts and emotions, but without judging what you are “seeing” go through your mind. It is like you are an outsider looking into yourself.
On average we have 50,000 thoughts going through our brain each day. When practicing mindfulness, we choose not to act on each one of them – especially the negative ones. Instead, we focus on the present and what we are doing. So how do we do this? By taking a few deep breaths, relaxing, and letting the thoughts pass through, but without reacting to them.
Many people that practice mindfulness use a “trigger” – something they do each day as a reminder that they need to start their mindfulness that day. Because the negative thoughts are no longer being acted upon, over time they will disappear and will be replaced with more positive ones.
Henry Ford, the great inventor of the automotive assembly line, once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” How profound is that!
Negative limiting beliefs are about thinking you can’t, and they can end up being a toxic poison that keeps us from reaching our true potential for success. But like anything else, you can’t fix the problem of limiting beliefs unless you acknowledge they exist.
Once you have an awareness of your negative beliefs, you can start thinking “I can” instead of “I can’t” and take action to turn them into positive beliefs that will support and encourage you instead of holding you back.