How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs
How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs
What is a limiting belief?
First, let’s define what a belief is. A belief is anything that we accept to be true without questioning it or seeking further proof. We form our beliefs based on our personal experiences and what we accept as true from other people. Your beliefs are the messages you’ve been told, told yourself, and the meanings you’ve attached to them. They become such a part of your worldview that you may not be aware of how deeply they impact every decision you make and every action you take.
Think about the snow in winter. Some people hate the snow. To them, snow means arduous shoveling; dangerous driving; cold, slippery, and wet surroundings; being cooped up inside. However, other people love the snow. To them, snow means a beautiful wonder of nature; the uniqueness of every flake; the coziness of being warm inside with hot cocoa; the joy of making snow angels and snowmen; a time to enjoy skiing or snowboarding. Same snow, completely different beliefs. No one is right or wrong, better or worse, they are only different.
A limiting belief or a damaging belief is something you believe to be true about yourself, others, or the world that does not serve you. It keeps you from living to your full potential. A damaging belief may have helped you at one time. It now holds you back from taking chances and clouds your thinking in a way you don’t see opportunities to reach your goals or your worthiness to experience them. They are keeping you stuck. Limiting beliefs are usually unconscious, and it is hard to recognize that they are the demise of our success.
What are common limiting beliefs?
There are thousands self-limiting beliefs, (also known as damaging beliefs or automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) but here are some of the most common:
- All or nothing thinking: Everything is black or white; good or bad; always or never. How often do you say to yourself: “I always mess things up “I never get what I want.“ “I never do anything right,” “Nothing is ever good enough” “It’ll never work out.” The truth usually lives somewhere in the middle and not in either extreme.
- Catastrophic thinking: Fixating on the worst-case scenario. “If I fail, I’ll never recover, and life will be ruined.” “If I trust someone and that trust is broken, I’ll be devastated.” “I’ve tried before and failed, which means I will always fail, and I am a failure.” Most of our worst fears never come to pass. Human beings are resilient, and few things in life are genuinely this devasting.
- Emotional Reasoning and/or Mind Reading: You are so sure of an outcome you create it. “I know she won’t go out withmeso I won’t even talk to her” or “I know he’s mad at me, so I just ignored him.” “I’ll never get this job, so I’m not going to exert myself in preparation for it.” These are self-fulfilled prophesies as we create the situations we fear.
- Should-ingon oneself: If there’s one word I could eliminate from the English language it would be should. To me, should is what we say when we are either feeling guilty or trying to live up to others’ values. “I should lose weight” “I should have studied more” “I should have become a doctor,” “I should marry him/her.” While seemingly harmless, should-ingon oneself is based in shame and keeps us stuck in a cycle of fear. It is not the same as “I want to lose weight” or “Now I’m going to study more seriously” “I want to be a doctor” “I want to marry him/her.” When our thoughts are based on should, we are likely trying to please someone else and denying ourselves.
- Labeling: I’m “lazy, stupid, a terrible cook, cheap”. Sometimes we think we are funny about this. A healthy sense of self-deprecation may be amusing, but this is a slippery slope. Labeling ourselves brings our energy into proving a label true which can perpetuate a cycle. For example, if you continuously tell yourself you are lazy, chances are you will continue to act in a way that validates that thought.
- Blaming others: Chronically being the victim; “I would have been ok if you didn’t…” “I am trying, but everyone else is…” “This place is just so…” “If only others would…”. The truth is that in very few situations are we indeed a victim. We have choices and are accountable. Thisdoesn’t mean we should beat ourselves up. It just means we accept responsibility for our actions and adjust when we don’t like the results.
- Not-enough or Too much: ”I’m not smart enough” “I don’t have enough money” “I’m not handsome or pretty enough” “I can’t….enough“. OR ”I’m too slow” “I’m too old” “I’m too disorganized” “I’m too lazy.” Most of these faulty beliefs stem from past experiences or what others told us. Without reliving the past or trying to blame others, we can reprogram these self-limiting thoughts and create ones that empower us to move forward.
These are just some of the biggies, but there are countless more. Any inner talk that is telling you why you can’t do something is a limiting belief or ANT. Not ALL negative thoughts are wrong. Some of them keep us safe. The key is to understand which ones are working for you and which ones are not.
The good news is, that once you understand your damaging thoughts or limiting beliefs, you don’t have to let them rule your life anymore! You have a choice to either live on auto-pilot or make a conscious decision to live purposefully. The question is, do you have a sincere desire and willingness to look inside to improve yourself?
Steps to overcome limiting beliefs:
1. Awareness is the steppingstone to change. You can’t change anything until you know what it is right? To become aware of what thoughts are running in the background, we need to slow down and listen to the “thoughts behind the thoughts.”
Some great ways to do this are meditation, journaling, or body awareness.
Meditation requires quiet and stillness. This is not always easy to achieve, but the thoughts that come racing to us can be gold because they are the ones that “run in the background.” Think of something you’d like to do, for example, change careers. Sit quietly and imagine yourself in a new job. I bet the inner committee is telling you all the reasons you can’t change careers will start chiming in.. THOSE are your limiting beliefs. Pay attention to them.
Journaling works similarly. Start writing down your desires and without judging or editing your thoughts at all (no one is ever going to read this), write down all the reasons or obstacles you come up with that prevent you from moving forward. Often when we uncover one thought, we become aware of two or three more that are running behind it. Try this until you feel sure you have gotten to the “core” of the belief. This may be going back years in your life. Our childhood experiences dramatically shape our world view. What served us as children may not necessarily work for us as adults. Seeing it on paper will bring your awareness to those thoughts later when they reoccur.
Lastly, try bringing your awareness to your body. Does seeing yourself in a dream job make you feel comfortable or anxious? How do you breathe when you have certain thoughts? Limiting beliefs are often rooted in fear, and that produces a stress response. Use this response for feedback on what to investigate and decide if the thought is serving you justly or not. Lastly, try and discern whose voice it is that is telling you, “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t.” Is it you? A friend or family member? Maybe a teacher or a boss?
2. Detach: This is important. When you notice negative thoughts, do not judge them or yourself for having them. I’ve done this and experienced this with clients and what happens is they/we start to feel bad about their beliefs and create more limiting beliefs/pain. That defeats the purpose. Observe any damaging thoughts without judgment. Acknowledge them with the same indifference you would notice: today is Wednesday, the sky is blue, cars are driving by, I’m too old to change careers. The less “energy” you give it, the better. If you must react, try to laugh, it will diffuse some of the angst around it.
3. Challenge it: How true is it TODAY? Maybe something happened in the past, and it was true THEN but does it serve you NOW? Perhaps it is way overgeneralizing (never, always, etc.). Think of who or what situations have defied this lie?
For example: Maybe someone told you rich people are selfish and greedy so now you unconsciously block opportunities to increase your income (this was me). Is that true? Are all wealthy people greedy? Do you know anyone who is both rich and generous?
4. Replace: You have a choice to choose a better thought consciously. This will take some practice and commitment but will get easier over time. Decide on a moment-to-moment basis that you are going to stay aligned with happy and cheerful thoughts. I believe in the power of words and using positive statements.
Instead of saying “I don’t want to be single” (negatively worded) say, “I want to find my soulmate” (positively stated). You can’t get where you want to go by focusing on where you don’t want to be.
Spend a few minutes every day pumping yourself up with positive, motivational and inspirational messages. There are many ways to do this: daily affirmations; videos; podcasts; blogs. Focus on positive thoughts, and your mind will begin to recognize and reject the negative ones easily. Surround yourself with positive people, and you will naturally become more upbeat. Many of my clients use post-it notes to leave positive messages around so that they see them regularly. Meditation is an excellent tool in programming the unconscious to think positively. If you’re new to mindfulness, read A Beginners Guide to Meditation for Wellness.
Try to avoid people who are chronically negative or make you second guess yourself. We don’t always have a choice who we are around. If you can’t remove yourself from the negativity, find ways you can stay focused amidst their toxicity.
- Succeed: Be mindful of how much better thinking positive feels. Science proves that people who think positively are happier and more successful. Things tend to spiral in one direction or the other. Negativity creates more negativity. Positivity creates more positivity. Practice, practice, and practice. There are great NLP anchoring strategies to make beliefs automatic and permanent.
The more effort you put into this, you will gain awareness of the core issues that drive limiting beliefs. Commonly, negative and limiting thoughts are rooted deeper below the surface. Don’t be afraid of them; they are only thoughts. If it feels overwhelming or you want to connect with someone who is trained and experienced at helping others overcome them, try working with a life coach.
These are a handful of practical suggestions to start the process of losing damaging beliefs and replacing them with empowering ones. Isn’t it time for you to feel truly happy and achieve your dreams?