“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” — Henry Ford
Let’s walkthrough how to identify and overcome limiting beliefs with skill.
If dreams are the balloons that lift you, limiting beliefs are the chains that bind you, and hold you back.
The beauty is that you can eliminate or reduce your limiting beliefs, if you know how.
They key to eliminating limiting beliefs is really about building awareness of your limiting beliefs, challenging your limiting beliefs, and then choosing new thoughts, new feelings, and new actions.
A big challenge with limiting beliefs is that you might not be aware of them.
Limiting beliefs can operate just below the surface of your conscious mind, in your subconscious, or they might simply be thought habits that you don’t even think about.
Once you identify your limiting beliefs, you can then work on them.
What is a Limiting Belief?
A belief is an opinion or something that you hold to be true. I like how Morty Lefkoe defines a limiting belief:
“Something you now feel is true that is having a negative impact on your life.”
I also really like Tomi Llama’s definition of limiting beliefs:
“Limiting beliefs are beliefs that limit what you believe is possible for yourself or what you will allow in your life.”
Here’s how I think about limiting beliefs: A limiting belief is any belief that you have that limits you in some way.
It can be the little voices or a strong conviction that you can’t be, do, or have something.
Let’s say it again, another way:
Any belief that you have that limits you in some way, or holds you back, or convinces you that you can’t be, do, or have something, is a limiting belief.
The bottom line is any belief that limits you is a limiting belief.
And that belief may be conscious or subconscious.
The 3 Types of Limiting Beliefs
There are many ways to organize and categorize limiting beliefs. To get started, simply focus on 3 main types of limiting beliefs:
- Limiting beliefs about you. You believe that you can’t do something because either you believe you aren’t worth it, something is wrong with you, or that it’s not who you are (e.g. “I am not an artist”, “I am not an athlete”, “I’m no good at that.”) Or you might believe that you can’t do something do something because no one will let you. Or you might believe you can’t do something because it’s too difficult for you.
- Limiting beliefs about others– You might believe that other people are untrustworthy or that they are manipulative. Or you might believe that others are against you.
- Limiting beliefs about the world. In this case you have limiting beliefs about the world in general. You might even believe that the world, or the universe is against you.
For this exercise, you can start by focusing on any limiting beliefs that you have about yourself. As you get better at challenging your limiting beliefs, you can then start to challenge your limiting beliefs about other people and the world.
Challenging your beliefs is like a muscle that you will get stronger and better at over time through practice and reflection.
Your Limiting Beliefs Shape Your Experience
Your limiting beliefs are constantly at work, shaping how you see things, shaping how you think about things, shaping how you feel about things, and shaping how you do things.
They hide in shadows, so you don’t always see them.
They can be subconscious or outside of your conscious awareness. Plus, they are so habitual, they are just baked into your basic thought patterns.
They limit you and you don’t even know it. Your limiting beliefs might be trying to protect you from something that doesn’t even exist.
They might have served you in some situation, or when you were a kid, but they aren’t serving you now.
Eliminate Your Limiting Beliefs to Create New Possibilities
In fact, chance are, if you are struggling in some aspect of your life, and you can’t figure it out, limiting beliefs are doing their job.
They are limiting you. How ironic.
We tend to create limiting beliefs about our selves, the world, and the people around us.
Why is that a big deal?
Well, who wants to live in a limited world. I want a world of possibility. But it’s more than that, if you limit other people, that is not a stage for success. This is also projection in action. We see in others what we see in ourselves. And we often treat others how we treat ourselves.
If you don’t show yourself compassion, how good do you think you show compassion with others.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
A mindset is your outlook or your world view. It’s how you look at things.
Your mindset is the expression of a belief that you embrace.
A Fixed Mindset is the limiting belief that your talents and abilities cannot be meaningfully developed.
A Growth Mindset, according to Carol Dweck and colleagues, is the belief that your talents and abilities can be improved over time through practice and effort.
Having a Growth Mindset is key to how you face challenges and setbacks.
By adopting a Growth Mindset, you give yourself a chance to get better at anything you decide to improve.
Decide You are Worth It
One of the most limiting beliefs in the world is to believe that you are not worth it.
Too many people hold the following belief that holds them back:
“I’m not worth it.”
You might say this to yourself, under your breath, or you might simply think it or even say it out loud. You might not be aware of it, as it might be a subconscious belief.
You might simply “feel” it.
The very good news and the key here is that you can change this.
If you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability, there is something you need to know:
Decide you are worth it.
After all her research, Brown figured out that the one thing that separates people who feel they are worth it, from the ones that don’t, is simply that they believe they are worthy.
They decided they are worth it.
You can absolutely decide this, too. If you need permission, well then here is your permission.
Decide you are worth it.
If you need a little more on your side, then consider this. Imagine how many generations came before you to produce you.
You are the living, breathing result and the sum total of past generations before you that created your opportunity of a lifetime.
Upgrade Your Self-Image
You are not your behavior. You are ultimately who you decide to be.
Everybody is effectively a work in progress.
You can spiral up, or spiral down.
One way to spiral up is to adopt an image of who you want to be and how you want to express yourself and how you want people to experience you.
You can then face your challenges and setbacks from a position of strength by asking yourself, “What would better me, do?”
The more you act in ways consistent with your future self, the more you will trend in the direction of who you want to be.
As you pursue your future self, embrace who you are, right here, right now.
Remember, start from the belief that you are worthy and that you are worth it.
That’s the part that has to be unconditional to be effective. This part can’t be an “IF-THEN” game… “IF I do X, THEN I am worthy.”
That’s a trap.
You simply choose that you are worth it, even as a work in progress, and you ground yourself in the journey of exploring, realizing, and unleashing who you truly are.
And who you fully are.
3 Steps to Identify and Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
I know we covered a lot of ground, but it’s important to set the groundwork and create a firm foundation to set yourself up for success.
With that in mind, now I’m going to give you a simple 3 step approach for hacking at your limiting beliefs:
- Name your limiting belief
- Detach from your limiting belief
- Replace your limiting belief
This might sound like a simple formula, and it is, but the key is to actually use it.
The more you practice it, the better you will get.
If you were to walk through case after case how people before you have reduced or defeated their limiting beliefs, you would see elements of this success pattern show up against and again.
I bet you even have friends that have changes some limiting belief, and if they were to really think about it, they had to first become aware of their limiting belief, and then gradually work through it.
Maybe you can even recall some of your past successes where you got over a limiting belief.
Step 1. Name Your Limiting Belief
That’s right give your limiting belief a name.
Nothing fancy, just something like “I’m not an artist”, or “I’m no good”
Or, call it Gollum, if you must.
But give it a name so you have a handle and can refer to it. Give it a name so you can recognize it, and so you can work on it. To name it, you have to catch it.
Remember, it hides in shadows.
So pay attention to the words that come out of your mouth, when you react to something (“I can’t do that”, or “that’s not me”) And pay attention to the thoughts you think. Maybe you don’t say them out lout but you might think limiting thoughts.
And pay attention to your feelings about things.
Your feeling are good indicators where you might struggle.
If you have emotional reactions to something, maybe showing up in hostility or fear in some way, maybe some limiting beliefs are lurking just below.
Step 2. Detach from Your Limiting Belief
That limiting belief is not you. You are not your behavior. It’s just a behavior (and, thoughts are behaviors, too).
So picture Gollum or whatever this limiting belief is, and stick it someplace outside of you. This way you can work on your limiting belief.
If you catch yourself saying, “I’m not good”, change it to “I’m not good at that, yet.” Or, if you catch yourself saying, “I’m not an artist”, reframe it to, “I need to practice my drawing skills”.
The idea is to put the focus on the behavior, and not limit your identity.
Here’s a deeper example. Somebody says, “I only smoke at the casino or at parties.” The other person says, “When I turned 18, my Dad gave me my first pack of smokes and said, ‘Now you’re a man.”
Guess who will have an easier time quitting smoking? The one who is situational or one who links it with their identity?
Remember, the point to naming and detaching these limiting beliefs is so that you can work on them.
To work on your limiting beliefs, you challenge them.
Chances are if you inspect your limiting belief, you will start to find how it’s a generalization or very subjective.
Maybe it served you long ago, but not now. You don’t have to prove it entirely wrong.
You just need to start to build some doubt.
Congratulations! You just cast some light on your limiting belief, and now there is nowhere it can hide.
Step 3. Replace Your Limiting Belief
That’s right. Replace your limiting belief with an empowering one. It’s easier to fill a void with something new, than to just not do something.
Remind yourself that you are the creator of your beliefs.
Don’t be the marionette, or the puppet.
Be the puppeteer.
Have fun with this part. Think about this. Really think about this. You had a bunch of limiting beliefs that you probably didn’t create on purpose.
Now, by being aware, you get to decide new beliefs.
Create a phrase that will be the backbone and basis for your new belief.
“I am worth it.”
“I’ve got this.”
“I can do this.”
“I can figure it out.”
“I will figure it out.”
Part of replacing your limiting belief includes providing new evidence. By working on it, you will create new experiences and new evidence that will support your new belief.
And part of what will keep you moving forward is embracing your Growth Mindset, deciding you are worth it, and focusing on getting better, while embracing who you already are.
Practice Makes Progress
You will get better at this over time if you pay attention to your approach and your results.
For you new beliefs to take hold, you need to keep a few things in mind. At first, it might not fit right. It might not feel right. Well, imagine how you would feel if it was true, and practice that feeling.
Remember that your brain will be looking for evidence.
Keep in mind that you perceive what you believe.
So if you never believed it before, then you never could see it until now. So this will take some practice as you grow your self-awareness.
Your brain will, now with your RAS (Reticular Activating System) in high gear, will be finding you examples.
Also, remember that you are changing your thought habits.
So it might not feel like a habit yet. You have to consciously and deliberately with intent, focus on your new empowering belief.
At first, it might feel like “fake it until you make it”, and that’s OK.
As long as you embrace your new belief and focus on acting, and “feeling” as if it’s already true, you will break it in, in no time.
Beware the Learned Helplessness Trap
Learned Helplessness is when you stop trying or give up or don’t try because you don’t think things will ever change, or your don’t think you have a chance, or you think everything you do goes wrong.
Dr. Martin Seligman is a psychologist who figured out that we create or reinforce Learned Helplessness when we explain things to ourselves in 3 ways:
- Permanent – we make things “permanent”.
- Personal – we make things “personal”.
- Pervasive – we make things “pervasive”.
When something goes wrong, our inner critic says things like, “This is never going to change,” or “why does this always happen to me”, o “why does everything I do go wrong”.
We need to turn our inner-critic into our inner-coach.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts and Self-Talk
This is really the key to getting better at reducing and eliminating your limiting beliefs, as well as defeating and warding off Learned Helplessness.
Simply challenge your negative thoughts. Perhaps, Voltaire’s excellence observation applies here:
“No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.”
The same holds true for your negative thoughts and self-talk.
It sounds simple and it is, but most people don’t realize they can simply challenge their negative thoughts and self-talk.
Dr. Amen, a psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist, coined the term, “Killing ANTs”. ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts.
Dr. Amen found that many of his patients were suffering from limiting beliefs and that these beliefs were holding them back and creating depression.
He taught his patients a relatively simple process for defeating their Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that goes like this:
- Ask yourself if this limiting belief or thought is true?
- Ask yourself whether you can really prove that it’s true? (and find examples where you acted differently)
- Ask yourself, how do you react when you think this thought? (and pay attention to how you feel)
- Ask yourself, how would you feel if you didn’t have this thought? (and imagine what life might be like or how it might feel if this limiting thought wasn’t holding you back)
As you learn to challenge your negative thoughts, what you will find is that they simply aren’t true.
What you will likely find is that you turned a negative even tor experience into something permanent, or personal, or pervasive.
You let the ANTs creep into your life, and potentially flow into other aspects well beyond the original negative event.
You perception is your reality, and what you are doing is now is gaining control over your perception by challenging your perception and improving your perspective.
The key skill to build here is that by challenging your negative thoughts you don’t get bitter, you get better.
Turn Your Inner Critic into an Inspiring Coach
One of the best moves you can make in this lifetime is to choose to be on your side. Be the coach in your corner. After all, you are with you, wherever you go.
It’s a rough journey if you are your own worst enemy and if you are your own inner critic.
You can go from inner critic to an inspiring coach by making 3 key choices:
- Be your inspiring coach – Decide that instead of being your own worst critic, you are going to be your most inspiring coach.
- Develop your Growth Mindset – Choose a Growth Mindset and focus on your learning and how you can improve. If you keep learning and changing your approach based on feedback, you will keep changing your results in the direction of your breakthroughs.
- Create Leadership Moments and Learning Opportunities – Turn your challenges and setbacks into leadership moments and learning opportunities.
A great coach is well aware of your flaws, weaknesses, and strengths. But they develop your strengths, while limiting your liabilities.
This is where challenging your negative thoughts and choosing language focused on learning and improving comes in.
There is No Failure, Only Feedback
We all have negative thoughts or voices, as par of our self-talk. And we all have our critics. It doesn’t mean we need to listen to them.
We need to be thoughtful about how we use the feedback. If it’s to help you grow and get better, then great. If it’s just a dig to tear you down, then no good.
The thing to remember is this. With any feedback, you get to make a choice about the feedback or criticism that you get:
- Take it
- Ignore it
- Use what’s useful
For me, I’ve learned a lot of my best lessons from my worst critics. It’s not what somebody throws your way. If’s whether you duck, dodge, parry, or use it to grow in some way.
Whether it’s your own negative self-talk, voices from the past, or even current critics, you can rise above it.
Examine the source of the feedback. Who are those negative voices and where are they coming from? Is it just your self-doubt talking? Is it a teacher from your past? A bully or jerk where somebody really needed to lay the smack down?
Is it really a great critic with incredible credentials? That’s rarely the case. People that are really good at what they do, don’t usually put other people down. It’s the weak ones or the insecure ones who try to put people down or drag them down.
Sometimes just reviewing the source of the feedback can set you free.
If It Can Be Done, It Can Be Done By Me
This is a mantra that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful. This is some simple self-talk:
“If it can be done, it can be done by me.”
If you embrace this idea, I believe you will open a lot more doors and possibilities.
With your Growth Mindset, your ability to eliminate limiting beliefs, and your ability to challenge your negative thoughts and self-talk, you will be limitless.
When you get out of your own way, and even better, you are actually on your side, you light your learning on fire.
If you were to deeply study the success of many individuals, you would find that in so many cases, it was the right teacher, the right mentor, the right training, the right skill, the right story, or the right strategy.
And behind all of this, was self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, along with a Growth Mindset.
And now you have the skills for that, too.
Combine that with a deep purpose or drive, and you have the cornerstones for grit.
How does it feel to be unstoppable you?
The 6 Neurological Levels of Change
Change is tough, but what can make it really tough is if you don’t operate at the right level. Not all types of change are equal. Some types of change are more complex than others, and may require different techniques.
Robert Dilts, of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) fame, developed the Dilts Pyramid, also referred to as the 6 Neurological Levels model. He developed the model to describe the process of change for personal development.
Dilts organized learning and change into a hierarchy of complexity with six levels:
- Level 1 – Environment. When and Where
- Level 2 – Behavior. What. “What are my actions?”
- Level 3 – Capabilities / Skills. How. “How can I create / experience this?”
- Level 4 – Values / Beliefs / Convictions. Why. “What is important?”
- Level 5 – Identity. Meaning. “Who am I?”
- Level 6 – Vision / Spirituality / Purpose / Higher Cause / Mission / Goal. What else? Significance. What am I here for?” “What am I a part of that is greater than myself?”
In this model, Environment (level 1) is the simplest (level 1) and Spirit (level 6) is the most complex. In other words, if you needed to help somebody stop smoking, it’s easier if they just smoke in specific situations or environments, such as at a party. Change is more complex, and more difficult, when somebody smokes because it’s at their identity level, such as when they see themselves as a smoker, and they identify with being a smoker.
But the good news is that by knowing which level of change to operate on, you can focus on more effective techniques. For example, if you figure out that it’s an identity level change, then you will be more effective than if you simply focus on behavior change. Keep in mind, that sometimes changing behavior can also help create identity change, because you build up references and examples to draw from.
Learn more about the Dilts Pyramid through A Brief History of Logical Levels.
Let’s Recap How To Overcome Limiting Beliefs
To keep it simple, here is your recipe for how to overcome limiting beliefs:
- Name it
- Detach from it
- Replace it
You will replace your limiting belief by coming up with a new mantra or saying or catch phrase that reminds you how you want to be, do, think, and feel.
You will challenge your negative thoughts and be your most inspiring coach.
You will decide that you are worth it, you will embrace your Growth Mindset, and you will enjoy the journey, while embracing who you are, while also embracing who you become.
And that is how you defeat any limiting beliefs with skill.
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