How to Understand Limiting Beliefs

February 16, 2022

Sometimes reaching your goals is difficult. When you don’t succeed, it can feel like a mystery that's hard to figure out why, especially if you've tried to do everything right. Sometimes the cards are stacked against you with the circumstances of the situation. Other times, however, it’s not so easy to find the cause.

Have you ever wondered if YOU are the cause? It could very well be that you're holding yourself back from success without even knowing it. This is more common than you’d think, and it's all because of something called limiting beliefs.

What are Limiting Beliefs?

A limiting belief is something that your unconscious mind believes about yourself, other people, or the world. These beliefs hold you back from accomplishing your goals because you believe them to be true, even though they aren’t actually true. That’s one of the hallmarks of a limiting belief.

Here's another way to think about this. The human brain thinks in stories. Your mind holds an almost infinite number of stories about the world around you and about the people that you know. It also holds many stories, or beliefs, about yourself, some of which are healthy and many of which aren’t.

A limiting belief is one of the stories that doesn't serve you, because it’s a story you tell yourself that you believe, even though it's NOT true.

Examples of Limiting Beliefs

Let’s say you believe you’re bad at math, but you want to go to college and major in computer science. You end up finding out that computer science requires a lot of math.

Are you bad at math? Probably not. You might have had some mediocre math teachers in school that led you to believe that you're not very good at math. The truth is, most people can learn to do basic math well, and even most of those people can also learn to do higher-order math if they were to actually try.

But because you believe you’re bad at math, you have trouble passing the math classes required for your computer science program. This is a classic example of how a limiting belief can limit your potential, and therefore, your results.

Other examples of limiting beliefs include things such as the following:

  • “I’m too old for that”
  • “I can never succeed and am doomed to failure”
  • "I'm not a creative person"
  • "I can't go to networking events because I'm an introvert"

None of these limiting beliefs are actually something that you can prove in a court of law, but the human brain isn’t rational. If you hold one of these beliefs in your subconscious, your brain is going to try and make them true.

Why We Have Limiting Beliefs

Ultimately, limiting beliefs are defense mechanisms your brain created to protect you. Limiting beliefs are almost always created during your childhood years when your mind isn’t developed enough to tell the difference between things that are undeniably harmful (like falling into a fire) and things that aren’t permanently hurtful (such as being laughed at while giving a presentation during class).

The problem is that result of limiting beliefs is usually some form of self-sabotage. Your brain attempts to make the stories it believes come true. So, you sabotage your relationship, miss the important deadline because you procrastinated, or fail the test, all because of a false belief held by your subconscious. Your brain create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, it’s not weird or unusual to have limiting beliefs. Every person has at least a handful of limiting beliefs, but most people don’t realize it. No one reaches adulthood without developing some limiting beliefs. You can identify yours by examining your behaviors, especially when you were afraid of or anxious about doing something.

How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

Even if you identify your limiting beliefs, they don't go away overnight. It takes work, but it can be done.

The first step is to recognize your limiting beliefs. What stories are you telling yourself? Once you know what your story is, assess whether it's serving you. If it isn't, then choose to see that it's just a story that isn’t true. You get to set that story aside in favor of a new story. It's really no different than picking out a different book to read, or a different podcast to listen to.

For example, if your limiting belief is “I’m too old for this job,” ask yourself, “how do I know that’s true?”

  • What evidence do you have for thinking that?
  • What if you’re not too old?
  • What if you’re the perfect age to share your experience with the more junior people on the team?

Every time you think “I’m too old,” that’s your cue to choose these other thoughts instead.

Limiting beliefs can feel hard to stop thinking, but it can definitely be done. It takes conscious effort and intention to choose your thoughts, which most of us have never been taught to do. This is why it can be incredibly helpful to work with a coach. Your coach will show you where your thoughts aren’t serving you, and will help re-orient your thinking so that you can choose powerful beliefs that get you moving.

Never worked with a coach before and not sure what they do? Feel free to set up a complimentary coaching session with me to get a feel for what it’s like.

You might also find this article helpful: What is a Life Coach?

The life you want is waiting for you.

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