How to overcome the limiting beliefs holding you back from a successful life
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
You keep behaving in the same way, and you regret it.
There’s an opening for a new position and the requirements match your skill set, but you think you aren’t ready for that jump. It’s a way-too-ambitious leap for you. There are colleagues more qualified than me, or so you think.
You’d like to exercise but you give up; one workout wouldn’t change your status, you think. I’ll never be fit and in good shape. I better watch that movie and forget about it for now.
You want to date a girl you like, but you don’t think she will look at you. If I ask her out, she’ll laugh at me. You desist. You don’t try. And you can’t know what she thinks about you. You shy away.
You don’t enter any competitions because you think you’re not par with the other participants. You never read books because you believe they won’t add anything to your life.
You believe that eating healthy food is snobbish and has nothing to do with your health.
Regardless of the example, you get the point.
You live according to what your beliefs tell you. You don’t question them but take them as immutable laws of nature. And you don’t progress.
But what is a belief?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a belief is "a mental attitude of acceptance or assent toward a proposition without the full intellectual knowledge required to guarantee its truth."
It’s the feeling of being sure that something exists or is true. The stronger the emotion, the deeper the belief. Beliefs are not factual but based on a bunch of assumptions.
Beliefs can be:
These sustain you whenever you face a challenge.
Examples of empowering beliefs are:
• There is no failure, just results.
• I am excited about what is ahead.
• I am responsible for the life I create.
• I am excited by challenges. They make me find solutions to overcome them.
• I always try to be the best person I can be.
• I create my destiny.
• Life is beautiful. I am grateful for experiencing it one more day.
• I am brave, and I don’t fear the future. I am in the present.
• I am strong, powerful, and majestic. All I want, I create for myself.
A limiting belief prevents you from performing at your best to get what you aspire. Disempowering beliefs are rooted in the past but fortunately, you can change them.
Examples of disempowering beliefs are plenty:
• I’m afraid to talk in public because I think I’m a terrible speaker.
• I’m scared to speak to more senior people.
• I don’t read books because it’s a waste of time.
• I neglect maths because I’m not smart enough to learn it.
• I settle for low-paid jobs because money is evil.
• I look for jobs where I’m overqualified, so I feel more secure.
• I avoid relationships because I’m afraid to suffer.
• I don’t work out because it won’t work for me. Those who work out are just showing off.
These beliefs run in the background, and they are generic and based on stereotypes. Global beliefs present themselves with is/am/are verb forms.
Examples of global beliefs are:
• I am bad at maths.
• They are bad-mouthing me.
• They don’t like me.
• She is too beautiful for me.
• I never know how to behave.
• Politicians don’t care about the common good.
• Swimming pools are polluted.
• My colleagues are better than me.
• My competitors are acting unfairly.
• All snakes are dangerous.
These beliefs stop you from doing something in the now. If-then beliefs are situational.
Examples of if-then beliefs are:
• If I wake up early, then I’ll feel exhausted all day.
• If I ask her out, then she’ll laugh at me.
• If I fail this exam, then everybody will know.
• If I go running, then I’ll get injured.
• If I don’t ask any questions, then I won’t be criticized.
• If I get a promotion, then people will hate me.
• If I become rich, then people will want my money.
• If I don’t go out every day with my friends, then they will cut me out.
• If I spend more time at work, then I’ll get a promotion.
• If I stop asking if-then, I will have a happier life.
How do beliefs get into our brains?
Our environment plays a crucial role in forming our beliefs. As humans, we learn by example. When we are young, we trust what our parents, relatives, or teachers have to say. Older siblings and friends influence us and may condition the way we see the world.
Experiences can create well-defined emotions. When we experience something that has a negative charge, our brain learns to make us avoid it at all costs. Our brain’s mission is to keep us alive. The amygdala is the part of our brain that filters in potential hostile threats. It doesn't make any difference whether the emotion we’ve attached to the event is real or a misinterpretation. The stronger the feeling, the higher the resistance to change.
Knowledge is another way to form your beliefs. We build our knowledge based on what we learn at school, for instance. But when that knowledge becomes obsolete because of new findings or new theories, we must be ready to reassess our beliefs and change them based on the latest results. Fortunately, we can do that. Public libraries are full of books that can help you change a point of view. Tablets and smartphones have the same depth of knowledge accessible from the comfort of your couch.
Events can impact our belief system as well. Some events have the power to shift one person’s beliefs and those of an entire community. I remember what I was doing on 9/11 as if it was yesterday—the concept of the world as it was before changed in a second. We can also use our imagination to build a whole new set of beliefs. This is one of the keys to our success.
As the saying goes, what is measurable is manageable. Therefore, if you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, I invite you to spend 30 minutes identifying the beliefs that support or disempower you. In the third article of this series, you’ll see how this exercise will be helpful for you.
A practical exercise to identify your beliefs
1. Identify the areas of your life that are not on par with your aspirations.
2. Look for similar patterns in the causes that led to your underperformance.
3. Highlight the beliefs behind the patterns you have identified before.
1. Write down the last time you experienced an empowering belief at work.
2. Think of what’s not working in your life right now and see whether you can tap into the empowering beliefs you have just listed.
3. Specify whether your empowering beliefs are limited to a specific area of your life. If so, find a new way to apply them in other areas of your life.
1. For the next seven days, be mindful of your self-talk. Write down any global beliefs you happen to think of.
2. Make a list of things you have said no to due to the global beliefs you have just listed.
3. Choose one of the activities you said no to and plan to do it in the next ten days.
4. Write in your journal about that experience and record your feelings and sensations.
1. For the next seven days, write down all of the if-then beliefs you can record.
2. Check when and why you’ve used them, in what circumstances, and with who.
3. Choose one of the things you’ve said no to due to an if-then belief and plan to do it in the next ten days.
4. Write in your journal about the experience of doing that thing and record your feelings and sensations.
This article is part of the series “From Agony to Bliss.” Don’t miss the next article in the series. We will dig further into how limiting beliefs get implanted into our brains.
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