Getting Unstuck from Limiting Beliefs

Life is not safe. Any parent can tell you that. There are a myriad of things out there that can, bite, pinch, reject, burn, and hurt. The problem is that unless you are Howard Hughes, you can’t sit on your foam-covered furniture in a bunker looking at the world through bullet-proof glass. You have to live, work, love, and just generally get out there. Along the way, you learn how to manage. You learn not to touch the stove because it could be hot. You learn to look both ways before you cross the street. You learn that emails from Nigeria offering money aren’t always wise to reply to. Along the way, some subtle things can happen. Often, you can adopt limiting beliefs that keep you from fully living out that life and being who you are.

Examples of these beliefs might be, “I’m not cut out to be a team leader,” or “I don’t think anyone will listen to my ideas,” or “I don’t deserve that responsibility.” There’s a plethora of others, but you get the point. The interesting thing about the way you are created is that you start with a complete blank slate. Sure, there are DNA markers and certain strengths and talents that you’re born with, but for the most part we have to learn how to be a human from scratch. You have to learn how to walk, talk, count, how to interact with other people, and probably most significantly, you have to learn how to access those talents and gifts that you were born with. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. However, you learn things through experience. As mentioned above, many times these experiences come with bruises, bumps and fear.

It’s difficult to identify limiting beliefs from actual wisdom because they generally look the same. Sometimes it’s easier to look at the root of our beliefs in order to recognize whether they are healthy or not. For the most part these beliefs come from:

Bad or even traumatic experiences
These are things that you have experienced or have seen other people experience.

Meta-messages
These are messages that you play in your head. They are messages like, “You’re not smart enough,” or “They’re not going to listen,” or “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Faulty assumptions
These are conclusions that come through over-generalizing: When you believe that just because something happened one time it will happen every time, or from conventional wisdom that uses surface logic to form deep conclusions.

Insecurities
These are things that you don’t like about yourself or are true weaknesses. Often, because you are worried about them, you project them bigger and assume that they will definitely hinder your actions.

These come together to form a generalized fear when it comes to certain situations. Instead of reality driving your decisions, fear is the filter.

The problem is not the fear, however. The problem is the “therefore” placed at the end of acknowledging that fear. For instance, if you take a look at the limiting belief of, “If I get up in front of people I will look foolish, therefore I will never get up in front of people.” If you have never done any public speaking before and the expectations of your performance are high, then there is a high probability you will look foolish. Your fear is sound. That is just a matter of being cautious and aware. The problem comes with the thought after the fear. The fact that you have never had any training and may look foolish doesn’t automatically mean that you should never speak in public. There are a lot more productive “therefores” that you could choose rather than to avoid. An alternative “therefore” might be: “I’ve never had any training or experience speaking in public so I’m nervous about looking foolish…therefore I’m going to talk to somebody who does a lot of public speaking to get some pointers,” or “therefore, I’m going to practice in a smaller venue so that I can get comfortable speaking in public.”

Another example might be something that happened in the past. “In the past when I’ve asked people to volunteer I have been harshly rejected, therefore I don’t want to ask anybody to volunteer.” Acknowledging a real pain that happened in a real scenario is just awareness. That’s not the problem. The pain was real and the scenario is real. Assuming that avoiding that scenario will eliminate the potential for pain is a false assumption. That’s where boundaries come in. Every scenario isn’t going to play out the same, but since you likely have been through real life pain and struggle, you need to create boundaries to protect yourself against those possible outcomes. Potential boundaries in this scenario might include being selective about who you ask to volunteer, or working on better ways to ask for volunteers, or focusing on how you handle their reply. Simply avoiding asking friends and family whose rejection could potentially hurt you greater, might minimize the potential for pain in the scenario until you can get some wins under your belt.

Overall, there are a few questions that you can ask yourself to help identify limiting beliefs and overcome them. It starts with taking a soul-searching inventory. Then asking yourself:

Why do I believe this?
Why does it matter to me?
What can I control?
What is one step toward the new belief?

I grew up in Texas where there is a saying I heard every day of my childhood. I think it is appropriate in this situation: “When you fall off the horse, you’ve gotta get right back on.” This is certainly true. Growth, confidence and competence comes through experience. It is easier when we search for opportunities to have small victories. Small victories give us confidence. Confidence gives us motivation to continue to try. Consistently acting on motivation gives us momentum. Momentum drives lasting change.

So take a soul-searching inventory to recognize your limiting beliefs. Ask yourself these questions in order to move to a place where you can attack them head on. Finally, above all else, experience, try, and live life every day despite the potential for pain. That’s the real way we grow.

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