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How to overcome limiting beliefs holding back your success

Limiting beliefs hold you back from setting your goals and achieving your full potential.

"Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny." Gandhi

Like the brakes on a car, limiting beliefs hold you back from setting your goals and achieving your full potential. We will take a closer look at what limiting beliefs are and how you can identify and remove them.

What are beliefs?

Beliefs shape us like the clay in the hands of a potter. They determine how we think, how we feel, what we say and the actions we undertake. Our beliefs are based on past experiences which are now shaping our future. If we become what we think about most, then we become a reflection of our beliefs, both good and bad. Our thoughts come from our beliefs which then become our reality. When you have a belief about something, you’re more likely to see evidence around you that reinforces that belief and miss or discount anything that contradicts it.

5 examples of limiting beliefs and thoughts.

Beliefs are assumptions and convictions we hold to be true about ourselves and the world around us. Beliefs become self-fulling prophecies that can hold you back or encourage you.

You will have beliefs about success, education, money and morality and many other things, too. When combined with your core values, deeply held assumptions about ourselves and the world, you have a toolbox of attitudes and behaviours that you’ll be using in any given situation.

People naturally recognise that someone who is determined and tenacious, who never gives up, is more likely to succeed than someone who procrastinates.

Someone who believes they will succeed is generally more likely to than someone who doesn’t, irrespective of their talents.

Health professionals recognise that the attitude, that is the way people act based on their beliefs, of a patient is a major factor in their recovery. In medical research, placebos have been seen to be as effective as many drugs. So, if you can think your way to health, then you can also think your way into being less healthy and less successful or more successful, too.

The beliefs that others have of us can also play an important part in our beliefs about ourselves.

What is a limiting belief?

Have you tried to do something and failed, then not tried again? Why did you not try again? Why did you fail, and what defined failure? Did you take the failure as, ultimately, a positive experience or a negative one? While all failure is initially negative, it’s also a great mentor saying: “Don’t do it that way again”. And sometimes, experiencing why something doesn’t work is the only way to know why and how to do it better.

Limiting beliefs are a state of mind that undermine your confidence and restrict you from pursuing a task you’d otherwise like to take on. They are assumptions about yourself, the world or other people that are holding you back from starting or completing a task.

Limiting beliefs start in childhood, they are rooted in experiences and a way of thinking.

Limiting beliefs can affect everything in your life; at work, at home and in many other areas. They place boundaries on what we think we can achieve.

How is a belief formed?

Beliefs are formed from experiences and from what we inherit from our parents much like we inherit many visible attributes from our parents, but unlike having blue or brown eyes, they are not fixed. As the report from the Baby Lab suggests, we’re born with a set of morals inherited from our parents, and some they teach us, which then evolve into our belief system over time and with experience. These beliefs can change over time as our experience of life evolves or if we deliberately challenge our own beliefs

What is a core belief?

A core belief is a deeply held assumption about ourselves, others, and the world around us. It forms the very essence of who we think we are and our opinions.

Core beliefs can become self-fulfilling. If we think somebody or a certain type of person is a bad or good person, we are likely to treat them in a way that reflects that. This may encourage that behaviour in them and reinforce our belief in what they are like.

The role of beliefs in our lives

"Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu

We prefer people who we identify with most, be that their values, their beliefs, their attitude towards life or their behaviours. So, beliefs form a large part of our relationships and how we communicate with each other. This relates to all aspects of our life: work, professional and home.

Knowing and being able to identify our own core beliefs and values will go a long toward helping us to succeed at whatever we are trying to accomplish. We may value honesty and believe that being honest is essential to success in life, or that other people are inherently dishonest and so make everybody sign a contract rather than rely on a handshake and a gentleman’s agreement.

Identifying a limiting belief and removing it can help to increase motivation and engagement with a task.

Limiting beliefs can be a healthy thing, too. Nobody should overcome the self-limiting belief that they can fly. Some self-limiting beliefs are good, sensible and help keep us safe and spend our time wisely. You may wish to become a best-selling singer, but if you’re tone-deaf, can't sing or keep time, that’s not going to be possible. Perhaps you settle for being an okay singer singing locally or pursue another interest.

The challenge is in knowing what is actually physically impossible vs what you only believe to be impossible.

With limiting beliefs comes victim mentality and imposter syndrome. Our beliefs can affect our health, from the healthy to the not-so-healthy food we eat, to the positive and negative thoughts we have.

What is the relationship between attitudes, values and behaviours?

What we think about controls how feel and the emotions we experience. What we feel controls how we act and how we behave. Having a positive attitude comes from having positive beliefs and positive values.

If we believe on the whole that people are good and that one of our core values is that telling the truth is important, then we will have a positive attitude towards others, we are more likely to be truthful ourselves and trusted by others in return.

What is an attitude?

Attitudes are judgements on anything, whether somebody likes or dislikes something, finds it good or bad. Attitudes come from our values and beliefs. Carl Jung, in his essay on psychological types, defines attitude as “the readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. 

As such, attitudes will drive how we think, feel and act about things in our lives and about ourselves. Also known as the ABC model: affective, behavioural and cognitive. The affective component relates to emotions and feelings (the emotional part), behavioural relates to how we act or behave given the attitudes we have and cognitive relates to what we believe to be true (the logical part). 

Attitudes are based on our core beliefs and the behaviours that they motivate.

For example, having a ‘positive attitude’ helps an individual to be motivated to start and engage with a task that needs to be completed.

What are values?

Values are core ideas and standards you believe to be true for you and how you should act on a day-to-day to basis. They help you prioritise and make ethical decisions. When you act and work in alignment with your values you generally feel good about yourself and life.

Recognising they exist and what your core values are will help you make better decisions in life. The New Zealand Government places a lot of importance on happiness and wellbeing. It explains that on personal beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviour, values are: “stable long-lasting beliefs about what is important to a person”.

Can values change over time?

Values can change over time going from childhood to old age. The things that are important to us change. Experience and varying needs will change the values you find important. For example, security may be more important later in life and relationships earlier.

As we said earlier, values are the ideas and concepts we were born with and formed as part of our childhood, those values become attitudes based on underlying beliefs.

What is a behaviour?

Behaviours are the final action based on our core beliefs and values. So we have values working with beliefs creating our belief system. Our thoughts, emotions and feelings are expressed as our attitudes with behaviours being the final visible action.

These behaviours also determine how well we will be able to learn, acquire new knowledge and develop new skills. For example, with poor beliefs about school and little value in education, unhelpful attitudes are formed resulting in visibly poor behaviours towards learning.

What are the causes of limiting beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are usually rooted in experiences that have come to define how you see yourself, others and your capabilities. Some people are more predisposed to them than others. Those with a negative disposition may be more likely to have them than those with a positive disposition, but anybody can have them. Comments made to you, bad experiences, or just a lack of confidence can all hold you back.

Understanding the source of your limiting thoughts or beliefs can help you to overcome them.

Are your beliefs holding you back?

Generally, positive thinking people with few limiting beliefs are healthier, live longer and are more successful, as reported in Can you think yourself young? Guardian article.

Your limiting beliefs can stop you from trying something new. Moreover, they cause stress and unhealthy habits that can lead to depression and lower personal and professional performance.

Limiting beliefs can stop us from leaving our comfort zone where life is relatively easy and risk-free but lacks growth and the opportunities to learn new things and take on new challenges. This might limit the extent to which you can achieve your personal and professional goals. Limiting beliefs can be subconscious or conscious thoughts about how you see the world, yourself and others.

With limiting beliefs comes victim mentality and imposter syndrome. Not feeling that you are good enough can be a self-limiting belief that results in the imposter syndrome. Even though you’ve achieved a lot and you receive a lot of praise, you just don’t believe it’s real, and that you’re about to be ‘found out’.

Believing that all our issues and problems are the result of other people’s actions, not our own, is self-limiting behaviour resulting in the victim mentality. 

What are examples of limiting beliefs?

Typical examples of limiting beliefs or thoughts include:

I’m not good enough; I can’t ...; I’m too old, too young; I don’t have enough ...; I’ll never be …; I’m not … enough; I don’t have the …

They fall into these categories:

  • Either you don’t feel you’re capable of starting the task due to a lack of skills, experience, money or time, for example.

  • You can’t complete the task because it will never be good enough.

  • That should you achieve your goal, you fear you won’t be able to sustain it, that you’ll be rejected by family and friends

  • You’ve achieved your goal, but now you feel like an imposter, that you don’t deserve your success. Revered guitarist Eric Clapton had these thoughts.

How to identify your limiting beliefs

  • Is there something you’d like to do, to be or achieve but you are not currently working on it? That’s a good place to start.

  • Become more aware of how you express yourself. Are many of your statements about yourself very negative?

  • Speak with friends, family, and colleagues about something you might like to pursue. The only obstacle to doing this is that they may have been influenced by your own negative view of yourself or have their own issues stopping them helping you. So keep an open mind. 

We are all familiar with that little voice, the inner critic, inside our heads feeding us either negative or positive thoughts and emotions depending on what we’re doing, who we’re doing it with and what we’re seeing as a result.

Become more aware of your inner voice and manage it in a constructive, positive way.

Your business beliefs will shape your business like they do your life

A positive attitude in business is essential for creating high-performance teams as there are just so many challenges to get through. Whatever plan you put together will likely fall at the first fence, and so you’ll need to constantly adapt to new challenges and lessons learnt. Positive beliefs then will help you become more resilient, develop essential business skills and create a business culture that will foster innovation, agility and motivation. Ray Dalio, founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates and one of the wealthiest people on the planet, identified his beliefs in his book Principles.

6 ways to overcome limiting beliefs

So, to address limiting beliefs we need to identify their root causes and associated behaviours.

You’ll have to start thinking in a new and better way.

  1. Perhaps the first thing to do is to act. There is no better motivation to getting started than actually getting started. The act of starting will spur you on, rather than waiting for the right time.

  2. Is this negative belief based on any facts, is there anything to suggest it is a limiting fact, rather than a limiting belief? Is the limiting belief only that it will make you slower or less good? If so, get started and find out, you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll get with practice.

  3. Ask yourself what would be the worst that can happen if you either start or complete the task.

  4. Persistence and tenacity are the hallmarks of success. Did you start something in the past, fail and then believe you couldn’t do it and didn’t try again? Well, go try again. If you improve even a little bit, you’re on your way.

  5. What we tell ourselves is important. Tell yourself you can, and there’s a good chance you’ll start to see you can.

  6. Look at those around you. Are they positive people? Are they successful people? How do you feel when you’re around them? Do you feel uplifted, inspired and motivated? Does a conversation with them make you feel good about yourself? Unfortunately, there are many people in life, even family and friends, who will resent your ambition and success if they haven’t experienced that for themselves. Movies and songs are full of that sentiment by successful artists. Adele and Lil Peep come to mind, among others.

Perhaps the first step is to become more aware of our own thought patterns, how we react emotionally to certain situations and people.

Once you become more aware of these thoughts you can challenge the perceptions that lead to those thoughts.

Negative thoughts release chemicals in the brain that create feelings of stress and unhappiness. Positive thoughts elevate your mood and make feel more engaged, your actions, countenance and behaviours become more positive too.

It comes down to the perspective you have as it relates to events and people in your life.

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