Identifying and Overcoming Your Limiting Beliefs

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Are you being held back by limiting beliefs?

Here’s a familiar scenario: You set a big goal like “I’m going to land my dream job” or “I’m going to make a lot of money.” But then, the little voice in the back of your head says, “That’s impossible” or “I can’t achieve that.”

This is an example of a limiting belief. It's a narrative you tell yourself that discourages you from reaching your full potential. 

Here are some examples of limiting beliefs:

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • You can’t make money as an artist.
  • Hobbies are a waste of time.
  • I can’t do something like that.
  • I have to take care of my family first.
  • It’s wasteful to buy nice things for myself 

A limiting belief can deter you from reaching your goals or taking risks, and they can result in perfectionism, procrastination, and self-sabotage.

Author Ramit Sethi refers to limiting beliefs as “invisible scripts". And here’s what he writes in his blog about why these invisible scripts are so harmful.

“They’re usually so subtle they’ll pass through your mind completely undetected — all the while influencing what you think, say, and do. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”

So why do we do this to ourselves? Perhaps, in some strange way, a limiting belief is a form of self-preservation. By pre-rejecting ourselves, we avoid having to face our fears and insecurities. It’s much easier to tell ourselves we can’t do something than have it confirmed by somebody else. 

But in subscribing to these limiting beliefs, we are cutting ourselves off from potential happiness, success, and prosperity. We deny ourselves the chance to live a rich and full life. 

Fortunately, there are practical ways to confront these limiting beliefs and replace them with empowering habits. Below, we share the exercises you can do and the actions you can take to dismantle your limiting beliefs and start reaching your potential.  

Do some detective work

First, it might help to take some time to identify your limiting beliefs.

You can turn to your journal to help you examine common limiting beliefs and their root causes. 

For example, maybe you want to leave your day job and go freelance, but you keep telling yourself, “freelancing isn’t real work.” But then, after some journal writing, you discover that your parents both had full-time jobs and looked down on unconventional career paths.

Or maybe you’re always sacrificing your needs to take care of others. And then through some introspection, you realize that you equate your self-worth with external validation. 

Your family, friends, and even social messaging can shape your limiting beliefs. If you grew up hearing the words “starving artist” or “money doesn’t grow on trees” then it’s only natural that you’re going to feel that money is hard to acquire. 

When you identify your limiting belief and its root cause, then you can find ways to combat it. So to go back to the earlier example, just because your parents had full-time jobs doesn’t mean you need to have a full-time job as well. Lots of people have unconventional careers and flourish. 

Now it’s time to let go of the limiting belief, and replace it with something that can help you move forward. 

Choose your words

The way we talk to ourselves can highly influence the way we think or act. 

It’s helpful to take note of the times you find yourself saying limiting beliefs either outloud or in your head. What are the situations in which you find yourself repeating a limiting belief? Is it around money? Career? Family? 

Then, flip the script. 

When you catch yourself saying something that restricts your potential, try to replace it with an empowering mantra instead.

  • Instead of saying: Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • Try saying: There are lots of different ways to make money.
  • Instead of saying: I didn’t grow up in an artistic home so I can’t be an artist.
  • Try saying: I can develop as an artist. I am capable of growing and learning.
  • Instead of saying: My goal is too impossible. 
  • Try saying: I’m going to take it one step at a time. I am allowed to stretch myself. 

Find role models–real or fictional! 

Maybe your parents had conventional 9-5 jobs, so you’re having trouble imagining a professional career as an artist. Or maybe you grew up in a small town, and you’re not sure if you have the courage to leave it. 

When it comes to dismantling our limiting beliefs and getting out of our comfort zone, it’s so important to surround ourselves with people who are doing what we want to be doing.

If you want to be a writer, meet other writers.

If you want to be a successful small business owner, find other small business owners. 

If you want to be an artist, find other artists. 

But you don’t have to limit yourself to people you know in your life. Follow your favorite writers on Instagram or follow CEOs and business people you admire. This also applies to your favorite TV or book characters. Your favorite fictional characters can inspire you just as much or even more than real people. 

When we have role models, we live vicariously through their successes and accomplishments. When we hear their stories and experiences, we start to believe that it’s possible. It’s kind of like when kids hang up posters of their favorite athletes or musicians. We feel closer to these icons, and believe that their accomplishments are achievable. 

So if you have a limiting belief that you can’t be a professional writer because you didn’t grow up in a wealthy or literary family, then research authors who have your background and read up on them. It’s likely that you’ll find tons of professional writers who have elements of your background. And when you see that they were able to succeed and prosper, then you’ll believe that you can do the same.

Here’s an exercise you can do: Make a list of people you admire and then do your homework. Read every article on them. Read their memoir or biography. Listen to every podcast interview. You’ll start to pick up on their empowering beliefs and use them in your new script. 

Embrace failure 

Goals are scary because they’re asking us to challenge ourselves and our beliefs. We’re afraid of falling short of our goals and not rising to the occasion. But here’s another thought: what if you actually let yourself fail?

We create high expectations for ourselves yet don’t leave any wiggle room for error. You can’t make big strides on a goal unless you try, fail, learn, and reset. 

We need to accept that we are human, we are fallible, and we’re going to make mistakes. But instead of avoiding failure, we need to embrace it. That’s the only way we’re going to learn from them. 

As Wayne Gretzy said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” How will you know that you can’t do something, unless you try?
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