What is a limiting belief?

Prejudices. Values we acquired when we were kids without the criteria to assess if they were useful for us. Messages like “I can’t”, “that is not possible”, “I´m not good at…”, or generalizations like “all X are Y” are examples of limiting beliefs. Oxford dictionary defines a belief as “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof”. They can be limiting when they stop our development or growth, or when they are in conflict with our true values – the ones we have decided ourselves.

How to identify a limiting belief?

Think of any belief that comes to your mind. Is it similar to something that your parental figures (parents, school teachers, carers) used to say? Does it sound like something everyone in your friends circle or workplace repeats?

Some of them will be very useful and will be the base of our education (“look before crossing the road”, “say please when you ask for something”).

Others might not be as healthy: “men don´t cry”, “it´s impossible to find a good job nowadays”. The key is: are they still valid in my adult life? Do I agree with them? Do they have a positive or negative impact in my life?

Let´s try an exercise – grab a pen and paper and write THE FIRST THING that comes to your mind when completing the following sentences:

(Don´t THINK about the answers, just write WHATEVER comes to your mind first!)

I am…

Women are…

Men are…

I can´t…

I have to…

I´ve never been…

Life is…

Relationships are….

Foreigners are…

Work is…

Sex is…

Some of your answers might have shocked you. Don´t worry, it´s happened to all of us when trying this exercise! The good news is, although some limiting beliefs might be deeply ingrained, identifying them is the first step to change.

 

How can I get rid of a limiting belief?

Ask yourself the following questions (if you write down the answers it´s much more effective!):

  • What am I getting when I follow this belief?
  • Who am I pleasing?
  • What impact does it have on my life?

And most importantly:

  • What do I ACTUALLY believe?
  • What do I want to replace this belief with?

With this information, I would suggest three options:

  1. A very powerful exercise is to write down your limiting beliefs on post-its, cross them out and write the new belief you want to acquire. For example, if our belief is “I´ve never been a good student”, we might want to replace it with “I have the skills to learn anything I want”. If the belief is “I have to get married before I´m 30”, it could be replaced with “I have the right to decide when and if I want to get married”. Once you have your new beliefs on post-its, put them in a visible place at home or in the car where you can see them every day. You´ll see how powerful and motivating it is!

  1. Talk about it with someone close to you who you trust. Explain to them the limiting beliefs you have identified, how you are going to change them and catch-up every now and then so they can tell you if they´ve noticed any changes in you. Very often people who know us well can see things clearer than we are able to (are you very good at giving advice but don´t see things that clearly about yourself? 😉 ). And maybe by sharing this with someone else, you will become an inspiration for the other person to review their limiting beliefs – everyone wins!

 

  1. Limiting beliefs are one of the many topics that can be discussed in coaching sessions. The suggestions in this article are a good starting point and can be very useful on their own. However, if there is a limiting belief that is impacting you very negatively and you don´t know how to remove it, you might want to try personal development coaching.

One of the limiting beliefs I worked on in my coaching sessions was “work will always be boring”. I replaced it with “I will work on something I love” and that is what inspired me to write this article. I would love to hear what limiting beliefs you have replaced and what impact this has had on your lives!

 

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