Limiting beliefs: where to find them and how to beat them.

Limiting beliefs are beliefs that we hold about ourselves that by the nature of the fact that we hold on to them and believe them, they somehow hold us back from achieving our full potential. An example of some of the limiting beliefs coaches will often work with include not being confident enough, not being pretty enough, not being thin enough, not being clever enough. They usually start with not and end with enough. If you take the word not, insert what’s holding you back at the moment, and add the word enough you’ve identified the first of your limiting beliefs. Equally, sometimes it’s things you think you’re not capable of. I’m not capable of getting a job, I’m not capable of writing a book, I’m not capable of finding a relationship that truly means something. Or maybe it’s beliefs around I always attract this type of partner, I always get jobs that I don’t want, I always get into arguments with people. Unfortunately for some, the list goes on.

Limiting beliefs are the excuses we often make for not taking action.

‘I can’t do X because of Y’. Replacing X with the action you are unable to take, and Y is one of your limiting beliefs. While there are common limiting beliefs, there will be those unique to you, as well as your unique version a common belief, like I am not confident. Made unique in how it was formed, the memories associated with it, and the types of decisions your limiting belief has helped you to make, or indeed not make. To simplify this article, we’ll use confidence as the example limiting belief, in many cases, people frame this belief as being shy or quiet.

Limiting beliefs are often created at a young age, particularly the ingrained ones. New beliefs are created throughout life but not usually to the negative extent of those built in our formative years. The brain often creates these limiting beliefs due to a lack of understanding at the time of the original event. A common example is a child, let’s call him Sam, being asked to read aloud at school, whilst reading he may feel like he is struggling with the words, feels nervous of making a mistake in front of the teacher and his classmates, and has convinced himself his friends are laughing at him. The unconscious mind makes a mental note that Sam doesn’t like this specific situation of speaking aloud and because the brain is wired to seek pleasure and not pain, it will support him in the future by avoiding these situations. The unconscious mind creates these beliefs and accompanying behaviour as a tool to preserve you and your mental and physical well-being, and because they are programmed at such a deep level we rarely question them. Equally, Sam, following reading aloud in class won’t reflect on the situation and question his reaction, thoughts, or feelings and if he does it will probably be to label the behaviour as ‘I’m not confident’. Positive insight and learning have the potential to allow you to prevent the limiting belief from being formed.

A further challenge a limiting belief presents is it’s misreading of the information it’s provided in any given moment.

The brain works in milliseconds and it has to break down 2 million pieces information to just 7 to 9 chunks, we can’t blame it for cutting corners.

The unconscious mind distorts, deletes and generalises information to make educated assumptions, with a limiting belief this process is similar to a spot the difference.

When Sam finds himself at a family Christmas party, surrounded by people he has known all his life and has always felt comfortable with and is asked to sing a Christmas Carol, as he has done every year since he was born, you’ve guessed it, he won’t. The family coerce him and his discomfort increases, they ask why he won’t do it and he doesn’t know why. He’s labelled as growing up and the family brush the behaviour aside. We’ve let Sam off lightly here, often children can be pushed to ‘perform’ and the accompanying memory is often more powerful than the original memory that formed the limiting belief. At this point, it is usual for readers who are parents to be sweating a little at the prospect of having potentially supported the creation of one or more of their child’s limiting beliefs. Dab your brow and read on, the solution which will work for you will work for your children too.

The process to let go of a limiting belief goes beyond just knowing when and how it may have been formed, deep level work is required. Understanding alone doesn’t give you the freedom you deserve. This initial understanding takes place at the conscious level as does the work required to let go. This means,

5% of the brain is working towards changing the other 95% of the brain.

No easy feat but there are loopholes we can use to make a quick and permanent escape.

If limiting beliefs are just statements you make to yourself, why are they so difficult to overcome or simply ignore? There are a few reasons. Firstly, you’ve been running this pattern of behaviour for a long time and your brain is good at it and we all know your mind has to make split-second decisions and can’t be tied into debates with you around whether or not you want to take action which contradicts a program you’ve been running a lifetime . Secondly, when your brain locates the limiting belief it also connects to any past decisions and memories of this belief in action. Therefore, your brain is potentially calling on thousands of memories of times you’ve said no to something because you’re simply not confident. Add to this a whole host of memories of remaining inside your confidence comfort zone and we have a firmly cemented approach to a variety of events. Finally, if you just remove the limiting belief you haven’t provided the mind with an alternative response. When something triggers your unconscious brain to hit the confidence check button it fires to the old program, finds nothing there and becomes confused, in this state of confusion it digs deeper and finds the final thread of a connection to the old limiting belief and creates the same action all over again.

Here’s the key, once you’ve removed a limiting belief, you need to replace it with a new belief, so that when the brain is triggered it finds the new behaviour. Prepare to get excited… once you do the new behaviour your brain adds into the mix a new decision and a new memory, making this new approach a little more powerful than it was before.

When considering the inner workings of a limiting belief, think of it as threads of cotton between triggers, on one end thoughts or external events, and on the other end the response/the behaviour you take. Each time you trigger the same behaviour you add another thread of cotton and as threads increase in quantity they begin to bind with one another and you can imagine how over time this forms a connection more similar to string or in some cases rope. Working through a limiting belief begins to cut away the threads and create a new thread from the same trigger to a new type of behaviour. You need to strengthen the new pathway by increasing the threads as often as possible and allowing any loose threads of the old program to disintegrate over time. Whilst this sounds like ‘fake it til you make it’, it isn’t, although I could argue that approach having the potential to work over the long term. A ‘fake it til you make it’ approach leaves a few threads fighting the original rope, whereas this approach is a few old threads, versus a few new threads, a much easier challenge to overcome and quicker too.

To identify and break free of limiting beliefs, access a free self-help guide here.

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