The human brain is paradoxical. The same grey matter that helps us cope with everything life throws at us can either limit us or enable us.
That tiny, inner voice can counsel us to wait – or it could encourage us to envision a goal and go for broke. Sometimes ‘wait’ is the right choice, but how do we know?
The question is: Are limiting beliefs holding you back?
Sometimes limiting beliefs may be rooted in previous experiences. For example, if you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone on a school project and it was an epic failure, the thought of trying something that’s a stretch for your professional skill set makes you queasy.
It’s also possible that limiting beliefs were ingrained in you from a young age. For example, if a person whose opinion you valued always said you were academically gifted, but not ‘people smart,’ that may be a belief that you carry with you as an adult. These kinds of formative interactions can translate into deep-seated beliefs.
Now, some of our beliefs have value and keep us safe. But being prudent about when you cross the street so you don’t get hit by a car or knowing when to hold your tongue so you don’t say something you will regret are very different from taking reasonable risks and trying to achieve more personally and professionally.
Limiting beliefs are not grounded in fact. Your inner voice might tell you a bunch of limiting beliefs about your ability, which is the recipe for settling for mediocre (or much less!). For example, a limiting belief could be deciding you aren’t ready to challenge your career comfort zone.
What we want to confront is the kind of limiting belief that holds us back unnecessarily. Many times beliefs we accept, consciously or subconsciously, are very subjective. Our selection process of a lifetime of experience is serendipitous at best!
Even if life experiences resonate with us and become a default belief, future experiences won’t necessarily benefit from past perceptions. You can, and sometimes should, challenge beliefs that shape your life.
So how do you know if you have a limiting belief?
Often limiting beliefs (and sometimes excuses or reasons) are why these things aren’t working the way you wish they would.
Sometimes they’re quite subtle, and we think we’re expertly engaging in positive self-talk. For example, telling yourself: “I want to ask for a raise, but I don’t think now is the right time.” Are you being practical and pragmatic, or are you fearful that the boss might say no; that they will think you are greedy; or if they felt you were worth more, they’d have already offered it to you?
There are usually strong emotions tied to limiting beliefs, so considering how you feel can help to uncover the underlying limiting belief.
Here are some common types of belief statements we encounter among clients, and ways to reflect whether any limiting beliefs might be causing the behaviour:
- “I should confront this problem with them … but I’m just not good at it.”
- I dread confrontation; I’ll make things worse; maybe things will get better if I ignore it or wait a bit longer
Pro tip: Check out our previous blog on how to have a difficult conversation!
- “I’d like to find a new career opportunity, but I’m not actively looking right now.”
- I’m not marketable; I haven’t had enough success to stand out; I’m too young (or old!) to try to get a new position
- “I’d like to have a relationship, but it’s hard to meet people.”
- I’ll be rejected again and I’m tired of being hurt; I’m don’t attract the kind of person I want for a life partner; I’m not rich or attractive enough
When your inner voice is stopping you from accomplishing more, you don’t have to listen. Are there goals you’d like to achieve? Do you have secret desires for things you’d like to accomplish?
If limiting beliefs are holding you back or perhaps even making you feel very comfortable and safe when you fail to act, maybe it’s worth pushing back.
Challenging beliefs requires us to:
- Understand and acknowledge the need for all of us, as humans, to have limiting beliefs. This isn’t a defect of character or some impossible challenge, but rather an opportunity to do some reflection. Is it a limiting belief masquerading as being honest and practical?
- Trust that you can change limiting beliefs into enabling beliefs. Countless others of us have and you can, too. It can help to ensure your beliefs align with your personal vision statement.
- You can get help to reframe limiting beliefs; you aren’t alone. If it’s difficult for you, find others who can support you. This might be a coach, mentor, friend, spouse, or supportive family member.
Here’s how to challenge any limiting beliefs you may have:
- Uncover the limiting belief. Think about the goals you’d like to set, and what you believe or what you’re telling yourself about them. Write that down, consider the feelings you associate with the words, and reflect.
- Notice when the voice is talking. When our Padraig team members went through coach training at Royal Roads, we all found their slightly cheeky phrase to help you notice and stop limiting self-talk to be quite memorable. They likened the voice in our heads always quacking away to a little rubber duck on our shoulders giving us constant limiting feedback – “you can’t do this…” or, “you’re not good enough…”. Their suggestion? Knock that little rubber duck off your shoulder to Shut the Duck Up!
- Put the limiting belief in perspective. These beliefs that you are holding – even if you’ve held them for a long time – do not have to be your truth. In this moment, you have a choice to either keep believing the limitation or choose to change it so that you have a shot at achieving your goals or desires for life.
- Rewrite the script, transforming the limiting into enabling. Take time to consider what you have learned or what you could do to change things. If you have not asked for a raise because you don’t think it’s the right time, the real limiting belief for you might be that you worry you’ll be refused.
Perhaps you feel angry that you haven’t been given a raise because you’ve worked really hard. Instead of saying it’s not the right time, you can rewrite the belief to be: “After achieving these specific successes and bringing in new business, I’m going to ask for a raise.”
A great way to help you rewrite the script is to think of your closest friend and imagine they are sharing with you this belief, this feeling they have. What would you say to them? Can you say that to yourself?
5. Start acting on the new belief. Changing beliefs from limiting to enabling comes with risk, and risk can be scary. However, courage is finding the ability to push through fear to try to achieve a goal. Perhaps find a friend, mentor, or trusted confidante who can help you uncover why you should go for it. Be careful to find someone you know is supportive and believes in you. Going back to the same person who has previously fed your limiting beliefs won’t be helpful.
Acting on the new belief means you are going to choose to act differently. Tell yourself, I have worked really hard and I’ve achieved some good things for the company. I’m not being greedy if I bring value to the business and ask for a raise. Doesn’t feeling you are worthy of asking for a raise feel better than feeling you weren’t valued enough to be offered more remuneration?
If you find yourself thinking something like, “I’ll never be able to do this…” try instead, “what could I do that might help me do this?”
Every time you challenge a limiting belief you are allowing yourself potential for growth. Even if you don’t immediately achieve all your goals and desires, you are taking steps in a new direction and not allowing limiting beliefs to hold you back. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
What are you telling yourself about your dreams or hopes? Where are you telling yourself something isn’t realistic? Have you stopped to check whether those inner stories are true? What steps can you take to ensure your inner voice is enabling, not limiting?