There was a story about a young elephant who was tied up to a post. He tries to escape by pulling and tugging, but the rope and the fence are too strong. Finally, he gives up and makes peace with his fate.
When an elephant grows up as a big and strong animal once he’s tied up he remains standing there, even if he could easily break himself free and walk away. He has a strong belief that the rope and fence are immovable objects, so he doesn’t try to act against it. But the freedom is literally just one step away.
I wanted you to hear this story because it is familiar to the stories we all are telling ourselves. The stories that hurt us, the ones that we try to avoid, we fear or try to reject. The stories that limit our freedom and control us more than we want to.
What are Limiting Beliefs?
Limiting beliefs are the beliefs that stop us from pursuing our dreams or achieving our goals. Limiting beliefs are thoughts, opinions that we believe to be the truth. Most of the time it has a negative impact on our lives because it literally stops us from growing on a personal or professional level.
Limiting beliefs comes from our subconscious mind, which is like a main operational system where we gather all the information from the external world since we were kids. All of that information piled up as a truth in our subconscious mind and it acts as a defence mechanism to avoid possible negative feelings or emotions in our adult life.
Psychologist, Robert M., describes in his research the importance and impact of beliefs in our lives. He says:
“Beliefs are like filters on a camera. What the camera ‘sees’ is a function of the filters through which it is viewing its subject. In other words, how we ‘see’ the world is a function of our beliefs and profoundly influences personality.
As a result of our beliefs, we define ourselves as worthy or worthless, powerful or powerless, competent or incompetent, trusting or suspicious, belonging or outcast, self-reliant or dependent, flexible or judgmental, fairly treated or victimized, loved or hated. Your beliefs have far-reaching consequences, both positive and negative, in your life. Beliefs affect your moods, relationships, job performance, self-esteem, physical health, even your religious or spiritual outlook.”
Our beliefs put boundaries or limitations on our behaviour or response to life events. Like I believe that stealing is wrong, that’s why I won’t have an urge to steal the car from the street even if I see open doors and keys inside. There are some kinds of limiting beliefs that are not a bad thing to have, because it prevents us from doing crazy things, right?
But some limiting beliefs can literally stop us from experiencing life. We get stuck like that elephant tied to a fence.
There are a few types of limiting beliefs that might impact your life:
- Limiting beliefs related to yourself, where you belittle your own abilities.
- Limiting beliefs related to external influences, when you think that others have an impact on your choices.
- Limiting beliefs related to life, when you think life is that way.
Limiting Beliefs About Yourself
One of the most hurtful limiting beliefs is what we believe about ourselves. It holds us back from everything we want to create, achieve or experience. Many of those beliefs are attached to insecurities, past mistakes, and all of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves.
Here are a few examples of limiting beliefs that we use against ourselves:
Many people use age as an excuse to remain in the same place. It won’t be a surprise if I say that often people think that they are too old to do something about their lives. They are too old to change careers, go to university, start a business, write a book, find a partner.
Besides being too old, there is also a completely opposite situation – people tend to think that they are too young to ask for a better position at work, become a CEO, buy a house, or travel the world.
People believe that there are rules about being a certain age and what they should be doing then. But is it true? Some people think they are too young, some people think they are too old. Isn’t it just another reason to avoid taking a chance and try changing life?
A lot of our beliefs are attached to our emotions.
- ‘‘I’ve been hurt in a relationship, so I know all of them end up the same’’
- ‘‘I can’t find new friends because I’m too angry all the time’’
- ‘’I can’t go there I am too embarrassed’’
Funny thing with our feelings is that the only way to live through it is to literally face it.
If you are sad or you’ve been hurt or you are angry, going and meeting people, having conversations, enjoying your time with others will change the way you feel. If you are embarrassed, surviving those moments judgement is the only way to overcome embarrassment.
If we avoid getting in the world because of how we feel we will stay in the same spot forever. And not only nothing in our lives will change, but we will also get more of those feelings that we try to avoid.
As a Carl Jung once said: ‘‘What you resist persists’’.
Sometimes the thoughts we have about our personality might get into the way:
- Maybe you don’t talk to a handsome person because you think we are too ugly for that.
- Maybe you don’t send that CV to your dream job because you think you’re too stupid for that.
- I’m too fat for putting on a swimsuit and going to the beach.
You drown yourself in the struggle that is based on thoughts that you have about yourself and you call it a truth. The only thing that it does is hold you back from the experiences that might be one of the best things of your life.
Is it really that pimple on your chin the only thing you can say about who you are and what you’re worth? Is it worth staying in your black clothes on a boiling hot day and watching people having their best lives on the beach? I really doubt that.
Limiting Beliefs About External Influences
It’s not only the limiting beliefs about ourselves that might hold us back, but also what we believe about the outer world.
For example, I don’t know where it came from, but for many years I believed that people are shit and the only thing they want is to use other people. This belief led to many years of avoiding parties, not trying to make new connections or friendships, and pushing people away. I couldn’t trust anyone who entered my life.
This belief led me to a lot of sadness, loneliness and depression. For a long time, I couldn’t understand that this belief was totally wrong and done nothing but messed with my life.
There are a few more examples of limiting beliefs related to external influences.
Maybe one of the most common limiting beliefs is related to what we think other people will or won’t let us do.
- ‘‘I can’t leave this marriage because people think the ones who leave are bad people’’
- ‘‘I can’t quit my job and find the one I love because it’s a lower-paying job and people will think I am crazy’’
- ‘‘I can’t quit university because my parents will be disappointed’’
‘‘What will people think?’’ is a major reason why a lot of people stay in their shadows scared of living boldly. Other people’s opinions are very powerful and control our lives. We do things that other people want us to do, or at least we think that’s what they want us to do, but then we live our lives full of sadness and hate. And all because we’re afraid to be wrong, or to be told off, or to be rejected by others.
Is it really worth it to choose to live according to other people’s opinion and ignore your own desires? We tend to forget that it is OUR LIFE. Disapproval, failure or rejection is just a fear-based thought in our head. People will always have what to say about your life no matter how hard you try, what tall you are, how much you eat, or who you are dating.
So why not do what you want???
It is very sad but discrimination and prejudice still exist. There are all sorts of sexists, racists and phobics in the world. It is good to know about those stereotypes, but we need to be careful not to let them impact our lives. Here are a few examples:
- ‘‘I am a woman, so they won’t listen to what I have to say’’
- ‘‘I am fat so I won’t find a partner’’
- ‘‘I can’t find a job because I didn’t go to Harvard’’
Prejudice is one of the reasons why people start doubting themselves, their abilities and place on earth. But prejudice doesn’t mean that it’s true and you know a lot better what you are able to achieve. The only thing to beat it is by standing up for yourself.
Sometimes our beliefs can get a little bit out of control when from fear of disapproval or fear of rejection we start thinking a little bit too good about ourselves. Here are a few examples:
- ‘‘I can’t be a comedian because no one will understand my dark humour’’
- ‘‘People usually avoid such an intellectual people like me’’
- ‘‘It is better to be alone than with a bunch of losers’’
Do you see where I’m going? Being special is nothing but a self-defence mechanism that easily stops you from reaching higher. Traumatic experiences weaken our self-esteem, but the egoistic part of us can’t handle being pushed around so it tries to protect us by building this shield of false beliefs that we are victims here.
Now I’m not saying that you aren’t special. You are. In fact, we are all special. But believe me, it would be very healthy to check-in where that specialness comes from, is it coming from ego or confidence?
Limiting Beliefs About Life
Besides the limiting beliefs about ourselves and other outer influences, there are some beliefs that we created about life in general. I wrote a few of those examples below.
There is that famous saying we all heard many many times:
‘‘I’m too busy, I don’t have time’’
I think that’s the biggest excuse that humans could ever come up with. Yes, time is valuable and these days we get really really busy with work, home, families, but I dare to say that it’s just another excuse for not doing stuff.
You know there is that famous quote by Jim Rohn: ‘‘If you really want to do something you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse.’’
Even if we don’t have an opportunity to spend 7/24 chasing our dreams, or building an empire, or writing a book, or looking after six dogs if something really really matters to us we will spend at least three minutes of our time doing that.
Three minutes is better than no minutes at all, right?
Missed the boat.
Another good reason to sit comfortably on your sofa and let everyone else live the life you want is to think that somebody already did that/tried that/said that/been there.
- You wanted to write a book but there is already a book written about that.
- You ended up in a relationship but you think that all of your age people are already taken.
- You had a dream of opening your coffee shop but there is one in that area.
All of these thoughts of being too late or that somebody has already done that is a good example of limiting belief. I know we all want to be special and create something extraordinary, but hey, the bicycle is already invented, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put a blue basket, colour it in pink, add a calorie counter and sell it online.
Why don’t you start believing about the thing you can do a bit better, a bit more modern, or maybe old school, a bit lighter or darker, longer or maybe shorter. It doesn’t matter that there is something similar in this world.
The world is a big place and, trust me, there is plenty of room for all of us.
It doesn’t exist.
If I would tell you now that there are unicorns living in the furthest part of Antarctica, would you believe me? How long would it take for you to start believing that? I think forever, right?
It is hard to change our thoughts and start believing in something that we think doesn’t exist. Like the pure love between people, or that we have a soulmate, or that marriage can be happy, or that people can be kind and not use you, or that your boss is actually a good person.
There are a lot of things that we believe are not existent. But it is also just another limiting belief that we use to stop believing in ourselves and that our life can actually be good.
How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs?
As you can see, it is really hard to spot those limiting beliefs that we have. Great news that the only thing that is harder than that is overcoming them (wink wink), but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! I guess you are interested in that if you are reading until here, so please pat on your shoulder as you are already on the way of overcoming it!
1. Start questioning your beliefs.
As soon as you ask a question ‘‘What if I’m wrong?’’ your brain will automatically start doubting your old beliefs. Can’t date because of your height? What if you’re wrong? Your mother is a horrible person? What if you’re wrong?
Questioning your beliefs is a powerful exercise. Creating a habit of questioning your thoughts will help to see things from a different perspective and become more mindful about the thoughts you’re having and evaluate your actual abilities.
2. How is this belief serving you?
Even though limiting beliefs feels like a burden now, they were created to protect you from pain, hurt, stress, or any negative feelings that disrupt the peace of your mind. At some point in your life they served you really well, you were able to survive without a scratch, but moving forward in your life they lost their powers and became nothing more but a big fatty obstacle.
Having that in mind whenever limiting thought arises you should ask yourself a magical question ‘‘How this belief is serving me?’’
Is it moving you forward or holding you back? What past experiences, feelings or emotions are hidden under it?
Check-in with yourself if this belief is hiding a fear of rejection or fear of failure. Or maybe you think you are a victim of your life? Or maybe you feel special because you are too old and there is nothing you can do about your life? Is it really serving you or you just afraid?
Think about it.
3. Power is in your hands.
Honestly, you have to stop blaming the world for everything that happens to you. You are the only one who is responsible for your results. Take that power into your hands and use it to grow.
Limiting beliefs are the main reason why you didn’t start that business, or didn’t ask for a promotion, or run away from a first date. And if you really really really want something you have to understand that it’s just your false beliefs that stops you from getting it.
Take a deep breath, feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s the only way.
Hope you will overcome your limiting beliefs and find your way to freedom.