As the name implies, limiting beliefs are beliefs that hold you back in some area of your life. These beliefs about yourself or the world keep you stuck in toxic patterns of guilt, sadness, and inadequacy.
They keep you from flourishing into the person you’re meant to be.
Limiting beliefs live deep in your subconscious, fueling fear and driving your decision-making.
And do you want to know the worst part?
The fact that limiting beliefs stem from your subconscious rather than your thinking mind means that identifying and reversing them can be tricky.
Tricky but NOT impossible!
Stick with me as we unpack limiting beliefs, including examples, where they come from, and most importantly, powerful ways to reduce their influence in your life.
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One Shark and Several Fish
Have you heard of the shark and fish experiment?
It’s a potent example of how limiting beliefs can replace even the most fundamental instincts.
As the story goes, a marine biologist decided to see whether a shark could be conditioned to stop eating fish.
The biologist started by putting a shark in a tank with small fish. Obviously, the shark ate the fish.
The next step was to create a physical boundary between the shark and fish. As you can imagine, the shark made an aggressive attack on the plexiglass, initially injuring itself.
The shark continued its fruitless attacks on the fish. Eventually, the shark’s attacks grew less and less aggressive.
After a while, the marine biologist removed the plexiglass.
And guess what?
Not one fish was harmed. The shark did not attempt to attack even though the physical boundary was gone.
With the plexiglass gone, the shark could have feasted to its heart’s content. But the shark couldn’t overcome the limiting beliefs that overrode its basic survival instincts and eventually died.
Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to our dreams and goals if we don’t identify and breakthrough our self-constructed barriers.
What are limiting beliefs?
In most instances, limiting beliefs are formed in early childhood. At the most basic level, limiting beliefs start as the brain’s attempt at rationalizing a situation.
Let’s look at a widespread limiting belief that millions all over the world share: “I am not important.”
When you were growing up, how many times did you ask for your parents’ attention? I’m guessing it’s somewhere around the millions.
For whatever reason, your parents were unable to give you the attention you were seeking at that moment. And they may have had a perfectly legitimate reason for not paying attention.
But at that moment, your little brain came up with a story. A story that has stuck with you to this day.
And the story deep down inside is that you don’t matter.
Since that time, the thought that you’re not important has become so deeply ingrained within that it runs on autopilot. Much like the shark hitting the plexiglass, you’ve constructed stories that keep you from reaching your full potential.
Limiting Beliefs as a Safety Mechanism
Although I’ve painted a grim picture of limiting beliefs as a whole, it’s worth mentioning that they do serve as a safety mechanism. They keep us from inherently questionable decisions like picking up a random hitchhiker or stealing an ATM.
To backtrack a bit, when you boil down the most basic of all brain functions, safety is the #1 priority. It’s your brain’s job to keep you safe.
And although you may be aware of this primary function of the subconscious, seeing it in action isn’t always obvious. But your subconscious is constantly on the alert for potentially “dangerous” situations.
Over time, the definition of “dangerous” has changed drastically. Danger used to mean an attack from a saber tooth tiger or a gang of marauding pirates.
But nowadays, danger comes in the form of public speaking, a job interview, or even a difficult conversation with your spouse. It’s a far cry from the immediate threat of life or limb.
And to be fair, the constant processing of environmental stimuli is a tremendous job. It’s way too big for the conscious mind to tackle, thus the reason for the subconscious.
But when the subconscious picks up on negative emotions, it feeds stories to the conscious in an attempt to keep you far from danger.
The Fine Line Between Safety and Stagnation
And when your subconscious picks up on negativity, those limiting beliefs come out in full force. They form a barrier that can be difficult to overcome.
In days gone by, the barrier would be a good thing. It would’ve kept you alive.
But in today’s world, the barrier keeps you from honestly expressing yourself or going all-in on something you’re passionate about. Negativity, therefore, starts a feedback loop fueled by fear and false stories you’ve concocted based on events you may not even have fully understood at the time.
Although the stories were created when you were young, it’s never too late to reverse them.
Let’s explore how you can halt limiting beliefs in their tracks!
How can you expand your limiting beliefs?
It’s difficult to reverse limiting beliefs about yourself unless you’re crystal clear on what those beliefs are. Asking yourself a series of questions and capturing the responses by putting pen to paper is hands down your best bet.
It turns out that writing is one of the best ways to unite the logical left brain with the creative right. This “whole-brain” approach is an effective way to access complex emotions and thought patterns. A
In other words, journaling connects the two parts of your brain in a way that enables you to understand yourself and the world around you more deeply.
If you haven’t already incorporated journaling into your daily routine, now is the time! Let’s walk through how you can apply this powerful technique to unlock your limiting beliefs.
Step 1: Uncover Your Limiting Beliefs Through Journaling
In the first step, you will consider the various areas of your life and determine where you’re at in this moment.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the goals I’m working toward? (self, home, work, relationships, hobbies, etc.)
- Am I satisfied with the progress I’m making in each of these areas?
- Are the results in each area consistent with where I would like to be?
- And are there areas where I would like to make progress but just can’t seem to get ahead?
Step 1 is a brainstorming session. Now is NOT the time to censor yourself!
Remember that no one has to read what you’re putting on paper. The most crucial piece of uncovering your emotions and thought processes is honesty with yourself.
Step 2: Analyze Your Writing
As you write, pay close attention to your mood and energy levels when you think about all the different aspects of your life. If you have particularly negative thoughts or feelings about something, consider those feelings a red flag for limiting beliefs.
Equally important are your explanations about why you’re not getting results because those stories almost always have their roots in limiting beliefs.
As you think about what you’ve written, carefully consider whether the stories you’re telling yourself are serving you in any way.
Remember all that stuff about the subconscious and safety? This is where all that comes into play. As an example, one of my most deeply rooted limiting beliefs is that I’m not good enough.
This belief manifests itself as significant performance anxiety in my work as a pianist. Although I love playing the piano, the limiting belief that I’m not good enough causes my hands to shake and my heart to beat faster.
Both physical reactions make playing accurately infinitely more challenging.
Deep down, my subconscious has hard-wired feelings of inadequacy, resulting in physical changes in a performance situation. And all this happens because my brain interprets fear as a negative emotion to be avoided at all costs.
Step 3: Flip the Script
Once you uncover your core limiting beliefs, it’s time to challenge those thoughts. Remember that most of your limiting beliefs were formed in early childhood when your understanding of the world around you was incredibly limited.
And seeing them written in black and white in front of you has a way of uncovering them as the lies they’ve always been. Because your thoughts are deeply personal, it’s easy to believe that thoughts are truth.
But in most cases, thoughts are simply thoughts. Neither positive nor negative. It’s only when you assign some type of meaning to them that they can exert their influence one way or the other.
Writing your own script, therefore, becomes crucial.
For each limiting belief you uncover, use your story-telling prowess to concoct a belief that positively serves you.
Step 4: Find the Evidence
“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”Henry Ford
Once you’ve come up with a new story, it’s time to solidify it. You can lock the new story in by looking for evidence around you that supports your more positive belief system.
And it may sound crazy, but there’s an area of the brain designed specifically for this task.
It’s called the reticular activating system, and its job is to filter out millions of stimuli to find those most relevant to you. B
The reticular activating system is why you hear your name in a noisy room. Or why you buy a red car and suddenly see red cars everywhere.
We recently added a Goldendoodle puppy to our family. Before bringing him home, I rarely saw other doodles out and about. Since his addition to our family, I see at least one doodle wherever I go.
And the truth is, doodles were always everywhere. But until getting one, my reticular activating system never alerted me to their presence.
What this means for you is that if you look for evidence to support your positive beliefs, you’ll find it. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. And up until now, your reticular activating system has been programmed to find evidence supporting your limiting beliefs.
Step 5: Personal Development
I’m not here to sugarcoat anything. Reversing your limiting beliefs takes work. This process takes serious effort! But the alternative is to stay stuck in a negative cycle of guilt and inadequacy.
Ain’t no one got time for that!
As you create new belief patterns and are looking for evidence to support those narratives, don’t underestimate the power of personal development.
Whether in the form of blogs, podcasts, or even masterminds, filling your mind with positivity is powerful.
I also highly recommend paying attention to your mood and energy levels. If your mood and energy are low, it’s much easier to get sucked into being a negative Nelly.
It becomes difficult to break out of your comfort zone and away from those tired old limiting beliefs. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is something I can’t recommend highly enough.
It’s the key between telling yourself that you matter and actually feeling as if you matter.
If you’re looking for some quality personal development, check out some of my top posts:
- 3 Secrets to Reversing Your Perfectionist Tendencies
- Become Unstoppable by Learning to Believe in Yourself
- What to do When Your Emotional Energy is Drained
- How to Change Your Habits and Transform Your Life
- Why Having Multiple Interests is Your Greatest Strength
And if you’re looking for further inspiration, make sure you check out my top book recommendations:, , , ,
Feel free to drop a comment below with the limiting beliefs you’re struggling with right now. I’d love to support you on your journey toward a more positive inner (and outer) world!
A: Purcell, M. (2016, May 17). The Health Benefits of Journaling. The Health Benefits of Journaling (psychcentral.com)
B: van Schneider, T. (2017, June 22). If you want it, you just might get it. The reticular activating system explained. If you want it, you might get it. The Reticular Activating System explained | by Tobias van Schneider | Desk of van Schneider | Medium