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The world is challenging enough without also emotionally and mentally beating yourself up—yet, it’s unfortunately a very common experience.
This post will teach you what limiting beliefs are and show you how to handle them in a way that will help you shift out of negative self talk into a space of possibility.
What’s a Limiting Belief?
Limiting beliefs are thoughts and feelings where we feel like we are not good enough or deserving of positive experiences and growth. One type of a limiting belief is the “upper limit” problem. Developed by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap, the upper limit problem occurs when we self-sabotage when things are going well for us. We do this because we fear having the good things taken away and we prefer to stay within out comfort levels. Even if that means we hold ourselves back from achieving our goals.
How It Shows Up For Me
I’ve been working with my mentor to identify and shift my limiting beliefs around my finances. Some of these include: people will judge me or think I’m greedy if I make more money from my services, I’ll never pay off my student loan debt, and financial security is fleeting. These beliefs are informed by a scarcity or lack mindset, and all three are limiting. The first belief (people will judge me for making money) is perhaps my most painful limiting belief; I really want the people who love me to support my business goals and dreams, and although I have every reason to believe they will, I still struggle with this fear. The second (debt) is based in future-tripping, and involves self blame (“why did I take loans in the first place,” “why did I let the interest build up”) and ignores the fact that most people have loans and spend decades paying them off. The third belief (if I find financial security, I’ll lose it again) is informed by neglect and food scarcity traumas from childhood combined with growing up in a working-class household where bootstrapping logic was circulated.
These Suck. How Do We Handle Them?
The first step in handling limiting beliefs is to recognize that you’re having them. You might notice yourself practicing negative self talk, feeling defeated or deflated, feeling jealous or shameful, or using “never” and “always” language. Having acknowledged that you’re having a limiting belief, you offer yourself the opportunity to choose another belief. I’ll walk you through my favorite way to do this in the Takeaways.
One final note before that, though. I recently finished Gabby Bernstein’s Super Attractor, where she encourages us to forgive ourselves for negative beliefs and then to actually thank them for showing us what we don’t want to feel. I found this to be helpful, as it functions as a bridge from the limiting belief to the new belief.
One of the best ways I’ve found to counteract limiting beliefs is Byron Katie’s “The Work,” a tool that asks us to investigate and turn around our stressful beliefs by answering four specific questions. Katie uses The Work to help people reevaluate their judgments about others, but I find it helpful for reconceiving beliefs in our relationships to ourselves. The Work’s four questions will guide you from limiting beliefs to faith in something more positive.
To do The Work, choose a limiting belief that is upsetting you or holding you back. This should be in the form of a statement. Using mine from above as an example, it would be “People will judge me and think I’m greedy if I make more money.”
Then, ask yourself question one: “Is it true?” Your answer will be “Yes” or “No.” According to Katie, “In many cases, the statement appears to be true. Of course it does. Your concepts are based on a lifetime of uninvestigated beliefs.”
If your answer is No, you can skip to question three. If it is Yes, go to question two: “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Katie suggests that we should “Take this opportunity to look again […]and see what reveals itself to you.” When I reevaluate my limiting belief about people judging me, my answer is no, I cannot absolutely know that it’s true, because I cannot control other people’s reactions or emotions.
Question three is “How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?” Reflect on the images you see and the emotions and sensations you feel when you believe that the thought is real. Think of how people behave when you believe that thought. In Katie’s words, “With this question […] you can see that when you believe the thought, there is an uneasy feeling, a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic.” When I answer question three for my example limiting belief, I feel sad, defeated, confused, and even despondent, as if my dreams are somehow shameful, or as if my goals and labor are not worth recognition.
Now that you’ve allowed your limiting belief to play out in your imagination, it’s time to raise yourself out of its depths through question four: “Who would you be without that thought?” Reimagine the situation and allow yourself to experience it without the limiting belief about yourself. When I answer question four for my example limiting belief, I feel lighter, calmer, and I accept myself. I also feel a renewed excitement about my future.
Hopefully question four will ease the discomfort you may have experienced in question three’s thought experiment. You might feel peaceful, compassionate, or even weepy when you give yourself permission to choose a frame of mind different from your limiting belief. Use this moment to set a new belief about yourself. Mine would be “The people who love me support me in my goals to thrive and are cheering me on. They encourage me to seek success, comfort, and happiness.”