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What's up with. . .Limiting Beliefs?

"Whether you think you can, or think you can't -- you're right." I used to hate that Henry Ford quote. It was stupid, untrue and ridiculous, I thought. Then I learned about limiting beliefs. And that quote slowly started to make sense in my fuzzy brain. 

I've learned a lot about limiting beliefs over the past few years, but when I wanted to do a quick refresh and I turned to the interwebs, I couldn't find what I was looking for in the way of a comprehensive yet brief understanding of the concept. I'm writing this in hopes it will serve as that piece I thought would be helpful. So let's dive right in, shall we?

What are Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are thoughts we hold to be true about ourselves, others, or even life, that ahem, limit us in some way. They are thoughts that tell us we are not good enough, smart enough, deserving enough, worthy enough, etc., or that other people are always selfish, out for themselves, needy, etc. Or that the world is a bad place. These are just some examples, but most of us carry many limiting beliefs.

Beyond that, limiting beliefs have become so ingrained in us that we don't question them at all, we have just taken on the belief that they are true. We don't realize they are thoughts that can and should be changed.

Why do we have Limiting Beliefs?

Apparently, limiting beliefs most often stem from childhood. What yucky thing doesn't, really? As children, when we were reprimanded, punished, or made to feel bad about ourselves for something, this imprinted on us a belief about ourselves.

Subconsciously, we looked for ways to prove this belief to ourselves, so anytime something happened that fell in line with that belief, i.e. failing a test because "I'm too stupid to do well" or getting our heart broken in a relationship because "I'm not good enough to be with," reinforced this idea well into adulthood.

What's bad about Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs shrink our world and stifle our potential. Because we view them as the truth, we close off our options and opportunities. For example, if one of our limiting beliefs is "the world is a scary place," we may choose to stick close to home and not explore or travel. Or perhaps we believe "everyone has a hidden agenda," so when we're offered friendship or an opportunity to collaborate, we decide not to for fear of the offering being inauthentic.

Another big one is the idea that we're not good enough to have a loving relationship. So we reinforce this idea with partners who don't treat us well or leave, leading to closing ourselves off from opportunity, or creating unrealistic expectations for a partner. One of the limiting beliefs I struggled with for a long time was "having or wanting money makes me a bad person." Ooh, that's a doozy! I'll have to tell ya that whole sordid tale another time. . .

Why do we hold onto Limiting Beliefs?

For starters, we don't recognize our thoughts as limiting beliefs. We don't question them, we just believe them to be true. Secondly, our minds are wired for safety. A limiting belief is an old, safe thought. So our minds consistently trot out the ol' limiting belief whenever we want to do something different. It is comforting and comfortable in our heads, despite how uncomforting and uncomfortable it has made our lives! 

It's more work to recognize the limiting belief, examine it, assess its validity and then decide what to do with it. Our minds really don't care for that sort of thing.

What are examples of Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs come in many forms, but broadly speaking, some of them will sound/start off like this:

  • "I'm not XX (good, pretty, nice, skinny, smart, etc.) enough to be XX (liked, loved, friends with, romanced, etc.). . ."

  • "People are XX (selfish, uncaring, stupid, etc.). . ."

  • "The world is XX (scary, violent, unsafe, etc.). . ."

  • "Life is XX (hard, unmanageable, unhappy, etc.). . ."

What can we do about Limiting Beliefs?

The first step is becoming aware that we have them, and what they are. What do we tell ourselves about us, others, or the world when a situation doesn't go our way? What do we believe about people or life or the world that narrows our viewpoint? 

Once we start learning what are limiting beliefs are, the next step is to question and challenge them. When a limiting belief comes up for you, ask yourself, "Is this really true, or is this the story I'm telling myself?"

Once you question, you can begin to challenge that belief IRL. Perhaps you have the limiting belief that people are unkind. Go out of your way to notice when people are kind to you. Start unraveling the story, and you'll begin to see that your limiting beliefs aren't necessarily true. 

The third step - Don't be too hard on yourself! Once you become aware of the limiting beliefs that have shaped much of your life in a restricted way, don't judge yourself harshly or regret decisions or choices. You cannot change the past. You did the best you could at the time, and now that you've identified your limiting beliefs, you can work on changing them. Show yourself some compassion.

And finally. . .be consistent in this practice. Continue to ask yourself if a decision or an opinion or a judgement is based on a limiting belief. If it is, accept that and come up with a way to change it. Remember, our minds want to take the easy route; it's up to us to keep doing the work to change them. This is a process, and it takes time and energy.  Ultimately, letting go of limiting beliefs is a freeing, expansive and uplifting experience. For me personally, I've been able to do things I never thought I could when I chose to let go of them. I hope it's the same for you!

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