Much of the personal growth work I do, and support my clients in doing, focuses on shedding the limiting beliefs that keep us from moving forward.
Limiting beliefs constrain you in some way. They’re concepts which you’ve come to believe as truth, but are so deeply ingrained that they can be mistaken as facts. These beliefs are often nothing more than conclusions you’ve drawn based on your childhood experiences. They focus on your self-identity, capability, and worth, and keep you from reaching your full potential due to how they inhibit you.
During childhood these beliefs may have served you, and that’s why you held onto them for so long. But as an adult, these beliefs may no longer serve a purpose. In fact, they can actually become a hindrance when they’re no longer compatible with your life or circumstances. Your life has undoubtedly changed, but if your beliefs have remained constant, it can be why you’re feeling stuck in the present.
Another thing about limiting beliefs is that they’re innocuous. They don’t stand out and shout, Look at me! I’m messing up your life! They hide in the shadows and make you think you’re being smart, cautious, and discerning about your choices. That you’re keeping yourself safe or putting your commitment to your family first or keeping your nest egg safe from a hair-brained idea.
Here are some common limiting beliefs:
I don’t deserve love/getting my needs met/money/success.
I don’t have time.
I’m not creative.
I don’t want people to judge me.
I’ll sound stupid.
I don’t have the skills.
I just got lucky this time.
I don’t know enough.
Even if I’m successful, I won’t be able to sustain it.
I’m just going to fail, I shouldn’t even bother to try.
People won’t take me seriously because I’m too young/too old/a woman/fat/thin/not an expert…
Even if I work hard at it I’ll never be good enough.
I can’t do that because I have kids/don’t have the money/need to take care of my parents.
I’m just not motivated.
I don’t have the energy.
I don’t even know where to start.
These may or may not look familiar to you, but if you stay aware the next time you’re making a decision about something that’s meaningful to you or moving you in the direction of your dreams, I’m quite certain you’ll find one of these limiting beliefs at the bottom of your decision-making.
If you accept a limiting belief, then it will become a truth for you.
—Louise Hay, author, healer, publisher, and a founder of the self-help movement
Awareness is always the first step in making changes. You can’t shift something you don’t even know exists. But once you’re conscious, then what?
See if you can identify if that belief is serving you in some way now. It can also be helpful to uncover how you developed this belief and how it protected you. Most limiting beliefs come about in childhood and are used to keep us safe.
Next is to ask yourself what you really want? What are the dreams, goals, contributions that are truly meaningful to you?
And finally, to create an empowering belief to replace the limiting belief. This can become almost like a mantra. When you hear that voice in your head saying, You don’t deserve to take time for a walk on this fine spring day—you haven’t knocked half the things off your to-do list yet! you are alerted. This is exactly what I’m hearing as I sit here writing while it’s finally warm and sunny in my neck of the woods.
Now you know your limiting belief has kicked in. It can be very powerful and even shaming: You can’t take time to care for your needs. You need to keep working. Don’t be a slacker!
The empowering belief I’ve adopted is something like: When I make space to care for myself I’m more motivated, efficient, and engaged. To do my best work I need downtime.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right.
—Henry Ford, business magnate
I actually grapple with almost every day. Growing up I was taught that taking care of yourself is selfish and if there’s any work to do you should take care of that first before you do anything pleasure-based.
My dad was a small business owner who also had a couple low end rental buildings. He was always working. I learned from him that while it was honorable to work for yourself, it was hard and took all your time, and even when you worked really hard you didn’t make bank, and that’s just how life was. I think one of his limiting beliefs was that he didn’t feel he deserved to be successful or make a lot of money.
My dad died of cancer at 79 and never really slowed down to enjoy the freedom of being your own boss and calling the shots.
Consequently, I inherited many of many of those same limiting beliefs. One of the most devastating for me as an HSP is around taking time for self-care. The first step was awareness and identifying the voice in my head. It would say, You don’t have time to do something selfish like go for a run in the middle of the work day! Sit down and finish all the things on your list first!
Once I knew what was happening I could pause and choose to make a decision that was right for me, but I have to admit that it’s something I still struggle with. But when I started realizing that I was much more effective, efficient, and engaged when I got exercise and time in nature it made it easier to give myself the space and time for that.
Then I created an empowering belief or ideal message for myself to replace the “get back to work” message. It’s something like, Remember, when your needs are met you can accomplish so much more. It changes a little from day to day depending on what I need to hear.
Now I’m at a point of amassing evidence so that if I drag my feet or the limiting belief has a greater hold on me one day I can whip out my history of success to overcome my hesitance. I tell myself, The days when you make time to get outside and move your body are the ones you’re the most creative, positive, and effective. Go!
I believe that change can happen instantly when we’re committed, but I also know that changing the thought patterns, habits, and brain connections takes time. Because of this, I’m compassionate with myself when I skip a day or realize I’m creaky because I’ve missed a couple yoga classes. Beating yourself up does not help you move forward. Compassion, honesty, and uncovering old beliefs that no longer serve, does.
The amazing thing is that when you're no longer fighting to uphold the limiting beliefs you free up energy to use for other things.
In freeing ourselves from words, beliefs, and attitudes that block us, we choose the path of life. We free ourselves to create from a clean slate, from a belief that all things are possible. This act takes a tremendous amount of courage, just as creating a future free from our past wounds takes a tremendous amount of courage. It can be exciting to think about all the opportunities you can create for yourself.
—Sandra Ingerman, author, healer, and shaman