Break Free from Limiting Beliefs


Beliefs can be defined as a state of certainty that something exists or is true. Personal beliefs consist of ideas and assumptions we have about ourselves that play a significant role in how we view our life and the world around us. The framework most people operate from is dependent on the successes and failures of these set of values including ones limiting beliefs.

When failures begin to occur more frequently, a person can develop more limiting beliefs rather than forward-thinking ones, and if these in turn begin to permeate several areas of a person’s life, it may be time to seek help from a coach who can help you explore how to break free.

Professional and personal life coach, Emily Downward, says clients come to her when they are stuck or exhausted after trying to make a change or achieve a goal that they haven’t yet been able to. “I help them first identify limiting beliefs by listening to them with a practiced ear. I can spot them in their dialogue. We all have limiting beliefs: in our Western culture, we are very left-brain dominant, which works by looking to the past to predict the future. This is incredibly useful to us in making learned behaviors unconscious, like in driving, but it can be a handicap when we want to do something differently or become something more than we have previously been.” These limiting beliefs remind us of adverse experiences from our past, such as a negative interaction with a spouse or boss, that ultimately get in the way of allowing our brain to experience new, more positive interactions.

When a person is stuck and not making progress on a set goal, limiting beliefs are usually to blame. Say Kristen Smith is looking to change careers – she wants to become the assistant manager at the hotel where she works, a move up from her administrative job. She has all the educational qualifications needed, and is close to submitting the application, but suddenly change their mind. Why? Maybe she believes that she doesn’t have enough experience in the trenches, maybe she thinks she can’t learn new things. Such behavior can be a combination of different circumstances but can often be attributed to limiting beliefs, especially if it falls into a recurring pattern. The fear of not being “good enough” or apprehension about change can lead to self-sabotage and missed opportunities. The person desperately wants to move forward, but despite knowing what the next step is, doesn’t commit to following through. Very often, this becomes a perpetual cycle that is difficult to break, so in order to have a shift in behavior, some kind of intervention is needed. This is when coaches ask questions and dig a little deeper to bring those limiting beliefs out into the open.

Self-limiting statements such as “I can’t,” “I don’t know,” and “I don’t have” often frame how people view the world. If they have created a life using these self-limiting beliefs, the lens that everything is viewed through begins with one of these statements. A coach will listen for and challenge you on limiting beliefs and flawed assumptions that are getting in the way of opportunities, success, and happiness in your life.

Once these limiting beliefs have been identified, a coach can help devise a plan of action to dismantle them and nurture more empowering and forward-thinking mental habits. During a coaching session you might engage in the following exercises:

  1.  Identify one limiting belief at a time to focus on.
  2. Ask yourself why you have this limiting belief and figure out its origin. Is this belief resulting from your childhood? Is it in response to a more recent experience as an adult? Take some time to consider your life experiences and identify reactions and feelings about them.
  3. Look for examples that contradict the limiting belief. You might feel a certain way about yourself, but that doesn’t make it true.
  4. Catch yourself. When limiting beliefs rear their ugly head, counteract them with a positive image. Visualize yourself committing to change; hear the words in your head that will move you forward. Look in a mirror and practice saying “I am good enough to apply for this job and my skill set is exactly what they are looking for.” Reframing the immediate thought and belief will help break the cycle.

The path you choose to travel on will ultimately determine how you live. It’s up to you to decide what that will look like. Taking a proactive approach to dismantling self-limiting beliefs is the first step towards a more fulfilling life.

Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer and counselor with 20+ years in health, wellness, and mental health. She has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counseling.

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