Shattering Limiting Beliefs
One of the biggest obstacles we have toward reaching our dreams is limiting beliefs. We’ve all got them. Some are up front and center in our minds and others hide away in the deep recesses. Both are challenging to tackle, but if we take the time to face them head on, we can limit their impact and even get rid of them for good. This blog post offers some tactics for exploring and updating your belief system.
Limiting Beliefs – Where Do They Come From?
Many of our beliefs about life and how we interact with the world were learned at an early age. Some of these may have worked well for us at that point in life and still do today, such as “I learn new things easily.” or “I enjoy making new friends.” Yet often there are a number of beliefs that were established during our formative years that were unhelpful to begin with or that we may have outgrown the need for and should have left behind. The problem is that sometimes we don’t even realize what beliefs are holding us back.
For example, perhaps your role models as a child never displayed the aspects of strong, healthy and happy relationships. Then you learned in school about high divorce rates. And the evidence in high school didn’t help. You may have ended up believing that good relationships are a “pie in the sky” aspiration and that all relationships are a constant struggle. This belief could certainly impact how your current relationships unfold.
Other beliefs slip into our subconscious unseen as we navigate through the challenges in our day to day life or as we watch and listen to the stories and opinions of others. We notice, nod our heads and think, “Yes, that makes sense.” We do this a few times and BAM, unknowingly we’ve adopted a new belief.
How To Change Limiting Beliefs
In order to change and dispense with limiting beliefs, you must first uncover them and bring them back to light. Doing so requires a bit of self-reflection that is best undertaken in a quiet place and at a time when you know you won’t be disturbed. It’s great if you can design yourself a little mini retreat and slip away somewhere for a day or even a few hours. But for most of us that’s not possible. So maybe an early morning can yield a bit of quiet time; either tucked away at home, out on the deck or even on a walk.
1. Begin by asking yourself what challenges seem to be coming up in your life again and again.
2. Then with journal or pen and paper in hand write down your challenge in the form of a question to help you discover what beliefs you may have that support this challenge from recurring. For example, with respect to beliefs about difficulties in relationships, you may ask yourself the question, “What beliefs stop me from having a happy, healthy, supportive relationship?”
I did this exercise on a walk this morning, so at the time I just formulated the question in my mind. Later when I got home, I decided to dig deeper and journal about the question as well. Here’s the question I used:
What stops me from being wildly successful?
First let me share that I feel grateful and blessed by the many successes I’ve had in my life thus far, but I want to make a positive impact in an even bigger way. And I want to do so in a way that I maintain good health and happiness along the way. Intellectually I know this is possible, but I wanted to uncover any unknown limiting beliefs that might be lurking around in my subconscious and impeding my growth in this direction.
Asking myself the question “What stops me from being wildly successful?” on my walk yielded a couple of answers that weren’t surprising to me. I’m sure I’ve contemplated them before and haven’t fully dispensed with them. One that popped up was, “Successful people can’t also have a simple uncomplicated life outside of their business.”
In recent years, I’ve cherished simplicity more and more and for some reason in my head a wildly successful person comes with a lot of extra “baggage” to manage – big houses with lots of things in them, big play toys needing maintenance, a heck of a lot of responsibility and weight on their shoulders, the list goes on… The internal picture is a bit overwhelming to me. I pondered this for a few minutes, seeking evidence to the contrary and after a bit Yvon Chouinard came to mind.
While I don’t know what his lifestyle looks like today, I do know that over the years of owning Patagonia he come to be recognized for being down to earth, placing a priority on giving, doing the right thing and enjoying life. He’s often quoted as saying “When the surfs up, you drop work and go surfing” and he’s been known for taking months each year to fish and have fun. He doesn’t use email and though he owns a cell phone, he rarely turns it on. He believes in living simply, re-using and re-building. He’s chosen to live life on his own terms regardless of success. This is good disputing evidence against my belief that “Successful people can’t also have a simple, uncomplicated life outside of their business.”
When you want to change your belief system, you need to find evidence to fully convince yourself that the limiting belief is not necessarily true. Find real life examples of other people that have overcome the same challenge you are now facing. If they could do it, so can you!
In addition, when you find yourself holding on to a belief long after you’ve realized it is not helpful toward reaching your dreams, you need to take further action. You must find a way to remind yourself why that “old belief” is no longer true. And remind yourself often, so your new way of thinking becomes the predominate way of thinking.
In my case I decided to print out a favorite quote of Yvon Chouinard’s and the title of one of his books and put them on my vision board inside my JMB Living Journal as reminders I would see often. Here’s the quote I chose:
And the book title…
By doing this, I’ll read the quotes every day when I open my journal to view my vision board as a part of my morning routine. This will be a daily dose of training my mind what I want it to believe – powerful stuff.
I hit upon a few other recurring limiting beliefs on my walk as well, but the real unanticipated nuggets came when I put pen to paper in my JMB Living Journal and just let the thoughts to my original question flow unimpeded out onto paper. Here’s a few that surfaced:
Only beautiful people are successful.
Being wildly successful is greedy.
Being wildly successful takes a very long time.
Intellectually, the first one seems laughable to me, but I think there is at least some part of me that believes it is at least easier to be successful as a woman if you are beautiful. All of these beliefs can quickly be dispelled by a little Googling, but it is helpful to know what thoughts are running on autopilot in the corners of your mind. If you are able to discern where the belief came from in the first place, that too can be helpful.
Handling Limiting Beliefs Once You Find Them
The next question is, once you’ve found them, what do you do with them?
We already discussed one method of putting reminders to the contrary on a vision board. A similar method is crafting new helpful beliefs in the form of an affirmation to be stated daily.
A third way of working through changes in a belief system is to categorize old and new beliefs.
Recently I read an entertaining novel entitled Red Mountain by Boo Walker. The one thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else after reading the book was the coping mechanism used by one of the characters for transforming her life. She wanted to make some big changes – lose weight, get healthy, start a business by opening an inn. Her name was Margot and she began classifying certain old traits and beliefs about herself that she didn’t want to retain in an old version of herself that she entitled Margot 1.0. Her new updated model of herself that she was working to embody she labeled Margot 2.0.
Personally, I thought this was genius. It gave her a construct for noticing, labeling and dispensing of limiting thoughts and habits into her earlier version of self. For instance, if she woke up craving a doughnut, rather than satisfying the craving that would not support her goals, she’d say to herself, “Yes, Margot 1.0 would certainly have scarfed down a couple of doughnuts with a large latte, but as Margot 2.0 I’m going to take a walk first instead and then decide what I’d like for breakfast.”
Or let’s say she was already at the coffee shop and did eat a doughnut, rather than berating herself about it the rest of the day, she’d say to herself, “Yes, Margot 1.0 was quick to judge and find all the reasons why I can’t follow through on my intentions, but now as Margot 2.0 I’m going to savor the rest of this doughnut, eat healthy the rest of the day and squeeze in a longer walk this afternoon as well.”. (Note that these were not examples from the book, but rather my own examples to be able to describe the method of thinking that she employed.)
Beliefs that Don’t Feel Real or Achievable
The last thing I’d like to touch on in this blog post is what to do when the new beliefs you want to embody feel too big, overwhelming or not entirely realistic to you at this point in time.
For example, perhaps you are trying to lose weight and your chosen belief is, “I am a strong, lean, sexy woman.”, but you feel far from that at this moment in time. You may want to supplement this belief (or if it works better for you, switch it out entirely for now) with a belief such as, “I take action daily in ways that lead me to be stronger, leaner and sexy.” Keep operating under this belief, follow through on your intentions and over time, you will be able to say “I am a strong, lean, sexy woman” and truly believe it.
I’ve heard this technique referred to as the ladder approach to cultivating new beliefs. It is very useful because you begin by crafting a belief in such a way that it is fully believable to you. Helpful phrases to start beliefs in this way can include, “I’m learning to…” or “Every day I am becoming more…” or as used above “I take action daily in ways that lead me to be…”
Recap of Steps to Changing Limiting Beliefs
Consider challenges in your life that keep recurring.
Reflect on beliefs that may support this challenge’s existence.
Formulate a question to help uncover your thinking patterns such as, “What beliefs stop me from…” or “What stops me from…”.
Mull answers to this question over in your mind, possibly by even considering what beliefs someone else might have this this situation.
Or write down everything that comes into your mind when you ask yourself the question.
3. Find evidence to dispute the limiting beliefs.
4. Craft new helpful beliefs, looking for evidence to support these beliefs including others who have proved them to be true.
5. Use vision boards, affirmations or categorization to reinforce the new beliefs.