5 Steps to Managing Your Limiting Beliefs

A limiting belief is any thought or state of mind that stops you from taking action. They can appear normal because they're so ingrained in the way we think that we don't even see the harm they cause.

For example, not expressing anger because you believe it'll be seen as ‘aggressive’, or not asserting yourself out of fear others will see you as ‘bossy’.

Limiting beliefs are not necessarily about you either. They can also be the beliefs you hold about others and how you relate to the world around you. Other examples of limiting beliefs include the following:

  • “Nobody can be trusted.”

  • “I’m too depressed to meet new people.”

  • “Self-care is selfish.”

  • “I’m not smart enough to go to university."

  • “Wealthy people are greedy.”

  • “If I end this poor relationship, I’ll be alone forever.”

  • “I can’t leave my job because they’ll think I’m a failure.”

  • “I’m an irresponsible parent if my child gets hurt."

  • “I’m too quiet to be a successful entrepreneur.”

Defence mechanism

Limiting beliefs can subconsciously be used as a defence strategy to keep you from experiencing emotional pain or discomfort. You might put things off or avoid doing things you think will be difficult.

For example, if you were in an abusive relationship when you were younger, you might develop the unhealthy belief that you're unlovable or a bad person who deserves to be mistreated.

Both of these beliefs could impact your willingness to engage in new relationships and lead to you avoiding long-term relational commitments through a concern that a partner will at some point reject or mistreat you.

In this case, not committing will keep you safe from the inevitable harm you believe will come as a result of you being an unlovable person who is deserving of mistreatment.

When left unchallenged, limiting beliefs develop into barriers to change, growth, and freedom to reach your potential. They can also harm your relationships.

Because of this, you must take the time to identify, challenge, and modify them.

How to overcome your limiting beliefs

Overcoming limiting beliefs is not an easy task. This is to be expected because you've probably held onto them for a long time, and in some cases, since childhood.

But although it is difficult to change, with time, effort, and commitment, you can decide against being governed by unhelpful beliefs and instead choose to live by a new set of empowering ones.

So here is a step-by-step process for identifying, challenging, and modifying your limiting beliefs.

Step 1: Identify your limiting beliefs

One approach is to make a list of tasks or responsibilities you find challenging and have a habit of avoiding.

This could include things like public speaking, having difficult conversations, and managing a budget sheet.

Having identified some of the things you find hard and routinely avoid, you can start to consider what your underlying beliefs about that particular task are.

For example, you might believe you are incapable of working with numbers.

Making connections between the areas of challenge you've avoided and the beliefs that've become barriers is key to identifying the strategies you can use for self-improvement in those areas.

Another approach to identifying your limiting beliefs is to evaluate your behaviour.

Try thinking back to a time when you felt you needed to speak up for yourself. Maybe someone hurt your feelings or wronged you in some way.

When you've got an event in mind, think for a minute about how you responded.

Did you have a conversation about the impact of what they said or did, or did you avoid letting them know how you felt?

If you avoid letting someone know how you feel about the impact of their words or actions, there's a good chance that you've got a limiting belief about confrontation and conflict, which results in you avoiding it where possible.

The outcome of this limiting belief can be that you do not speak up for yourself, you feel guilty when you do, and you hold resentment or anger for people who fail to listen to you or meet your needs.

A third approach to identifying your limiting beliefs is to simply write out what you believe about different things in life.

These can include specific and more general thoughts or beliefs you hold.

When using this approach, it can help to put your beliefs into categories, such as your beliefs about money, education, work, family, and health.

Include the beliefs you hold loosely and those you feel more strongly about.

Step 2: Ask yourself how true your belief is

More often than not, just questioning the validity of your limiting beliefs will make them lose their power.

One way to do this is to score each of your beliefs on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being the most true and 1 being the least true.

Another way of testing the validity of your beliefs is to imagine what life would look like if they were false and consider alternative possibilities.

For example:

  • “How much more confident would I be if I did meet new people?”

  • “What might life look like if I did date someone who treated me well?”

  • “What opportunities could open up to me if I do leave this job?”

Imagining different outcomes can help you challenge the beliefs you've been holding and start the process of breaking them.

Step 3: Ask what you are gaining from your belief

Your limiting beliefs are serving you!

In other words, there is something you gain by holding onto them.

Maybe they're protecting you from stepping out of your comfort zone. Or perhaps they help you rationalise your choices.

Life can be difficult, and meaningful growth and change are hard.

Holding to the belief that you are not smart enough to complete a degree might help you avoid putting in the work to get one.

Similarly, holding to the belief that someone you know will not change could be used to help you avoid engaging in difficult or possibly confrontational conversations.

Every belief has its benefits.

The question you need to ask is: How are your beliefs serving you, and whether or not they are serving you positively or negatively?

Step 4: Create some new beliefs

By now, you will know whether your beliefs are helpful or not.

So for those that are unhelpful, it's time to get creative and think of alternative beliefs that will help you move towards your desired change.

An easy way to do this is to look at the list of limiting assumptions or beliefs you identified in Step 1 and write a list of different assumptions or beliefs that, with time, will prove to be more helpful.

Examples:

Although you could see lasting change with just one alternative belief, push yourself to see how many you can list.

This will challenge your limiting beliefs and give you more options to choose from in the next step.

Step 5: Put your alternative beliefs into practice and test them out

Chances are, your long-held beliefs have stopped you from experiencing the life changes you want to see.

So, now that you have a list of alternative beliefs up your sleeve, you can experiment.

By treating your alternative beliefs as an experiment, you can permit yourself to try new things, step out of your comfort zone, and take some calculated risks.

And with these experiments, you get to see what is true or false.

Think of your new beliefs like wearing a new pair of jeans or shoes. At first, they will feel uncomfortable, as they need time to break in. And because of this, you might be tempted to put on your old jeans or shoes.

Examples:

It is important to resist the temptation to revert to your old beliefs, because if you do, they will stop you from behaving differently from what you have been used to.

Summary

Without changing your behaviour, you'll experience the same outcomes you've always had, which will reinforce your old, unhelpful beliefs.

It's like a cycle where your beliefs influence your behaviour.

To form healthy beliefs, you must learn to sit with the discomfort of the new behaviours that align with the new beliefs you've created.

But this requires you to be patient with yourself and consistent.

As you grow in self-awareness, you must be willing to challenge your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world around you.

With this approach, you'll benefit from your increased self-awareness and see lasting change.

There are no shortcuts!

10 Simple Stress Management Tips

You'll also get my newsletter with up to date research, advice, and practical tools designed to help you manage stress, improve wellbeing and feel more confident to win in life.

Close