What self-limiting beliefs are holding you back from unleashing your awesomeness on the world?
Here are some I carried with me for many years:
“I’m too fat to wear a bikini or show my body on the beach.”
“I’m an awkward weirdo who no-one wants to be friends with.”
“I shouldn’t be so loud or excitable around others…I should be quieter and more polite.”
And so I stayed embarrassed. Awkward. Quiet and polite. I turned down invitations to try new things. I hated my body, and felt ashamed any time I ate. I was afraid to be me in all my glory.
I was a duller, dimmed down version of myself.
What are self-limiting beliefs?
Many of the things we think about ourselves are wrong. They often creep in when we’re kids, impressionable and porous, absorbing other people’s opinions of who we are and how we should behave. And then we look for examples that confirm them.
As we move through life, we let these beliefs take over. They seep into your sub-conscious and influence how you think, say and act.
For instance, my food issues stemmed from my family commenting on my food choices and portions (“Are you sure you want two pieces of toast?” they would often ask). These self-beliefs were confirmed in the schoolyard, when the class bully and her sheep gave me the nickname ‘Fatson’ and made up a song about me. It started: “On top of Mount Fatson, all covered in fat…”
So perhaps it’s no surprise I suffered from an eating disorder throughout my 20s.
As Louise Hay writes:
“We learn our belief systems as very little children, and then we move through life creating experiences to match our beliefs. Look back in your own life and notice how often you have gone through the same experience.”
Ain’t that so darn true? We look for confirmation about our beliefs…and we even create experiences to match them. We are so locked in our limitations that we keep repeating the pattern. Why wouldn’t we? We (and the people around us) have plopped us in a box and tied a neat little bow, and that’s that.
Except that it’s not.
Why your self-limiting beliefs are wrong
Beliefs are just that: beliefs. Opinions. Assumptions. They’re not real. They’re not factual or evidence-based – even though you can probably point to several experiences in your life that ‘prove’ they are.
They may sound true to you (“I’ll never be in a relationship because I’m broken…”) and they’ve probably kept you in a safe, comfortable space for a long time. Being broken means you don’t have to risk love and loss…it means you can push people away before they leave you.
But here’s the catch: your beliefs are getting in the way of being the person you are destined to be. They let you play small. You end up existing like a toy that needs new batteries: you’re half-on.
Some people are happy living like that.
But if you’re sick of playing small, and want to break out of your self-imposed shackles, then it’s time to smash those beliefs with a humungous hammer!
4 steps to smash your beliefs
Changing the way you see yourself won’t happen overnight. It takes practice and a little effort. You may find Neuro-Linguistic Programming or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helpful, with a therapist to guide you through the process.
But if you want to give it a go yourself, here are 4 steps to smash your self-limiting beliefs:
1. Get to know your beliefs
Grab your journal, and jot down your self-limiting beliefs. Really take your time here, and dig deep. This exercise might bring up some painful emotions, but trust that it’s leading you to something wonderful.
Your beliefs might be:
I have nothing helpful to say
I’ll never make any money
I’m terrible at relationships
I have to be perfect
After writing down the beliefs that you feel are holding you back, write down how each one makes you feel and behave. You might like to pick just 1-2 to start with (any more than that can be overwhelming and ineffective).
For example, if your belief is “I have nothing helpful to say”, you might write down “I feel hopeless, and I don’t speak up for myself.”
Why this works: it’s the first step to being more aware about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Once you’re aware of your self-limiting beliefs (and how they manifest in your life), you can start to reframe the way you see yourself.
2. Question the evidence
As we go through life, we look for experiences that reflect our reinforce our self-view. But that means we often ignore the things that show our beliefs to be wrong.
For instance, if you believe “I have nothing helpful to say“, you may focus on the times when you spoke up and were ignored or ridiculed.
But now, I want you to do the opposite.
Next to each belief in your journal, jot down some experiences where the opposite was true.
For example, when did you speak up for yourself and get what you wanted? When did you give a presentation that was well received? Was there a time when you helped a friend deal with a difficult situation?
Why this works: when you reconsider the ‘evidence’ that your beliefs are true, you realise that the opposite belief is just as likely. And you begin to see your beliefs as ingrained assumptions, rather than fact.
3. Reframe your beliefs
Now you’ve seen your beliefs can be flawed, it’s time to replace them with more helpful ones.
An easy way to do this is consider who you want to be – and how you want to think, feel and act – from now on. Consider this your fresh start, your blank page.
Let’s say you want to be more assertive, so you can speak up and feel heard.
You might replace “I have nothing helpful to say” with “I’ve developed some great skills as a listener and observer, now I’m fully prepared to start speaking up about the things that are important to me.”
Or if your self-limiting belief is “I’ll never make enough money”, you can practice saying “My financial problems in the past have helped me prepare for the future. I’m now on the path to a more secure and prosperous financial future.”
If it still sounds a bit too far fetched, you can simply say: “In the past, my finances were a mess. But I’m going to do better.”
You can practice saying each new belief a few times. But the real power comes when you start to believe it as strongly as your past limiting beliefs.
For instance, once you start believing “I’m now on the path to a better financial future”, you’ll be more likely to seek financial advice, start a budget and savings plan, get your insurance in order…your actions will reflect and confirm your new, healthier belief.
Why this works: It does take time and practice, but soon your new beliefs will sound louder and have more weight – and you’ll begin to embody them in the way you feel, think and act.
4. Reinforce your new beliefs
As you start testing out your new beliefs, the old ones might creep back in (sneaky buggers!) This is especially true of the deeply ingrained beliefs that you’ve carried with you for a long time.
The trick? Consciously come back to your new beliefs.
Let’s say you’re preparing your new budget and savings plan, and that old familiar voice pipes up: “Who are you kidding? You’ll always be broke!”
Say out loud to yourself: “Stop!” or “No!” This can stop the old belief in its tracks, before it sinks its teeth in.
Then, come back to your new belief: “I’m on track to a better financial future. I’m a great saver.” Smile when you say this! Sometimes I’ll say “Yay!” or “Go me” when I choose a healthier thought over an old crappy one. Just a little pat on the back – it’s important to acknowledge these positive steps.
You can also go back to your examples of when that belief was disproven. For instance, “I saved $1000 for my holiday” or “I paid off my credit card”.
Keep reminding yourself of your new beliefs. And keep up the actions that reinforce them. Look for the tools, techniques, and people who can help confirm your new beliefs.
For instance: if you want to manage your money better, hire a financial planner, read budgeting articles online, borrow money management books from the library, or ask a friend to be your budgeting buddy (get together to set your financial goals, and keep each other on track).
Why this works: By taking baby steps each day, over time you’ll begin to make bigger changes to the way you think, feel and act. Keep practising, keep reinforcing your new beliefs, and you’ll be on track to becoming the person you want to be. And deserve to be.
I believe in you!