What are limiting beliefs?
A belief is something you consider to be true, either by assumption, experience or passed on through others. If a belief you have about yourself or a situation is holding you back in some way, this is a limiting belief.
Limiting beliefs often relate to people’s beliefs about themselves or things that they want to do, and are often quite deeply rooted, having been held for a long time. For example:
- I’m not good enough
- I always fail
- I’ll never have money
- I wouldn’t be able to ….
- I’ll never meet the right person for me
- I’m not confident
- I always mess things up
- I can’t trust people
- People always let me down
- I can’t do …as well as other people
- I can’t have/do … (the thing you really want), because I don’t have (the thing you think you need to get it, that you don’t have)
- Only people who have (X) can achieve (Y)
These beliefs can have a negative impact on the life and relationships of the person, for whom these beliefs often feel very real. These beliefs are usually stated as facts, and the use of ‘always’ or ‘never’ suggests that the person has lots of evidence or experience to prove to them that their belief is true.
Can you change a limiting belief?
There are lots of different ways that coaches, therapists and other practitioners would work with someone on their limiting beliefs, but the process often begins with the person becoming aware of this belief, understanding how it is holding them back, and then developing ways to challenge this belief and find alternative ways of thinking. Depending on the approach being used, this could be consciously or subconsciously.
One way of working on this would be to look specifically at what brings that belief to the surface, there’s usually a particular situation that brings it up. We would then look deeper into the belief to find what it’s really about, as beliefs may be about our capabilities or our identity, or something else. We can explore the consequences of holding this belief. What has it, or will it, prevent us from doing or being.
Often there is a subconscious reason why people hold on to these beliefs, and it can sometimes be about staying safe. For example, a client who believed that she fails at everything. The consequence of this was that she didn’t complete things that she started (job applications, training courses, life goals), because she ‘knew’ she would fail, so what was the point in trying. This behaviour, not completing things, was both giving her the evidence to back up her belief because she didn’t succeed at anything she started, and it was also keeping her safe because if she didn’t see things through to completion, if she didn’t try, there was never the risk of actually failing.
Coaches work with their clients to challenge that evidence, and to create a new and more empowering belief which can help the client move forward. This often involves looking more closely at what is being gained by holding on to the limiting belief, (sometimes called a secondary gain or pay-off).
What can you do to help yourself?
You can start the process to free yourself from limiting beliefs by:
- Listening to the things you say, internally and aloud, and noticing limiting beliefs and assumptions
- Looking deeper into the consequences of maintaining that belief. (What does it cost you? What do you gain?)
- Disputing the reality of this belief. Is it really true? What else is possible?
- Choosing a more useful, positive belief that gives you more possibilities.
For deeply rooted beliefs, or if you want help to make a shift in your thinking, you could work with a life coach or try therapies such as CBT as a way of moving forward.
Ruth Randall is a Life and Leadership Coach, and Team Development Specialist. Ruth works with teams to help them to build trust, develop strong working relationships, manage stress, and increase productivity and job satisfaction. She also coaches individual clients who want to make changes in their lives, careers and relationships.