How To Overcome Limiting Beliefs: 7 Critical Steps

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So said ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu.

The sad reality for many of us is that we’re so crippled by the burden of limiting beliefs we develop through our lives, that we don’t have the confidence to take that first and all-important step.

How many big and potentially life-changing opportunities have passed you by because you’re convinced that you’re just not up to the task?

“I’m not smart enough, not the right gender, or I don’t have the right physical attributes or cultural background…”

And so our inner monologue goes on. And the reality is that, whether or not it’s true, it becomes true for you.

Fact: It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.

The stream of negativity which we channel toward ourselves is unending and it’s also very hard to ignore. That persistent, doubting inner whisper…

Oh, if only we were as good at believing the positive stuff about ourselves as we are at believing the negative! We’d be unstoppable!

It’s Only Human

Another common human failing is to be defeated by the thought of the competition before you even get started.

“There’ll be hundreds of applicants for that job;” “my qualifications and skills aren’t good enough;” “I don’t have the necessary experience;” and so on.

The truth is, the only way you can be 100% sure that you won’t succeed is if you don’t actually put your hat in the ring in the first place.

Of course, it’s those insidious and malignant limiting beliefs that are responsible for stopping us in our tracks.

Some of these beliefs come from within and are the result of previous perceived failures and disappointments.

Others are inked indelibly into our psyche by oh-so-helpful family members or teachers who stamp all over our natural enthusiasm and confidence by imprinting the idea that we’re not good enough or clever enough or worthy enough.

When these internal and external influences are combined, they produce an overall and hard-to-ignore sense of self-doubt.

Negative Thinking Is Self-fulfilling

The fact is that one of the cruellest and most damaging of all human characteristics is self-doubt.

Doubting our own abilities or worthiness quickly leads to a whole slew of limiting beliefs which are ultimately self-fulfilling.

As Henry Ford famously said: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Allow yourself to believe that you can’t do something and it’s a dead cert that you’ll fail or you won’t even get out the starting blocks.

So, how can we banish these self-limiting beliefs to the scrap heap of our less successful past and step forward into a rosy future where the sky is the limit?

7 Steps To Overcoming Your Limiting Beliefs

Fortunately, the network of negative beliefs which develop over the years are in our heads and are rarely based on any reality.

There are steps you can take to shift them by re-programming your habitual thought processes.

If you don’t believe that you can do something, you’ll find yourself asking the question: “Can I do this?” This allows for the inevitable response: “No!'” – and your ambitions have sunk without trace before you start.

So, you should try to…

1. Change The Question

If you ask yourself the question: “Can I lose 20 pounds?” the fact that you’ve maybe failed before will beg a negative answer.

So, how about changing the question to a more approachable: “How will I lose 20 pounds?”

The second approach empowers you to find a way forward, act upon it, and create a new and different outcome rather than repeating past failures.

There’s a further step, which is to ask: “What’s the best way for me to…?” That way you’re opening up the self-discussion to consider multiple paths and the best way forward.

Before you do any of this, though, you need to…

2. Distinguish Between Fact And Belief

These negative mindsets are so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we sometimes don’t even realize how much they’re preventing us from fulfilling our true potential. We usually don’t even recognize them as ‘beliefs’ and often see them as ‘facts.’

A timely reminder of the difference is useful here: Facts describe reality – “I am hungry because I haven’t eaten.” Beliefs are our perception of reality – “I am lonely because nobody likes me.”

And, here’s the thing, “nobody likes me” doesn’t describe a reality (though it’s easily confused with one).

Nobody? Really? There are more than seven billion people on our tiny planet and it is impossible to say that “nobody likes me” amongst those myriad souls.

This, then, is no fact; it’s merely a belief or an idea about reality; a perception. But it’s a ‘reason’ from where we’re standing.

So, how do we tell if a ‘reason’ is a fact or a belief? Treat it as a belief and go with it. If it’s a fact, chances are it won’t change, but if it’s a belief, it probably will. 

The next step is to…

3. Identify Your Limiting Beliefs

Have a long, hard think and identify one of yours today. Consider a particular personal predicament such as: “My relationship is in trouble;” “I’m not earning enough;” or whatever is relevant for you.

Now add the word ‘because’ and write it down. Next, say it out loud and write down your instinctive response to complete the sentence.

Try to do this quickly and without self-judging – it’s important to let the ideas flow spontaneously and without judgement or any attempt at evaluation at this point.

Then repeat until you have nothing fresh to say on the subject.

Say each sentence out loud and assess them using a score of 1-10 (false=1, true=10). By ‘true’, this is how true it actually feels whether that is logical or not.

You’ll end up with a list of limiting beliefs which have been masquerading as ‘reasons’ for whatever predicament you’ve been considering. 

The process of writing down and then acknowledging the existence of the belief which is holding you back now, and may have been doing so for the longest time, allows you to name it and shame it.

Having identified and accepted it for what it is, you can start to detach yourself from it and put some emotional space between you and it – remembering that you are not your beliefs!

From this detached perspective, you’re better placed to ask yourself where the belief came from and see how it’s impacting negatively on your life.

Then, use the “How will I…?” question to counteract it, making the seemingly impossible tantalizingly achievable.

Once you’ve opened the door to possibility, you can step through it and check out the new opportunities waiting on the other side.

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4. Could Sports Psychology Hold The Key?

In recent times, the science of sports psychology has shown that fear of failure can be so powerful that it can hold you back from reaching your true potential.

If you believe you will fail, you almost certainly will. Successful athletes will have the mental as well as physical strength to push themselves out of their comfort zone and be willing to take risks, even if those risks could end in failure.

Clearly, risks don’t always pay off. The important thing, though, is that risk-taking is a fundamental component of being a successful athlete.

Let’s face it, the same goes for a successful and fulfilled professional and personal life. Treading your way carefully through life, taking no chances and pushing no boundaries will surely lead to dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disillusion.

Is that really the way you see your life panning out? Are you really going to let those negative beliefs deny you the joy of self-fulfillment?

So, the logical next step is to…

5. Acknowledge Fear Of Failure

When we convince ourselves that we’re not going to succeed, it’s not just fear of our own failure which plays a part.

A strong element of fear of judgement by others is also a factor. The result is that we stay in our comfort zone. That way we avoid the risk of embarrassment.

We can take a leaf out of the sports psychologist’s handbook by first acknowledging this fear of failure and then recognizing its impact on our actions.

Once this is done, the next step is to build confidence through building a sense of optimism. This can be achieved partly via self-talk or visualization of the fruits of success, but also by encouragement and praise from the coach.

Try visualizing yourself succeeding and the limitless benefits you will reap from that success.

Recruit yourself a ‘coach’ from among your loved ones. Their job spec will be to remind you of your unique talents and passions whenever those negative self-doubting demons raise their ugly heads.

6. Exchange Old Beliefs For New Ones

Once you’ve managed to identify and banish a limiting belief and act positively in a way which is counter to your previous instincts, you will set yourself free.

Since the human psyche is dominated by a network of beliefs, pretty soon you’ll find you have new empowering beliefs in place where you are all about what you can do and not what you can’t.

That would please old Mr Henry Ford greatly!

7. Take A Leap Of Faith Today

How much innate human potential has been sacrificed on the altar of these malign but insistent limiting beliefs? Unfathomable quantities!

Follow through on some of our suggestions and perhaps you’ll find a way to leave these negative mental gremlins behind and fulfil your true, unique, and limitless potential.

Make no mistake, taking that leap of faith from self-doubt to self-worth isn’t easy. That said, having those niggling regrets of a life not lived to its true potential isn’t easy to live with either.

As the best-selling author, entrepreneur and life coach Tony Robbins counsels:

We all get what we tolerate. So stop tolerating excuses within yourself, limiting beliefs of the past, or half-assed or fearful states.

Free yourself from the mental prison of self-imposed limitations by having the courage to take that first all-important step on Lao Tzu’s metaphorical journey.

Good luck!

About The Author

Working as a freelance copywriter, Juliana is following a path well-trodden by her family, who seem to have 'wordsmithing' in their DNA. She'll turn her quill to anything from lifestyle and wellness articles to blog posts and SEO articles. All this is underpinned by a lifetime of travel, cultural exchange and her love of the richly expressive medium of the English language.