How to Find Freedom from Self-limiting Beliefs

self-limiting beliefs womanThis article looks into how self-limiting beliefs affect us, and how we can overcome them. Making our beliefs work for us is important for our self-image, health, and success.

Our beliefs are powerful. They have the power to chain us down and stop our growth. They can also propel us to new heights. They shape our lives from a young age, and we always hold them with us in everything we do. Since they are so powerful, it’s important to give the beliefs we hold some proper attention.

Recognizing self-limiting beliefs:

limiting beliefsSelf-limiting beliefs are the beliefs we have that hold us back from being who we want to become. They stop us before we even begin trying to grow. They keep our mindset fixed in place. They are harder to recognize in ourselves than others.

Limiting beliefs normally stem from our fears. They are also a way of rationalizing why we staying in our comfort zones. We draw lines in our mind that separate who we are and are not. Anything beyond what we think we already are, we discount as irrelevant, whether or not it can help us grow.

These beliefs typically take the form of negativity and excuses:
• I can’t _______
• I dont’t _______
• I’m not _______

Examples of self-limiting beliefs:

• “I’m not very creative. I’m not very good at art.”
• “I am talented, so I don’t really need to continually practice my craft.”
• “I don’t think I could do that; I am pretty average.”
• “I don’t have the skills I need”

Examples of beliefs from a success mindset:
• “I like to create and express myself because it feels good. I enjoy the process.”
• “I practice every day for the sake of practicing because I want to master my craft.”
• “I am able to achieve what I put my mind to, because of my persistent hard work.”
• “I can develop all the skills I need”

“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right” – Henry Ford

The Psychology of Encouragement: Effects on Belief & Self-Image

We often grow up with a mixture of positive and negative encouragement that shape our beliefs and efforts. Our beliefs start from a young age and evolve with our life experiences.

encouraging childPositive Encouragement

We may have parents, friends, or people we respect that tell us we are “talented” or “naturals.” They often do this with the best intention: to motivate us to pursue and nurture our innate abilities.

Doing this unfortunately has a counter-intuitive effect. This form of encouragement makes us think we already have all the skills we’ll ever need, and seeking to improve those skills would be seen as improving on a deficit.

You can learn more about this Ted Talk on The Power of Belief by Eduardo Briceno.

Negative Encouragement
Some of us are unfortunate enough to not have encouraging support as we grow. We may share our dreams of who we want to become as we grow up, and others may tell us to “be realistic.” The more our dreams are shot down or diverted, the more we drop our bar for an aspirational dream.

Most of the people who impart our self-limiting beliefs have the best intentions. They want to protect you from disappointment and getting hurt.

The effects of this form of encouragement leads us to conform to what others consider “normal.” It causes us to lower our aspirations and expectations to what we consider to be “realistic.”

If our only goal in life is to make enough money to pay the bills, the bar is so low and achievable that it doesn’t excite us. It doesn’t make us leap out of bed, ready to pursue the opportunities we get in each day.

Let’s say your parents have ran a restaurant for the last few decades and it’s the world they know. Your friends live in the corporate world

Your Drive:
You have high aspirations. You may want to earn a living by exploring the world. You might want to create art or music for a living. You may even want to start a business around your passion for helping people.
>Whatever you do, you want to make a massive impact on the world. You don’t want a job, you want work that you can be passionate about. The work you want to do may not immediately make money rain.

Positive Encouragement:
Your parents and friends might encourage you by pointing out that they see your strengths. They may tell you that you already have the talent for achieving your aspirations. As nice as the encouragement may feel, we can’t let this encouragement keep us in a place of comfort. We have to use this as fuel to keep pushing into new territory.

Negative Encouragement:
Your parents and friends might also influence you to shift your efforts towards something more ‘practical’ or ‘realistic.’ They may think that it simply can’t be done, because they weren’t able to do it themselves. We need to keep in mind that what others say to us are usually opinions.

We should be able to entertain the opinions of others, but also draw our own conclusions. Others tend to project their own beliefs and life experiences onto us when sharing their opinions, and we do the same with others.

Recognizing opinions as opinions are important to independent thinking. They’re are also the key to recognizing limiting beliefs; in ourselves and others.

The Results of Encouragement:
How we think and act depends on the beliefs we hold. They come from various forms of encouragement in the past, and we can choose to hold new beliefs that benefit us.

In this Ted Talk on The Power of Believing You Can Improve by Carol Dweck, she talks about encouraging the right beliefs to cultivate a growth mindset.

Having a natural ability to do something certainly helps with developing those skills. However, praising natural talent encourages people to stay in their comfort zones. It is much better to praise the process and hard work that goes into developing those abilities. It encourages people to seek effort and difficulty in order to grow.

More Reading: The Effort Effect by Marina Krakovsky [Stanford Magazine] 

Victimhood vs. Free Agency

Being Victims of Circumstance vs. Being Responsible for What We Can Control 

victimhoodA while back, I was under the impression that bad things happen to me. It felt like I had little control over my life and where I was going. I was taught by society to simply accept the world as it is. It wasn’t until I discovered that many other people felt this way, that I looked for better answers. I was distressed this was considered “normal” and couldn’t accept it.

I soon discovered that we tend to notice what we look for. I need more than the idea of positive psychology. I needed to know that believing that things will get better actually causes things to get better. The difference in this subtle shift of perspective and philosophy is that it affects how you approach new situations.

Holding my old perspective of victimhood led me to think and act in ways that continued to perpetuate victimhood. I sought relationships with others that held the same view: “This sucks, that sucks, it all sucks. Woe is me. What is the point of life?” I even had contempt when I saw positive people trying their best to squeeze every drop of experience out of life.

It wasn’t until I started to think: “Maybe these people are onto something.” I entertained a few people who always seemed to be genuinely positive, even in the darkest situations. I picked their brains to see why they held this seemingly insane undying positivity. I found that after looking at enough self-motivated people, many similar patterns started emerging. There wasn’t much that made them different or more special. The biggest difference was their philosophy on life and the way they saw the world.

Fundamental Attribution Error [Cognitive Bias] 
(also known as the Attribution Effect/Correspondence Bias)

A lot of this perspective change comes from the difference between how we see our own lives and how we see others. This is a fairly major cognitive bias when it comes to our interactions with others.

The bias describes our tendency to associate the words and actions of others as representative of their character. It also describes our own tendency to rationalize our own thoughts and actions as a response to our circumstances.

This makes it almost too easy to miscommunicate, and even easier to react inappropriately.

Quick Example:
Our knee-jerk negative reactions to others cutting us off on the road:
We will likely think that person is inconsiderate or a bad driver.

When we accidentally cut others off on the road:
We see this as a result of our circumstance. Maybe we needed to quickly shift lanes to exit, or we simply may not have seen them in our blind spot.

The Degree of Our Control

I think we all have a desire to be in control at some level. Whether it’s over our future, situations, circumstances, and even other people.

I often fall into the trap of trying to control everything, except for what I only have any right to control: myself.

Part of what made me feel like a victim of life is that I was only reacting to things that happened to me. I paid little attention to ways I could be proactive in directing myself to where I wanted to go. I would be considered a passive player in the game of life, and that doesn’t end very well.

I found that the people who have the success mindset had the wisdom to know that they only really have control of themselves. Within that limitation, they actively shaped their thoughts and actions to seek growth and achievement.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness and Becoming Free Agents

freedom from victimhood

After learning about these traits from those I consider to have the success mindset, I knew I wanted to be like the happy successful people I studied. I quickly saw that I had some intimidatingly large gaps that I needed to bridge in my own life.

Philosophy & Attitude
My mind was filled with thoughts of fear, worry, doubt, anxiety, and they all fed into depression.

Learning to make the leap to the other side took much more than saying “I’m going to be happy now.” I had to completely dismantle and restructure the way I saw the world. I had to tear down everything I thought I knew and all of my beliefs.

I came to terms that my life was a result of both circumstances and every decision I have made. Life became brighter after I started focusing on helping and serving others. Moving away from my ego and basic needs allowed me to build healthier attitudes towards life and other people.

If this wasn’t hard enough, I had to take a look at all the habits I picked up over the course of my life. The majority of them were negative, and I fed them subconsciously. Many of these habits were an effort to cope with my negative beliefs about reality. These negative beliefs and habits have the tendency of reinforcing themselves.

I have a rather addictive personality. I sought instant gratification and pleasure anywhere I could find them. I had habits that fueled these desires, and they seemed pretty inconsequential.

I binged on video games whenever I could, and they helped me escape. I formed romantic relationships that became codependent because I didn’t address my own deficiencies, insecurity, and motivation. I associated myself with toxic people and became a toxic person. What’s worse, is that my relationship with myself became toxic.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to start the breakthrough process of going from own-worst-enemy to being your own best friend.

The key elements for break-through are desire and motivation. To change, the pain of staying the same needs to outweigh the discomfort of changing .

The next biggest important elements are patience and persistence, taking a step forward towards growth each day.

As they say, “The habits that take years to make are not changed in a day.”

Related: A Big Think Video by Michael Puett on Breaking Negative Patterns

Quick Summary

People who I consider to have the success mindset share similar patterns in these areas:

1) They Recognize Limiting Beliefs
They know when they reinforce their own beliefs that hold themselves back.

2) They are Encouraged by the Process and Progress of Growth
They give the opinions of others proper weight while focusing on training for mastery.

3) They Focus on Keeping a Healthy Perspective About Circumstances, Others, and What They Can Control.
They look to understand circumstances and avoid judging or controlling others. They also understand that they can only control their own beliefs, values, thoughts, and actions.

4) They Overcome Learned Helplessness and Become Free Agents
They were able to overcome negative thoughts and habits to cultivate attitudes and behaviors that lead to growth.

Action: How Do We Overcome Our Self-Limiting Beliefs?

As soon as we recognize self-limiting beliefs, we can choose to change them. We need to understand how we affect others with our attitude and behaviors. We also need to understand how others affect us with their words and actions.

The key is overcoming self-limiting beliefs by re-wording the stories we tell ourselves. Rather than reinforcing negative thoughts and habits, we pursue attitudes and behaviors that lead to growth. Instead of believing and embracing the limitations, we tell ourselves that we are capable of becoming more.

We constantly move towards a success mindset with desire and motivation We understand that growth is a process, so we are persistent and patient.

When we embrace our potential and remove our limits, we are empowered to make the most of ourselves.

In this article, we learned about:
• How to Recognize Our Self-Limiting Beliefs
• The Psychology Behind Encouragement and Opinions
• Shattering Our Victimhood and Embracing Free Agency
• Overcoming Learned Helplessness to Become Free Agents