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Don't let limiting beliefs hold you back. Learn to overcome yours

July 19, 2022 - 12 min read

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What are limiting beliefs?

Where do limiting beliefs come from?

5 examples of limiting beliefs

How to identify limiting beliefs

How to overcome limiting beliefs

Final thoughts

“I’m not really a numbers person.” “I’m not good in front of an audience.” “I’m not the type of person who leads a team.” “It seems like a good idea but I’ll probably mess it up. I usually do.” “I’ve never been a runner (biker, skier, swimmer).” “Taking risks doesn’t work out for me.” 

Maybe you’ve heard this from a friend or coworker. Maybe you’ve thought it or said it yourself.

Whether it’s fears or just our ideas about how the world works, baked-in ideas shape how we behave and how we interpret what happens. These limiting beliefs can hold us back from trying or undermine our efforts and relationships. 

Often they start from a young age but also become more set over time. You become a person who holds yourself back. But why? How does a person grow from a fearless kid into someone afraid of failure, avoiding challenges and learning opportunities, or constantly doubting yourself?

Limiting beliefs can form as part of anyone’s natural development from childhood through young adulthood and beyond. It’s time to learn about your self-limiting beliefs and how you can overcome them.

What are limiting beliefs?

A limiting belief is a thought or state of mind that you think is the absolute truth and stops you from doing certain things. These beliefs don’t always have to be about yourself, either. They could be about how the world works, ideas, and how you interact with people.

“You have to be really arrogant to go into sales.” “The only way to get promoted is to give up having a life.” “You have to look out for #1 if you want to get ahead.” “You can’t trust anybody.” “If you win, I lose.”

Limiting beliefs can change your life, but not always for the better. They create self-awareness that stops you from chasing after your dreams, forming healthy relationships with people, and creating change in any area of your life. 

Having primarily negative beliefs puts boundaries and limitations on things in our lives and keeps us within our comfort zones.

Limiting beliefs can sometimes act as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from pain. Your subconscious could remember past negative experiences and try to prevent you from hurting yourself again.

These subconscious boundaries could lead to negative emotions like imposter syndrome, anxiety, and procrastination.

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Where do limiting beliefs come from?

You might know what a limiting belief is but not where it comes from. Your limiting beliefs come from plenty of different places. To overcome limiting beliefs, we first need to learn where they come from. Here are a few categories that can cause us to develop limiting beliefs:

Family values and beliefs

Your parents and other family members taught you a set of beliefs and values, starting before you were even conscious of it. We start developing our core beliefs when we’re young based first on what we learn from our family, whether they transmit these beliefs purposefully or not.

A grandparent may dwell on the differences between “rich people” and everyone else. A father might emphasize godliness and responsibility in a way that makes childhood transgressions loom large. A mother might push her children to work hard to succeed in a white collar profession as the key to a better life.

More times than not, these beliefs were their own that they passed on to you.

They could be about particular career paths, taste in music, or hobbies. Eventually, you solidify your own set of limiting beliefs based in part on what your family has taught you.

Life experiences

Any experience that you have in life gives you a feeling to remember. These conclusions that you draw from experiences dictate what you choose to do in the future. Maybe you drove a stick-shift car and hated it.

Next time you have the opportunity to drive a manual vehicle, you might refuse because you remember hating your previous experience.

Education

Whoever you’re learning from, may they be teachers, family, or friends, impact what you believe to be true. When someone’s job is to share information and beliefs, you absorb them. If the person who’s teaching you is someone you admire and have a lot of respect for, you’re more inclined to believe everything they say.

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5 examples of limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are present in all areas of our lives. Here are five examples of some of the most common limiting beliefs about ourselves, the world, and life in general:

  1. “I’m too old to go back to school. I’ve missed my chance to get my education, so why bother trying now?”
  2. “My personality type doesn’t match a lot of other people’s, so I’m never going to find someone to be in a relationship with.”
  3. “If I get a divorce, nobody will want to be with me again because I’ve already been married.”
  4. “I’m too quiet and slow to be a successful entrepreneur. I should give up now.”
  5. “I don’t have time to start a new hobby because I’m so busy.”
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How to identify limiting beliefs

We all develop habits that become automatic, and we don’t question them. But when you’re trying to overcome limiting beliefs, you need to take a step back and think about your daily life. How do you practice self-talk? What’s your reaction when you make mistakes

Here are three ways that can help you identify your limiting beliefs:

1. Reflect on your behavior.

Evaluating your behavior can help show you what causes your limiting beliefs. Think back to when someone hurt your feelings and you needed to speak up for yourself.

What was your reaction? Did you speak up, or did you walk away from the situation without letting the person know how you felt? Situations like this can show you that you might have a limiting belief that you should avoid conflict at all costs, but that negatively impacts your relationships.

2. Write down your beliefs.

Try writing down your general and detailed beliefs — the personal ones, the vague ones, and the ones that you feel very strongly about. You can categorize them by sections like family, relationships, and health.

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Without thinking too hard about which beliefs you write down, it gives you the chance to look them over once you’re done. This way, you can identify which ones are your own limiting beliefs.

3. Make a list of things that challenge you.

There could be things that routinely challenge you in life that you avoid that could be your limiting beliefs, so ask yourself, “What limiting beliefs are you holding on to?”

Write down your challenges and look for any patterns; this will offer you a chance to think of self-improvement strategies for specific areas of your life.

Have you never landed your dream job and simply chalked it up to having poor luck? That could be a sign that you have a limiting belief that your bad luck is the thing that gets in the way of your success.

Sometimes we know we have problems to overcome, but it can be hard to pinpoint them. A BetterUp coach can give you honest feedback and help you identify what it is that’s holding you back, and put you on track to start that career.

How to overcome limiting beliefs

It’s challenging to identify them, but it can be even harder to know how to deal with limited beliefs. Feeling like you can’t reach your goals might stop you from living a truly fulfilling life. But it isn’t impossible to swap out a limiting belief for an empowering belief. To reframe your mindset, you need to have strategies that work for you.

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Here are seven tips to overcome your limiting beliefs:

  1. Ask yourself what would happen if you’re limiting belief is wrong.
  2. Push yourself to step outside your comfort zone and take some risks.
  3. Get creative and think of new beliefs.
  4. Put your new beliefs to the test to see if they are true.
  5. Be proud of your personal development and further a growth mindset.
  6. Make sure your environment is organized and free of clutter.

Take care of your mental health and regularly evaluate your well-being.

Final thoughts

The limiting beliefs you have now don’t have to stick with you forever. As we change, our beliefs do too. Nobody said it would be easy, but it will be worth it when you look back and see how much you’ve grown. Understanding where limiting beliefs come from to identify your own and overcoming them will take time and energy. 

Now that you know what limiting beliefs are, it’s time to face them head-on. Finding that energy to empower yourself won’t come out of thin air.

At BetterUp, we believe that with support and putting in the work, anyone can move past their limiting beliefs and start pursuing a life of possibility and potential.

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Published July 19, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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