What do you think holds you back in life? Is it a lack of skill or ability? More often than not, it is a limiting belief. In this article, I’m going to cover how to identify and change limiting beliefs, so that you can move forward with your life.
Limiting beliefs often develop in childhood. They suited us then, but as we become adults, these beliefs start to get in our way and hamper our progress. This is why it is so important to learn how to change limiting beliefs that now hold you back.
In this article, I cover a 9-step process to help you change limiting beliefs in all areas of life. This is a very easy and structured process that you can apply to any belief that you feel limits you in some way.
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What Are Beliefs?
Beliefs are psychological rules that influence our thoughts and filter our experience of reality. We filter information by deleting, distorting, and generalizing things about our experience.
Beliefs are assumptions about ourselves and other people. They are also our expectations of how the world should be. They help us understand and make sense of the world by providing meaning and certainty.
Beliefs are our interpretation of the things we see, feel, hear, taste, or smell. They are not facts, so they are not true or false. However, they can be mistaken as facts if deeply rooted. Beliefs are conclusions drawn from life experiences, especially those from childhood and younger years.
As we become adults, our life changes, but many of our beliefs don’t change. They start to get in our way. These past beliefs can create limitations on what you believe you can do right now.
How Are Beliefs Created?
Beliefs are created and then ingrained due to repeated situations or events. At first, they are just thoughts. They are based on facts, evidence, reference experiences, or other people.
Over time, thoughts become opinions. You keep thinking about them repetitively and keep taking the same action.
Opinions then turn into beliefs. Beliefs are stronger, more stable, and more robust than opinions.
Beliefs can then turn into convictions. They become so ingrained that they can’t be changed even if all the evidence is to the contrary.
A Baby Elephant and a Flee
I’m now going to give you two examples of how a belief created earlier in life becomes less useful later on.
In India, baby elephants are tied to stumps of trees by ropes. The baby elephant realizes it’s bound to the tree. It can’t move much, so it doesn’t. Then the baby elephant grows. This grown elephant has the strength to take the tree stump down easily. Or break the rope. But it doesn’t because it believes it can’t.
Another example is the flea experiment. A flea is put in a jar with the lid off. Naturally, it jumps out of the jar. It is put back into the jar, but this time, with the lid on. The flea jumps and hits the top. That hurts, so it jolts back down. Over time, it starts jumping less high because it doesn’t want the pain of hitting the lid.
When the lid is taken off, the flea keeps jumping but not quite to the top of the jar. It associates pain with jumping higher. So, it jumps to the height where it feels comfortable. The flea can jump out of that jar anytime and become free. But it won’t because it doesn’t believe it can.
Remove The Emotional Superglue
In both examples, the belief created was useful at first. And it was supported by relevant evidence. There were also some emotions involved, especially in the case of the flea. Hitting the top of the lid was an uncomfortable feeling. So, to break a limiting belief, the first step is to get rid of any emotions.
Imagine a negative belief is like a tabletop. Its legs represent experiences and evidence that back up that belief. The superglue holding those table legs to the tabletop represents the emotions. So to change limiting beliefs, you need to remove the emotional superglue. Then knock out the legs (the evidence that formed the belief). The table will then fall over.
The 9 Step Process to Change Limiting Beliefs
Now, I’m going to cover my 9-step process to help you change a limiting belief.
1. Identify the Limiting Belief
The limiting belief could be an “I am” statement. For example,
- I am disorganized.
- I am bad at public speaking.
- I am a procrastinator.
It could also be about the world in general. For example,
- I’ll never be able to afford to buy a house.
- It’s so competitive I can’t keep up.
Remember, these beliefs are not true or false. They’re just helpful or unhelpful.
2. Examine the Belief
Create a list of what is helpful and not helpful about this belief. Then decide if that belief helps you or is more of a hindrance to your life.
Let’s use exercising as an example. I’m bad at working out and keeping fit.
What is helpful about this belief?
- It can help me avoid pain and discomfort.
- Instead of exercising, I could do other useful things.
What is unhelpful about this belief?
- If I don’t work out, I could get sick later in life.
- Working out could give me more energy.
- I could get more things done.
- I used to be bad at lots of things, but I’ve improved with practice.
Based on the above evidence, decide whether that belief is worth changing or not.
3. Identify the Core Belief Behind It
Behind every belief, there is a fundamental core belief. Here are the main core beliefs.
- I am not good enough.
- I am not worthy enough.
- I don’t deserve this.
- The world is not a safe place for me.
- I am powerless.
- Love and relationships equal pain.
I wonder which of these core beliefs could be behind your limiting belief? By identifying the limiting core belief, you can work directly to change the core belief that drives this and other limiting beliefs. This can be very powerful and enables you to smash other limiting beliefs at the same time.
In the case of my exercise example, the core belief is probably something like I’m not good enough. So, I’m bad at working out and keeping fit because I’m not good enough.
4. Choose a More Useful Belief
A key step to change limiting beliefs is to identify a more useful belief. This is often the opposite of the old limiting belief. Also include the opposite core belief as well. These would be:
- I am good enough.
- I am worthy enough.
- I deserve this.
- The world is a safe place for me.
- I am powerful and can influence my world.
- Love and relationships equal pleasure.
Here are some examples of new empowering beliefs that also incorporate a new positive core belief.
- I can find a partner that is perfect for me and have a pleasurable and happy relationship.
- I deserve to earn as much as I want and I have the mindset, skills and abilities to do that.
- I am powerful and can influence my world by making small changes every day.
5. Identify The Emotional and Other Payoffs
We usually have some emotional benefits in keeping the limiting belief. These hold the limiting belief in place.
I Can’t Make Money
Let’s take the belief I can’t make more money and become rich, as an example. The emotional benefits or payoffs could be:
- I can commiserate with friends who also say that they are poor.
- I can give up trying to make more money and have an easy life instead.
- I can avoid the extra perceived stress of becoming rich.
I Can’t Talk to the Opposite Sex
What about the limiting belief I can’t talk to the opposite sex? Some of the emotional payoffs could be:
- I can enjoy going out with my mates.
- I don’t need to embarrass myself again.
- I can avoid the complications of being in a relationship.
I’m Bad at Exercise
For the example of being bad at exercise and fitness, some of the emotional benefits could be:
- It feels comfortable not doing it.
- I don’t have to put in the work and experience the pain.
- I don’t need to worry about accidentally injuring myself.
6. Decide If the Emotional Payoff Is Still Worth It
Look at the emotional payoffs that you’ve identified in step 5. Decide whether the limiting belief is worth keeping. If it is, that’s fine. You can stay with that belief.
But if you decide that it’s not, then it’s time to change that belief right now. The act of deciding will start to dissolve that emotional superglue that’s keeping the limiting belief in place.
7. Reframe Existing Evidence
Remember, a belief is our best interpretation based on the evidence we had at the time. But things change. So it’s time to look at the evidence and interpret it in a new way.
Play devil’s advocate! Go and find a different meaning to the existing evidence.
Here are some reframes for the money example.
- Commiserating with friends who are also poor is going to get boring after a while, and it won’t help me.
- Having an easy life could be nice, but I would never feel truly happy. I would have this nagging doubt in my mind that I could have achieved more.
- Having a lot of money makes life so much easier.
You can see how I’m reframing the existing evidence here and giving it a new meaning.
Let’s reframe the evidence around a limiting belief of exercise.
- If I take things steadily and sensibly, the risk of injuring myself is minimal.
- I could hurt myself more in the long term by not being active.
- Anything new feels uncomfortable. Doing what’s uncomfortable builds up mental and physical resilience, and will help me reduce stress.
8. Find New Evidence to Support the New Belief
We’ve already reframed existing evidence. Now we’re going to look for new evidence.
Beliefs focus your mind on certain things. You ignore other evidence that does not match that belief. For instance, if you believe you’re unattractive, you’re more likely to notice funny looks from others. You’re more likely to look at the bits that you don’t like in the mirror. You’re more likely to ignore the smiles, greetings, and compliments. Or you’ll discount them as not relevant. You filter out any information that’s not in line with that limiting belief. This is why limiting beliefs tend to get worse over time.
You have to find new evidence to prove that the old evidence and old beliefs are wrong. You have to knock out those table legs that are behind the limiting belief. Go hunting for new proof and new evidence. Google it, read books, articles, find information that supports that new belief. They’re going to be new legs for the table of your new belief.
Let’s take the example of I can earn as much as I want to. New evidence could be:
- There are people out there with less intelligence, knowledge, and experience that make more money than me.
- There are plenty of rich people out there that are happy and relaxed.
In the exercise example, my new belief is exercise is a skill that I can get good at, enjoy, and reap the health benefits. New evidence to support that belief could include:
- There are people in far worse health than me that have massively improved their health by exercising regularly.
- All the successful people that I know do regular physical activity and make it a priority in their life. So, to be successful, I need to be physically active.
9. Use Affirmations Correctly
The final step to change limiting beliefs involves using affirmations correctly. If the affirmation is not believable, you’re going to get a conflict. So it’s good to use stepping-stone affirmations. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you want to change the belief that you don’t deserve success. You decide to replace this with I deserve to be successful. You keep saying this to yourself over and over again. But something happens that you didn’t expect. You experienced some emotional resistance. Why? Because the affirmation was not believable. It was too much the opposite of the old belief.
The solution is to use stepping-stone affirmations. For example, I want to feel that I deserve to become a good mom, dad, tennis player, or whatever you want. Or, when I do my best, the success that I feel I deserve is on its way. I am putting it under my control.
Once you say those affirmations often enough, you get to a point where you can say, I deserve to be successful. You feel that congruently in your body.
Let’s go back to my exercise example. Stepping-stone affirmations could be, every day, I get a little bit better with my exercise routine. Or, the more I exercise, the more I notice improvements to my health.
I hope you found this article on how to change your limiting beliefs useful. Now, identify one, two, or three limiting beliefs you want to change, and go through all these steps yourself. It’s one thing to know something, but it’s much better to do it and experience it. I wish you luck in changing your limiting beliefs and making your life better!
The inspiration and much of the information for this article came from a great YouTube video on Changing Beliefs by Teal Swan. Feel free to watch this video here.
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