I have this goal- I’ve had it for several years actually.
In my story there’s this girl- let’s call her Jane. Jane loves to learn, but
To remedy this, Jane has made a goal that she’d like to resurrect a past love of hers. No, I’m not talking about the supernatural- but there is a deep passion of hers that has been pushed away, forgotten. She misses it.
Jane used to love to read. Years past, every spare moment she had was spent with a book in hand. But she hasn’t made time for it in a really long time. Life has gotten in the way. She always had more “pressing” matters to attend to. Technology took the place of her books, and the spare hours she used to relish inside the pages of a book were slowly replaced with distractions like Facebook and Netflix.
In working to “return to her roots”, Jane has set an ambitious goal to read 50 books within a year. One every week- with a little breathing room. She is anxious to feel the joy and excitement that was once commonplace from finishing a good book, and is excited to get started.
But as the days pass, she starts to fall behind. Life is busy. There are always things that need to get done. She’s not dedicating time from her busy schedule like she thought she would. Thoughts begin to fill her mind- ugly thoughts. Thoughts like “I can’t do this. Who am I to think I can actually read an entire book a week? I don’t have the dedication or willpower to do this. I’m not good enough for a goal like this. I’m just a lazy person, and there’s no way I can give my my dependence on my after-work Netflix binge time.”
What do you think happens next? Jane gives up. She throws in the towel, convinced that she’ll never even get close to achieving her goal, and returns to her struggling, apathetic self. She decides that change is too hard, and she’s just not “good enough” to be up to the task.
Can you identify with any part of this story? Maybe it seems a bit extreme, please think about the underlying concepts here.
Jane made an excellent goal. It was specific, measurable, and was deeply rooted in her life passions and priorities. It allowed herself room to grow within the dynamic person she is. It was ambitious, yet reachable.
So where did she go wrong?
When things got difficult, and I promise they always will, Jane gave up. Rather than pushing through the doubts within her mind and trying to find a way to make it work, she listened to that evil voice on her shoulder- the one that gets joy from seeing her fail. When she heard those nasty thoughts in her mind, rather than pushing them away and forging ahead, she gave up and gave in.
Have you ever been guilty of this?
Let me let you in on a secret. (One which you may have already guessed.) Jane is me. For the past three years, I’ve made this same goal, and each time I give into those thoughts that stop me dead in my tracks, giving up on the thing I so desperately want to achieve.
This example is not the only one in my life. I listen to those thoughts far more often than I should (which really should be never), and I’ve been paying the price for it every day since. Imagine the things I could have achieved in the past decade alone, had I listened to the person I want to be, rather than the limits I place on myself?
So what can we do? How can we move past those debilitating thoughts to something empowering and productive?
The first thing I think, would be to define them. Recognize the thoughts for what they really are.
They’re just thoughts!
Ever thought about something that turned out not to be true?
Have you ever heard the term Self-Limiting Belief? That’s what those thoughts are. They’re beliefs you hold about yourself that you think to be true, but they hold no purpose on your future other than to limit yourself and tear you down.
I bet you can relate to having thoughts like these from time to time. Perhaps, if you’re like me, they come regularly. You have big goals for your life, but this super-critical inner monologue tears down all the hope and confidence you’ve built.
You have the potential to accomplish so much good. As a human being, you were literally built for greatness. It is my personal (and spiritual) belief that we were each put on earth to accomplish a special mission. But so many of us fail to achieve it.
So what is keeping us from reaching our potential?
Listening to and focusing on these self-limiting thoughts and beliefs hold us back from becoming the person we were meant to be.
How to Recognize Self-Limiting Beliefs
You may not realize it, but you accept self-limiting beliefs far more often than you think.
These beliefs hold you back from achieving your best self. These beliefs come quietly and are often disguised as humility, but they aren’t aligned with who you are working to become. We’ve spent so much time listening to them that they’re ingrained into our personal beliefs of who we actually are. In order to free ourselves from those restrictions, we need to recognize that it takes time to learn how to recognize and overcome them.
Here are some warning signs that the thoughts in your head might really be self-sabotage:
Self-Limiting Beliefs Are Negative
Self-limiting beliefs are always negative. When you start listing all the reasons you won’t succeed instead of focusing on the potential within you, you’re setting limits on who you may become. You’re not exploring your potential- working toward the greatness within you. Instead, you allow yourself to believe in words like: “Who are you to apply for this? Nobody is interested in what you say. You’re not skilled enough for this. Everyone will think you’re just a big joke if you say that.”
Self-Limiting Beliefs Keep you from Growing
Believing the negative is your brain’s way of avoiding doing new things. Subconsciously you begin telling yourself that if you’re going to fail no matter what you try, there’s no use in even taking a step forward. And staying still, where it’s comfortable, is your mind’s way of sticking to the comfort zone where it’s safe. But you can’t grow if you don’t move forward, right?
Self-Limiting Beliefs Are Selfish
Often, self-limiting beliefs leave you stuck within yourself.
When we think things like “There are far more qualified people out there who can serve” and “I don’t have anything new to share”, we are keeping our light within us instead of allowing it to shine out in the world. We keep our thoughts and experiences to ourselves instead of allowing them to help others.
Maybe you don’t know it all. Maybe there are people out there that have similar experiences and talents. But they aren’t you. And you have a unique perspective that someone needs.
By not sharing, you’re being selfish. You may think it’s humility, but you’re robbing the world of the value you have to offer! When you fiercely guard what’s “yours”, not only does this keep you from growing, it keeps you from developing connections with those around you that you see as potentially “hostile” or “dangerous”.
Self-Limiting Beliefs Victimizes Yourself
Do you know those people that think the whole world is out to get them? That everything is wrong in their lives and everyone hates them and the universe is just seemingly plotting against them? I was one of those people for a long time, so I get it. I do.
The problem though, is that sticking to that mindset only bears fruit of the same. Negativity begets negativity. You’re not just going to wake up one day and be positive. That’s not how the brain works.
You have to choose to think positively. You have to push aside the negative thought and focus on the good. Pick one positive thought in your mind. List one thing you’re grateful for. Trust me, it helps!
When you give in to to the internal limits of your mind, you’re allowing yourself to settle into the “victim mindset.”
What does it look like? Pretty much whenever you’re blaming someone else for the choices you make.
Thoughts like: “My parents didn’t have enough money to send me to college, so I couldn’t get an education. I don’t have it as good as everyone else out there.” or “Everyone in my family is overweight- I never had a chance. I’ll be overweight forever and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Do you see the problem here? When you let everyone else take the blame for things you could actually control if you put your mind to it, you’re giving away all your power. You’re saying that you’re incapable of making changes. You’re convincing yourself that you “can’t” do something.
See those limits rearing their ugly little heads?
We all have agency. We all have our own individual choices in life. We can choose to take a step forward or a step back. But rarely are we allowed to stay in one place.
So what do you choose?
Overcoming Self-Limiting Beliefs to Grow
Recognizing self-limiting beliefs does take time. When you find yourself focused on a self-limiting belief, there are some things you can do to improve your mindset and self-confidence. If you regularly utilize proper tools to help you refocus the limiting thoughts, eventually you’ll notice a shift in your mindset that will lead to a more positive and empowering you.
Pause and listen to your thoughts throughout the day. Write them down. Analyze them.
Are they positive or negative?
Positive thoughts empower us to be and do more. They help us to grow, and they tell us we are on the right path towards our goals.
Negative thoughts hold us back. They tell us we can’t do things. That we’re not good enough, that what we want won’t happen.
Which thoughts do you think hold more truth? Which thoughts would you rather fill your mind?
Give Yourself Grace
When you discover a self-limiting beliefs, approach it with kindness and love. Don’t make the problem worse by berating yourself for low-self esteem or lack of confidence. Everyone has these beliefs in varying degrees and intensities.
Follow it up with gentle questions. Approach it as if you were talking to a good friend or loved one. Be kind to yourself. Address the fear, but try to help yourself understand that moving forward is the ultimate goal.
This will sound different for every person, but I like to phrase it something like: “I know this is hard. I know it’s uncomfortable. But remember: this is getting us to where we really want to go! Won’t it be worth it when we get there?”
I can’t tell you enough how much I love journaling. I’ve always had a journal, but it wasn’t until my most recent life struggle that I really came to terms with how therapeutic and enlightening it can be. I can’t sing enough praises for how essential keeping a journal can be for your mental wellness.
In terms of working through your self-limiting beliefs, journaling can be helpful in getting to the root of your thoughts.
Use self-discovery questions like: “Is this belief an echo of what someone has told me or made me feel at some point?” and “Do I have perspective here? What is the worst that can happen?” These help you get to the root of what’s in your mind, rather than just taking each statement at face-value.
Reframe the Belief
Don’t allow self-limiting beliefs to keep you stuck. Challenge them with positive truths and affirmations that help you move forward.
Let’s say you have this thought that you’re restricted to a certain salary or wage in your career. Turn it around in your mind: “I am only limited by my choices. I do good work and I deserve to be well compensated for it.”
Remember that you are in control of your own choices and actions. At what rate do you want to grow?
Own your weaknesses. They’re part of who you are. Being unskilled at something or unaware of certain information doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you uniformed- nothing else. If it’s something important to you, make it a priority to improve. If it’s not aligned to your current goals, let it go and focus on what does matter. It’s that simple! Stop making excuses for yourself of why you “can’t” do this or “can’t” do that.
When I was teaching high school, the word “can’t” was a dirty word in my classroom. I didn’t accept it of my students, because I knew it limited their thoughts of what they could do.
Instead, I asked them what they “could” do. Where could they start?
Maybe it’ll be difficult. Maybe it’ll be uncomfortable. But growth stems from discomfort. Stepping out of our comfort zone is what helps us improve. We can’t improve if we don’t push through the unknown.
So stop allowing your self-limiting beliefs to become your safety net. They’re not actually protecting you- they’re only holding you back.
Let’s move forward, shall we?
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