The Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

People believe in some weird shit.

Eben Byers, for example, was a 20th century steel mogul who regularly drank a radioactive “medicine” called Radithor because he thought it was good for him.

It wasn’t. He died of multiple radiation related cancers. Or as the Wall Street Journal put it: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off”

wsj radium

(source)

On the other side of the spectrum you have the Wright brothers, who saw birds fly and thought “Looks doable.” and built the first controllable airplane. 66 years later scientists with the same mentality came up with the idea of planting a flag on the moon.

The beliefs you have hold determine the actions you’ll take. If you think you can do something, you’ll try. If you don’t think you can, you won’t. But how do you go from not believing you can do it, to thinking you can? That’s what this article is about.

Let’s clear something up first:

What are limiting beliefs exactly?

The hint is in the name, really. Limiting beliefs are beliefs that hold you back from achieving what you really want. If you want to ask your boss for a raise, but you think you don’t deserve one, that’s a limiting belief and it will limit the amount of money you can earn at your job.

We have unproductive beliefs about everything in our life. Our job, our weight, our attractiveness, and so on. It’s in our best interest to get rid of those limiting beliefs as fast as possible.

Examples of limiting beliefs

About money/work

  • If something is easy to do I don’t deserve a reward for it.
  • Selling is sleazy.
  • I never finish anything.
  • I don’t deserve a raise.
  • I have no work ethic whatsoever.
  • I’m don’t have enough experience.
  • Everyone is better at my job than I am.
  • I don’t deserve that job.

About relationships

  • People won’t like me.
  • Everyone’s better than me.
  • I’m too shy.
  • I’m going to get rejected so why even try.
  • If I show who I really am people will judge me for it.
  • People will never like me for who I am.
  • I can’t just go up to someone and start a conversation.
  • Talking to strangers is weird.

About health

  • I’m too fat/old/… to do that.
  • I’m just not the type of person to get ripped.
  • People in the gym will laugh at me.

Other

  • I’m lazy.
  • I’m a coward.
  • I’m not ready yet.

How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

The first thing you need to know about the process is it’s not a silver bullet. You won’t get rid of one limiting belief about money and then all of a sudden get rich overnight. If that’s what you’re hoping for, then that’s a limiting belief in and of itself.

Think of this process like peeling an onion. You take away one layer to get to the layer below. Every layer you remove takes away the roadblocks that keep you from taking action.

If this process looks familiar, it’s because it’s based on the cognitive behavioural therapy techniques found in the book “Feeling good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D Burns. I highly recommend reading it if you want to learn more about CBT.

Step 0: Take a pen and a piece of paper

Before we get started, I want you to take a piece of paper. And I mean an actual piece of paper. It’s better to write your limiting beliefs down in front of you where you can see them. Doing this on a laptop keeps you in your head.

Take your piece of paper and divide it into three equal parts. In the left-hand column you’re going to write your limiting beliefs. In the middle column, you’re going to write down what is wrong with those beliefs. In the right-hand column, you’re going to write a more rational response.

BDR Table

Step 1: Identifying limiting beliefs

Figuring out what limiting beliefs are holding you back is probably the hardest step of the entire process. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t know what it is. On top of that, you don’t always know what you don’t know. There are, however, a couple of ways you can get an idea of what your limiting beliefs are.

The first is to look at the outcomes of your life. Which parts of your life have you always struggled with? Is it asking for a raise? Is it losing weight? Is it saying no to things you don’t want to do? These are indicators you have some limiting beliefs around those areas.

The second is to look at your family — especially your brothers and sisters. They grew up in the same environment as you so chances are you share some limiting beliefs. Looking at others makes it easier to spot errors.

Take 20 minutes and write down as many limiting beliefs as you can. Don’t hold yourself back. You want to get as many items on paper as possible. If you’re not sure if something applies to you then write it down. You can always delete it later.

One word of warning though: Don’t write down feelings. If you write down “I feel like shit.”, then there’s no way to counter it. I mean, if you feel sad, you feel sad. Emotions aren’t facts and they aren’t rational.

Instead, write down statements you think are factually true. For example: “I’m not a good student” is a good statement to write down because it isn’t based on feelings and you have a fighting chance of coming up with a better, more rational answer.

The cool thing about this first step is it can already make you realize your current way of thinking is flawed. Sometimes a belief sounds good in your head, but when you write it down on paper you realize it’s stupid.

Step 2: Finding the cognitive distortions in your statements

The second step is to look at your limiting beliefs and figure out what is wrong with them. This is important because if you don’t know why or how your beliefs are messing you up, the response you come up with won’t stick.

There are six main ways that your limiting beliefs can be wrong:

  1. Generalization
  2. All or nothing thinking
  3. Mental filtering
  4. Predicting the future
  5. Labelling
  6. Jumping to conclusions

Take a look at the beliefs you wrote down and see which distortion applies. If you wrote down “My boss thinks I’m a loser for messing up my presentation” and that’s an example of jumping to conclusions.

One belief can have multiple distortions. “I need to have $1 million otherwise my peers will think I’m a loser” is an example of all or nothing thinking (“I need $1 million or else…”), labelling (“I’m a loser.”) , and jumping to conclusions (“they’ll think…”).

Step 3: Coming up with more rational alternatives

You can spend days trying to figure out what your limiting beliefs are and what’s wrong with them, but if you don’t take the time to come up with more rational alternatives you’re not going to get over them.

Think of this step like helping a friend. If a friend comes to you and tells you they’re a complete loser, how would you react? Would you agree with them and tell them they’re worthless? Probably not (at least I hope so). If you’re a good friend, you’ll try to rationalize it and come up with less destructive alternatives.

That’s what I want you to do now. Look at your limiting beliefs as an outsider and come up with more rational responses.

For example:

“I never do anything right!” is a generalization. A more rational response would be:

“I’ve done plenty of things right in the past. It’s true that I need more training to make this project work the way I want it to, but I’m confident I can figure it out.” This is a much healthier way of looking at your problems.

Rinse, Repeat.

Like I said earlier: this is a iterative process. You’re not going to get rid of every problem in your life by overcoming one single belief.

If you want to get good results with this, make it a habit of going through this process every morning or evening. You’ll thank me later.

Oh and if someone tries to sell you radioactive medicine, tell them to go away.