Do you ever think about your thinking?
A belief is just a thought that you think automatically, over and over again. Some beliefs limit you. They’re tricky, because you almost certainly have them – we all do – and don’t even know it. It’s that nagging voice that says, “no, that’s not a good idea, because the world works like this“.
These kinds of thought patterns can hurt you or at least slow you down because they have you convinced that you can’t have everything you want. Wait a minute, did your mind just pipe up to tell you that you really CAN’T have everything you want because the world doesn’t work that way? Ding! Limiting belief. Probably a deeply rooted one too, so just ignore it and move on for now if you’re feeling resistance. :)
Maybe the belief is that something you want to do would lead to a negative consequence. Limiting beliefs affect so many of our everyday decisions that over time, following them blindly can lead to an unfulfilling life of playing it safe and doing “the smart thing” or “what you are supposed to do” out of fear. The belief just seems like it IS true, for whatever reason. This is unfortunate because much of the time, the beliefs are questionable or simply NOT TRUE!
But once you figure out how to recognise them, question them, and ultimately obliterate them, it can be really fun. It takes courage to question your own beliefs, but exercising your courage muscle is a good thing! I get better at this every time I try it.
A limiting belief that I tackled recently
The other day, I was sitting on the SkyTrain heading to school, thinking about how I’ve been getting so many requests for design work lately. My thoughts turned to an in-person consultation I was going to have later in the week with a new client that I had never met before. Many of my business connections are either from people I’ve only worked with over the Internet, or that I met first in an unprofessional setting (such as school or out in the big wide world). So I was thinking about how I should probably try to dress professionally to meet with this new client.
Then I started to get a negative feeling about how doing that would be a drag, and I thought that maybe working for myself isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be if I have to do things like I would in an office. But isn’t dressing like a business person part of what you have to do to be successful?
I stopped myself. I tried to analyze where the negative feeling was coming from, and decided that it started with thinking about having to dress ‘professionally’, and what I thought that meant. I realized that I’ve actually had this belief about how “grown ups” have to dress for a long time but never really thought to question it before. I wrote this down:
In order to be financially/professionally successful, I have to dress a certain way *cough* corporate drone *cough*.
This was the limiting belief that was causing me distress. But is it true that in order to be successful, you HAVE to dress a certain way? Is it really a requirement?
Next, I listed out some evidence to the contrary.
- Dressing how I want has never been a problem before.
- A large, legit organization contacted me to work with them THROUGH my blog, so they probably saw some of my wacky outfits and it apparently didn’t matter.
- The best, most ideal gig for me that I’ve ever encountered (drawing cute girls for a children’s book on confidence!), fell into my lap while getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist. (!!!) I was wearing a hot pink striped hoodie, a floaty dress, and a purse with a psychedelic bunny print on it.
- Dressing fabulously will attract the type of people I want to work with, and repel the kind that I don’t want to work with, effectively increasing the quality of my clients/friends/colleagues.
- There are plenty of people who dress however they want and are successful at what they do. Take Gala, Amy (Shrinkle), Jessica and Halcyon for starters.
- I make better, more creative and love-focused decisions when I feel good, and dressing how I want makes me feel good!
- People tend to have a positive reaction to my clothes.
- My outfits are memorable, and they show that I am a playful, style conscious and creative individual.
- My style is slooowwwly shifting towards a slightly more toned down/grown up look, so I don’t look QUITE as crazy as I used to, anyway.
- If you’re good enough at what you do, and you get results for people, they won’t care how you dress.
- If you work for yourself, no one can fire you for not adhering to the dress code.
- If you already have enough money, you don’t have to worry about your fashion choices causing you to lose income streams. (Screw the rules, I have money!)
Since the above evidence seemed pretty compelling, I decided that the new thing I WANT to think is:
I can wear anything I want AND be financially and professionally successful.
I’m going to try to practice this thought. Whenever I catch myself thinking the old thought, I’m going to replace it with the new one. Instant happiness.
The worst thing that could happen is that I lose a few opportunities for jobs, but I think that it’s reasonable to say that most of those jobs would be ones that I don’t particularly want anyway. And there will always be more jobs out there. The great thing is that I can always reverse my decision if I feel it’s necessary. I think that I would lose more by never giving this a shot than I could possibly lose by trying it.
Here are a few more of my own limiting beliefs that I’ve identified that I might work on at some point in the future:
- I should accept every job offered to me.
- Making enough money to survive means that sometimes I’ll have to accept jobs that I don’t really want to do.
- Making or selling physical products is unethical.
- If I raise the price for my work, I have to do it gradually over a long period of time.
- I can’t make big sudden changes to my life (they have to be gradual).
- The way that I eat is suboptimal.
- I have to be productive to feel happy.
- It’s hard to make a difference in the world.
I’m sure I have hundreds more, but dissolving your limitations is an extremely rewarding experience. So much so that for me, it’s more fun than overwhelming. It’s like peeling back layers of reality.
Here’s how you can try out the process yourself.
How To Remove a Limiting Belief
Step 1. Recognise when a limiting belief is exercising itself.
You can usually tell that you’re thinking a limiting belief when you feel a negative emotion. You might not even know why you’re feeling bad at first, but this should be a red flag that gets you to examine your thoughts more closely.
What am I thinking about specifically? Why am I feeling bad? Am I imagining that a situation might play out negatively, am I feeling unhappy with my options, or am I making any assumptions about the world? Try to pin down exactly what it is that’s bothering you. Try filling in the blanks: “I would be happy if _________ was actually like ________.”
Step 2. Define the limiting belief.
Once you figure out which thought is causing you to feel bad, put it into words. Be concise.
A few examples of common limiting beliefs:
- I’m not creative enough to do X.
- Finding a perfect partner is impossible, so you have to be prepared to compromise.
- If I try to do X for a living, I’ll wind up sleeping in a back alley somewhere.
- If I say X, that person will react negatively.
- Having a job is the only way to have a stable income.
- If I use my real name on the Internet, it will backfire on me.
Write it down and look at it. Recognise that the belief ISN’T YOU. It’s just a thing that your mind has latched on to, you could have picked it up from anywhere. You can choose to change your collection of beliefs at any time.
Step 3. Think of as much evidence as possible that the belief is false (or as least, questionable).
Write down a list of as much evidence as you can think of that brings the belief into doubt. Evidence could be things that you’ve read, research that you’ve done, examples from your life or the lives of others that prove that there are exceptions, or other beliefs you have that contradict the first belief.
Step 4. Decide on your new belief (what you want to think instead).
If the world were perfect, what would you want to be true instead of your old limiting belief? Even if you feel some resistance to this new thought, in my experience the best results occur when you go straight for what you ACTUALLY want.
For example, if you want to lose weight but are always hungry, your limiting belief might be I’m fat because I’m always hungry. You may THINK that the belief you WANT to have is I don’t have much of an appetite, but what you *really really* want is I eat whatever I want and still have the perfect body. See the difference?
For beginners, it can sometimes be a bit tricky to figure out what you actually want, or the thing that you want might seem completely impossible. If that’s the case, just pick a belief that feels better to you than your old one. This way, you’ll be more likely to accomplish step 5.
Step 5. Resolve to practice the new thought.
From now on, whenever you catch yourself thinking the old thought, stop and think the new thought instead. If you do this diligently, eventually you will start to think the new thought automatically, over and over again. Belief installed!
We all have tons of these limiting beliefs, and if we take responsibility for our own thoughts, we can greatly improve the quality of our own lives. Everything begins with a thought. Try it!
- Limiting Beliefs – 5 minute HugNation video, awesome! Halcyon always explains things so well.
- Installing Empowering Beliefs – One of the first times I encountered the idea of examining and changing beliefs was on Steve Pavlina’s website. I love his logical, results-based approach to the topic. “None of us make decisions based on reality itself. We make decisions based on our beliefs about reality. When our beliefs are accurate, our decisions will tend to be effective, producing the results we desire. But when our beliefs are inaccurate, our decisions will often be ineffective, producing undesired results. … Many problems which cannot be solved at the level of action can be readily solved at the level of belief. A new belief will enable you to take different actions, thereby producing different results.”
- Overcoming Limiting Financial Beliefs – Another from Steve. A bit dated by now in terms of his life, but still an interesting read.
- How to Change Your Reality – This article by Jessica Mullen gives some more examples on changing your thoughts about money. She takes a slightly more …esoteric angle?
- Letting go with visual mantras – Having trouble letting go of negative thoughts? Try this visual technique, also by Jessica!