You and I could not be more different. We have been raised in different countries by different people. We have experienced different cultures. We have lived different childhoods and memorized different experiences. We have had various friends and have dated different people. We have read different ideas and have listened to different teachings.
But what we all have in common is the universal truth that different experiences lead to different beliefs.
Beliefs are thoughts we hold accurate and by which we interpret the world. We analyze our surrounding stimuli based on previously formed beliefs. Beliefs affect everything we do.
The excellent news: beliefs can be adjusted and changed. For many, that happens when presented with contradicting beliefs or when inspired to think differently.
Making you aware of your beliefs is what I aim to do in this piece. I want to encourage you to rethink the way you interpret the world and make decisions. I do that by first defining different types of beliefs and explain how they influence our experience.
Then, I propose a technique to allow you to find out your own limiting beliefs before I suggest strategies to overcome them.
Empowering and Limiting Beliefs — How We Interpret The World
If we all hold different beliefs, what beliefs are right, and which are wrong?
It is not so much about right or wrong, but how much beliefs serve or don’t serve you. I will call them empowering beliefs and limiting beliefs, respectively.
For example, a negative belief looks like this: “I am ugly and undesirable!”
On the other hand, a positive belief sentence could go: “I know my worth, and I am attractive!”
Now imagine a situation in which an acquaintance makes an ambiguous comment about your new piece of clothing.
If you hold the limiting belief to be accurate, you might interpret that your new piece is ugly, and you should consider buying something else. As a result, your limiting beliefs cause you to be insecure and subliminally manipulate your relationship.
On the contrary, if you hold the empowering belief mentioned above, you are more likely to see the comment in a positive light and express gratitude to your friend, thus strengthening your relationship. Quite possibly, you would ask about the comment when you don’t understand it correctly the first time.
This small example shows: beliefs are heavily influencing our experience of the world, our relationships and our feelings about ourselves. They are involved in our every interaction and thought.
How to Find Your Limiting Beliefs
To reflect and to dive into our emotional world is hard. It takes a tremendous amount of focus and effort to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself questions. After all, ignorance is bliss, as an old saying goes.
The rewards of introspective thinking, however, can be nothing short of life-changing. So, considering efforts and rewards, why not give it a shot?
The first step is becoming aware of your limiting beliefs. Because, as Eckhart Tolle wrote,
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
Where you jump in on this journey of self-discovery highly depends on where you are right now. This isn’t an excuse to judge your progress against that of your peers. We all start somewhere, and the only one you should compare yourself to is you.
When you have no deeper connections to your emotions, no clue about what you want in life, or no self-reflection on your actions, journaling can be a great start to start developing self-awareness. To get started, sit down every morning with a notebook and write three pages about your thoughts and feelings without interruption.
It is a process. We do not suddenly figure out everything about ourselves when we take time to reflect, but journaling helps tremendously.
When you take the time to sit down and reflect, ask yourself some critical questions: In what situation do you overreact? In what position do you feel helpless or cynical? What are the excuses you often use to justify your shortcomings?
Go deep here and then go over the following sentence for each situation:
- “I can’t do this because…”
- “I don’t think this would work because …”
- “For other people may work, but for myself, I think… “
- “This has never worked and will not work now because… “
Somewhere in there, you will find your limiting believes. To give you an idea of what they might look like, here are a few examples:
“I am not loved.”
“I am not wanted.”
“I am small.”
“I am dumb.”
“I am not allowed to feel.”
“I am wrong.”
“I am not welcome.”
“The world is bad.”
“Men are evil.”
“I am helpless.”
“I can’t handle it.”
“I am too old.”
“I am too young.”
Here is one of my personal limiting beliefs: “I am coming short and missing out.”
Strategies to Overcome Limiting Beliefs
Beliefs are very personal and deeply held. It is a massive mindset shift to become aware, but taking action to overcome them is even more challenging.
Awareness is Key
Awareness about your own limiting beliefs is the starting point for you to overcome them. In an interdependent reality, it might serve you to know that other people are just like you:
“Realize that all people see the world not as it is but as they are.”
— Stephen R. Covey
The empathy you develop by interpreting someone’s behaviour according to their limiting beliefs can go a long way in analyzing and changing yours.
Being aware of your limiting beliefs can also help when reflecting your actions in different situations.
Turning the Limiting into Empowering Beliefs
The “simple” way of changing limiting beliefs is to transform them into empowering ones.
“I am not loved.” → “I am loved.”
“I am wrong.” → “I am sometimes wrong and sometimes right. I can learn to be more right than wrong.”
“I am not enough.” → “I am enough.”
“I need to do everything perfectly.” → “It is okay to be just good.”
Now the harder part is to start believing and visualizing your empowering beliefs every day to rewire your brain.
Some of our previously held limiting beliefs may have had a good reason in the past. Maybe we were protecting ourselves with these beliefs in our childhood. However, now that we are grown-ups, we are in charge of our lives and, thus, we can overcome that belief.
This idea manifests in the following existential empowering belief: “I am the creator of my own life.”
Once you have rewired your brain by re-reading your new empowering beliefs and acting on them every day, your life will change.
Incorporating Timeless Values
Rewriting limiting beliefs can be useful, but acting on them is a whole other story. One strategy to overcome this inaction is to identify deeper-lying values that empower you to act against your formerly held beliefs.
Victor Frankl, psychologist and concentration camp survivor developed this concept in his “Logotherapy.” He argued that people could overcome their fears and beliefs by aligning with values and thereby living more meaningful.
Values like “justice” can free enormous willpower if they are compromised.
Imagine the situation where an employee is too scared to criticize her boss because she holds the limiting belief that she is not important enough to do that. When she thinks about how her critic can save her colleagues from being mistreated, this might change her thinking.
So, to overcome the limiting beliefs, you can identify values that speak to you and contradict that belief.
For example, to overcome my limiting belief is that “I am always coming short and miss out.”, I chose fairness and courage.
Living consciously by the value of fairness, I do not analyze situations by making sure I am not coming short, but by making sure everyone is treated fairly — including me.
Courage helps me with the strength to be content with what I am doing and not catering to the fear of missing out.
These strategies are more comfortable to write about than to implement them. I struggle every day. But it all starts with getting to know yourself and becoming aware of your limiting beliefs.
If we identify our limiting beliefs, we can take action towards living up to our potential — towards living a life well-lived.
“Sometimes all it takes to change a life is to decide which beliefs do not serve you and to literally change your mind about those beliefs.”
— Joy Page