Limiting self beliefs
To put it simply, self-limiting beliefs are assumptions or perceptions that you’ve got about yourself and about the way the world works. These assumptions are “self-limiting” because in some way they’re holding you back from achieving what you are capable of.
How your beliefs are formed
From a very early age in childhood, we begin to form beliefs about the world and our place in it. Our brains are very good at spotting patterns and making associations, so we constantly process the stream of information about the world around us and use it to form beliefs. Generally, the purpose of belief formation is to help us understand the world and stay safe. In early childhood, these beliefs are usually based on our own experiences and shaped by our parents or other dominant figures in our lives. If I hit someone, I get punished, so hitting people must be bad. If I say “please” and “thank you”, I get rewarded. So, being polite must be good. As we get older, we start to form more complex beliefs and are able to draw on a much wider range of sources such as books, movies, TV advertisements, the behaviour of our peers, and so on.
Nevertheless, the core beliefs that we formed as young children can be very powerful, and even when we encounter new information or explanations, we often cling to our old beliefs.
For example, a young boy with hard-working parents who are often absent may form the belief: “I’m not good enough for them to want to be with me.” Later, he may come to understand that his parents work hard for many reasons, including their love for him and desire to provide for him, but that early belief may be so deeply ingrained that he continues to hold onto it. Part of the reason for this is that we don’t like being wrong. Once we’ve formed a belief, we tend to look for more evidence to support that belief and to discount contradictory evidence. This gives us a stable foundation for understanding a world that would otherwise be very confusing, but it also means that beliefs can be tough to get rid of, even when they’re holding us back.
Why some beliefs become self limiting
So, as we’ve just discovered, belief formation starts early in life, and once beliefs are formed, they’re quite resistant to change. That should go a long way to explaining why many of our beliefs are limiting. Patterns that we observed as children and that helped us to navigate kindergarten or the school playground may not serve us in the adult world.
If you grew up in an abusive or neglectful environment, it should be pretty clear that you’ll have a lot of toxic beliefs about yourself. But even if you grew up in a loving home, you can end up with limiting beliefs. Parents who support you and jump in to defend you from every playground enemy can leave you with the belief that you’re not capable of resolving your own problems. Overpraising can lead to the belief that praise is not trustworthy. Beliefs aren’t facts. They may or may not be true or helpful, but they still dictate the way we behave in life. If we believe that we’re not good enough, we won’t put ourselves forward for promotion—and seeing someone else get promoted ahead of us will then reinforce that same belief. So beliefs like that are self-limiting—they limit our horizons and hold us back from doing things that we want to do.
Our self-limiting beliefs tend to manifest in the form of what is known as the ‘inner critic’.
The inner critic
We all have a voice inside our heads that speaks to us. This voice gets louder and stronger especially when we are faced with taking on a new challenge or stepping out of our comfort zone. This is because when we seek to change we face uncertainty and with uncertainty comes fear. Getting up and doing something is hard; you dont know if you are going to reach your goal. For most people doing nothing is easier than risking failure, so they dont even try to change. It takes guts to imagine life as you really want it, because let’s face it, there’s comfort in having excuses.
It will be our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world that tend to form the excuses that pop into our heads.
The inner critic will tend to talk to say things to you like this:
- The gym is too far
- I don’t have time
- I’m too tired
- It’s not going to matter if I skip today
- You know what I just can’t be bothered
Or on a deeper level:
- I am not capable of achieving this
- I do not deserve to achieve this
- I deserve to be this way
- People will laugh at me
The thing is that often the deeper underlying beliefs will not always be apparent and the mind will use the first list of excuses as an easier way of getting out of something rather than face up to the real underlying root cause of the problem. This is the inner critic aka the inner quitter that will stop you in your tracks before you even begin. You have to learn how to become aware of this voice and shut down the thoughts as they happen. Learn how to argue and fight against your own mind so that it does not control your actions any more.
How to overcome psychological barriers
The first step in overcoming your limiting self beliefs is to become aware of them. Think about all the different ‘excuses’ you have about why you will not be able to lose weight is about losing weight. Unless you have some extreme medical condition these will be your limiting self beliefs.
The next step is to re-frame those beliefs.
Re-framing your beliefs is simply a matter of changing how you talk to yourself and changing your perspective about the belief. In essence you are changing your negative thought into a positive one. But please remember, re-framing isn’t about ignoring or changing the facts. It’s about finding a new interpretation of them that is more constructive, healthy, and motivating. Ultimately, re-framing is an antidote to “black vs. white thinking,” which is often a major underlying factor behind stress, anxiety, and depression.
Examples of re-framing beliefs are as follows:
A) “I’m really stupid.” → “I’m aware of my mistakes.”
B) “Nobody likes me.” → “People need to get to know me before they like me.”
C) “I’m a failure.” → “My failures help me learn and grow.”
D) “I don’t think I can make it through this.” → “If I make it through this, I can make it through anything.”
The next step is to turn those re-framed beliefs into affirmations.
Affirmations are positive phrases that you repeat to yourself out loud. For example an affirmation might be, ‘I am strong and capable of achieving whatever I want’. By saying them out loud you add more power to them. By repeating them 5 times per day and every time you encounter a negative thought you retrain how your brains thought processes.
Choose up to 3 affirmations and repeat to yourself 5 times each day for a month then come back and reevaluate your limiting beliefs and progress.
One of the ways in which limiting self beliefs can hold you back is that of comfort eating.
Emotional eating (or stress eating) is the reason so many diets fail. We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also use food to make ourselves feel better—eating to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom. You might reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work.
Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed. Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.
For more information about emotional eating please check out the following article: