In my book, The Business of Wanting More – Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don’t, I spend a significant amount of time exploring the concept of limiting beliefs, and the distorted view of ourselves and the world that they can lead us to accept. Since your belief system colors everything you think, say, and do, holding onto assumptions that do not serve you well can lead to stress, struggle, and lack of fulfillment.

What are “Limiting beliefs?”

Limiting beliefs are those articles of faith which you hold dear, yet which also constrain you in some way. Because these opinions and conceptions are generally ingrained into your subconscious early in life, they can be very difficult to identify and overcome through conscious thought and action. Often, the very thought of trying to change these foundational thought patterns will lead to fear – of both failure and success.

After all, what you believe to be true about life and the world is your starting point for coping and acting. You likely have deeply held beliefs about rights, duties, abilities, permissions that restrain you from taking action, or from accepting action taken on your behalf. Because you believe them so strongly, you simply will not allow yourself to contradict, in thought or action, the things these thoughts inhibit – hence the word “limiting.”

Which of your beliefs are limiting you?

While limiting beliefs can be about the ways in which you perceive others and the world around you, they are most often about how you perceive yourself, your abilities, and your self-identity. Such beliefs often begin with a negative declaration, such as: “I don’t,” “I can’t,” “I must not,” “I am not.” By judging yourself negatively, in ways that mean you don’t “deserve” something (such as happiness, success, or fulfillment), you restrain yourself from achieving many of your goals.

Yet limiting beliefs may also begin with what sounds like a positive affirmation, while limiting you further, for example: “I am a clerk”, which means you can never reach management, perhaps. The belief has limited your perception of your potential, restraining you from fulfilling it.

How you CAN overcome limiting beliefs

This type of internal conflict can lead to a great deal of stress, and can create a vicious circle of distress and fear: the beliefs you hold onto so relentlessly, and find so limiting, actually restrain you and, because you fear taking positive action on your own behalf, you reinforce the belief that you’re “not worth it” and so, the cycle continues indefinitely.

The steps required to overcome limiting beliefs are actually fairly simple, though challenging indeed, since you will be forced to explore your unconscious thoughts, confront your fears, and find the courage to burst the bubble of your own convictions. Changing our beliefs is risky. When we change internally, the world around us changes; we lose the security of our unchallenged ideas as well as our favorite rationalizations. We start to run out of excuses and people and circumstances to blame. It’s a lot easier to declare that “people don’t change!”

Here are the four steps you must take to overcome limiting beliefs:

  • Isolate the limiting belief
  • Find the source of the belief
  • Recognize the belief is false
  • Replace with an empowering belief

As I further explain in my book however, you CAN do this (and you and I are living proof that it can be done, because you have changed over the course of your life), because you control your own feelings, actions, and thoughts, and how they create and color your experiences. If you can change, then what’s possible for you and the world around you?