There’s an old allegory about a baby elephant that is tied to a fence post. As the baby elephant tugs and pulls, it fails to break the fence or break the rope. Eventually, it gives up and makes peace with its fate. The baby elephant is stuck. Eventually, the elephant grows up and becomes a big, adult elephant with gargantuan legs and a huge tusk, and a swirly trunk and it could easily walk away from the fence if it wanted to. But believing the fence to be some immovable thing, the adult elephant remains tied to it, falsely believing it can never get away.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Limiting beliefs are false beliefs that prevent us from pursuing our goals and desires. Limiting beliefs can keep you from doing important things, like applying for your dream job or finding the relationship you want (or leaving the one you don’t want). They can also keep you from doing unimportant things, like skydiving in your underwear or trying out that weird Scotchberry ice cream flavor that looks like baby vomit in a cone. Our beliefs put boundaries and limitations on what we perceive to be reasonable behavior. Some limiting beliefs unnecessarily hold us back from who we want to become. Like the elephant that remains stuck to the fence post, these limiting beliefs keep us in place without us even realizing it.
Limiting beliefs typically come in three flavors:
- Limiting beliefs about yourself that make you feel like you can’t do something because something is inherently wrong with you. Nothing holds us back like beliefs about ourselves. Especially because so many of our beliefs about ourselves are laden with emotional attachments, insecurities, and baggage that often must be unraveled before we can challenge the belief.
- Limiting beliefs about the world that make you feel like you can’t do something because no one will let you. Maybe the most common limiting belief revolves around what other people will and won’t allow us to do.
- Limiting beliefs about life that make you feel like you can’t do something because it’s too difficult. We can develop many limiting beliefs about what a “normal” life looks like. Most of these beliefs revolve around time, being too early/late, and what’s real/imaginary.
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
It’s hard enough to spot your limiting beliefs. It’s even harder to overcome them. But it can be done. Here are some simple steps to help you get started.
1. Ask Yourself, “What If I’m Wrong?”
Generally, limiting beliefs lose their power as soon as we consider that they may not be true. Can’t date because of your height? What if you’re wrong? Can’t get a promotion because of your gender? What if you’re wrong? As a mental exercise, adopt the ability to simply question your own beliefs and find alternative possibilities. Challenge yourself to imagine a world where your assumption is incorrect. What would that look like? What would it take? Usually, it’s far less than you think.
2. Ask Yourself, “How Is This Belief Serving Me?”
We like to imagine ourselves to be the victims of our own limiting beliefs, but the truth is that we adopt these beliefs because they serve us in some way. The elephant believes she can’t pull away from the fence post because that belief served her at one time—it prevented the strain and struggle of failure. Generally, we hold onto limiting beliefs for the same reasons—to protect ourselves from struggle and failure. Also, we often hold onto limiting beliefs because they make us feel special, self-righteous or that we deserve special attention. It’s not fair that I can’t change careers because I’m too old—look at me! Pity me!
Beliefs only stick if they serve us in some way, figure out how your belief is serving you and ask yourself if it’s really worth it or not.
3. Create Alternative Beliefs
Now it’s time to get creative. Come up with ways in which you may be wrong. Sure, maybe the average person isn’t attracted to someone your height, but you’re not trying to date the average person, you’re trying to date someone special. And someone special is going to find you attractive the way you are.
Now obviously, it’s not as simple as choosing a belief and then just…believe it. No, what you’re doing is getting in the habit of questioning your beliefs (steps 1 and 2 above) and trying out new ones. Sometimes it even helps to write these down. Write down your assumption, and then come up with 4-5 possible alternatives to that assumption. This forces you to see that not only do you harbor some limiting beliefs but that you have options. You are choosing what to believe, in each and every moment, even if you don’t realize it. With repeated practice in noticing your limiting beliefs and imagining new ideas to replace them, you’ll start to notice the thousands of tiny little decisions you make based on your limiting beliefs without even realizing it. You’ll start to notice that the same limiting beliefs that keep you from looking for a new job are the ones that keep you from ordering the sandwich you actually want to eat or wearing the clothes you want to wear—and you’ll see how ridiculous it all is.
4. Test Those Alternative Beliefs to See If They Might Be True
The final step is to treat these alternative beliefs as though they’re hypotheses in an experiment. Now you’ve gotta go try them out and see if they “work.” Treat it like trying on a new pair of jeans. Adding a new ingredient to a recipe. Taking a new car for a test drive. Enter your favorite cheesy metaphor here.
Until we’re willing to actually see if these alternative beliefs play out in the real world, we can’t be certain of what is true and what is not. And most of the time, we will find that we were actually wrong about what we initially believed. It simply takes self-awareness to consider that we may have been wrong and have the courage to go out into the world and see if we were wrong. In many ways, we can be our own worst enemies. We are confined by our own perceptions, constrained by our understanding of true and false.
Challenge your own understanding. Test new ideas. You are never at the full expansion of yourself. There is always room for growth. Just make sure you aren’t the only one stopping it from happening.
Article Credit: https://markmanson.net/limiting-beliefs