We all hold beliefs that shape how we perceive the world around us. If we are not careful or if we fail to examine our belief system from time to time we may be susceptible to “limiting beliefs.” Limiting beliefs hold us back from success. If you do not believe something is possible, you are unlikely to attempt it or you will not put that much energy into achieving it. The classic example of a limiting belief is the story of Roger Bannister and his four-minute mile breakthrough. Before 1954, it was commonly believed that running a mile in under four minutes was humanly impossible. Shortly after Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, his astounding feat was not only repeated, but others were able to better Bannister’s record within months of his achievement. How many runners in 1954 simply internalized this belief about the four-minute mile and never attempted to run faster? Until Bannister broke the record, everyone just believed “this is the way it is.”
If you find yourself stuck or are having a difficult time making small or large changes in your life, check to see if you have any limiting beliefs that are inhibiting your progress.
What we believe about our rights, duties, abilities, permissions, the way the world works, or about other people, can contain beliefs that limit our potential. They can be things we internalize from the outside (such as “girls are bad at math” or “people”). As a girl, you may have observed your father playing sports with your brothers but he never invited you to play too. As a result, maybe you developed the limiting belief that girls should not play sports with boys or that girls are unworthy of playing sports at all. If you incorporated either one of those limiting beliefs into your worldview, how likely is it that you would choose to join an after-work soccer league? How might your beliefs about what females can or should do relative to physical activity affect your choices around healthy living?
The antidote to limiting beliefs is self-awareness.
Having limiting beliefs is not really the problem, having limiting beliefs with no awareness of how they affect your choices is the real problem. Every time you find yourself saying “I do/do not,” “I cannot,” “I must/must not,” or “I am/am not,” check to see if there is a limiting belief driving what you believe to be possible or true.
Thinking to yourself “I am an accountant; therefore, I do not do marketing and should not even think about that because it is a waste of my time” limits your ability to sell your services well.
Thinking, “I cannot sing” can limit my choices and any opportunity I might have at singing. I may not even bother to consider that I might enjoy singing lessons.
Values, norms, laws, and other rules that constrain what we must and must not do bind us. However, not all of these are mandatory and some are distinctly limiting. If I think “I must clean the house every day” then this robs me of time that may be spent on something more productive.
Now imagine in every example above, we are aware of the limiting belief. All of a sudden we have a choice. Here are some ways to break free from limiting beliefs:
- Challenge the belief and provide evidence to the contrary. If you believe that women are not able to compete with men in sports, check out Billie Jean King’s story and watch her beat Bobby Riggs in 1973.
- Explore what effect the belief has had on your life. If you have a belief that men do not show emotion and that doing so is a sign of weakness, you can take a look at how this has helped or hurt your relationships.
Usually, when we can take a closer look at the beliefs that limit us, they tend to lose their power over us. Just ask Roger Bannister!