Transforming Limiting Beliefs
Transforming Limiting Beliefs.
This last weekend, I facilitated a mini-workshop on transforming limiting beliefs at the ATMA center in West Hartford, Connecticut. Why was this workshop important? Why would anyone participate in such a workshop?
Imagine that you have a superpower that at the flip of a switch, allows you to change how you perceive yourself, others, and your life. Imagine that by using this power, you could improve work performance, enhance relationships, and enhance your health. That by using this extraordinary gift, you could unlock possibilities and potentials that were formerly hidden from you.
Well, that’s exactly how changing out a limiting belief can work. To see how your current beliefs are working for you, just look around. Your beliefs are operating around-the-clock, and they’re bringing you whatever is aligned with them… and not necessarily what you want.
Clearly, knowing how to recognize and transform limiting beliefs is a very real superpower.
But what is a belief? And what is a “limiting belief?”
First, let’s define a belief.
A belief is a thought that you continue to hold over time. Beliefs that are widely held, and are supported by other beliefs, become facts. Beliefs that are taken for granted, to the point where we no longer examine them, become assumptions.
Beliefs begin innocently enough. We are perceivers, and our personal reality is, well, 100 percent our perception. We can’t help but evaluate our experiences, and form opinions that help us define preferences and form desires (see the Desire Engine on this site).
- An employee or colleague, or our significant other makes a mistake that we assess is from absent-mindedness.
- We evaluate the mistake and decide we don’t like it, and that we don’t like this person’s absent-mindedness.
- We continue to go over and over this in our heads.
- We don’t notice it, but that momentum causes us to be on the look out for more absent-mindedness.
- We find more absent-mindedness, and more mistakes.
- We talk about it to others, and pay even more attention to what we see as shortcomings.
- We form a habit of thought.
- Soon, based on the habit of thought, we begin to treat this individual differently, and the outcome of that treatment is noticing more mistakes, and we gather more evidence.
- A belief is formed.
- Relationships are changed.
- Your whole life, you never had much success with growing houseplants.
- You’ve formed a belief that you are not good with plants.
- It never occurs to you that, during this past, you might have selected plants that were difficult to care for, or that, with sufficient knowledge of the care required of these plants, and a little diligence, you could enjoy some success where you haven’t before.
- You are shopping one day, and notice an attractive houseplant that says, “Easy Care” on the label.
- Based on the supreme authority of the label, you believe it is easy to take care of.
- The first week you own it, you forget to water it, and it dies.
- You did not take the time to soften the previous belief that you are no good with plants, or look into why this belief may not be so, and subconsciously, you acted and chose according to this strong belief, which overrode the belief that the houseplant was “easy care.”
- For a third, entertaining example, including animation, check out my colleague Jamie BIllingham’s illustration of a Hyrum Smith story, here.
That’s how it works. It works the same with experiences, objects—everything in our lives.
- We perceive, and think.
- We feel the charge of emotion around those thoughts.
- Those thoughts have their own “magnetism”: we think that thought for a long enough that, that thought attracts other, similar, supporting thoughts.
- Soon we begin to filter out non-supporting thoughts.
- The original thought, and supporting thoughts, become synergistic—it’s like they join together, mutually reinforce each other, and affect our reality more powerfully than any one brief thought could alone.
- We believe.
Sometimes, as in the case of a trauma, this whole process can happen in a relative blink of an eye. Significant pain can prove out as an instant belief-maker.
But back to the earlier example: If the momentum continues, we’re not sure, or don’t even know, when we lost track of the fact that we are the ones that chose the thoughts that led to the belief in the first place.
For some of us, the idea that we choose or can guide our thoughts is a foreign one. If the latter is the case for you, I suggest the empowering experience of paying attention to, and then deliberately choosing your thoughts and self-talk. Your habitual thoughts and self-talk can make or break your stress… or success.
Now, since our personal perception is defined by our beliefs, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that our beliefs literally form our reality. This works whether you consider it merely on a psychological level, or in holistic, metaphysical one.
Here’s the bad news: if you’re of average self-awareness, probably 80-90% of what you believe came from other people, and a lot of it was absorbed by you before you had the good sense to decide if any particular belief actually served you. Make no mistake—nothing got in there without at least your tacit approval—but you probably weren’t all that diligent in your evaluation for most of what’s at work there.
Of the remaining percentage, probably 90 percent of that came from one or two experiences about which you formed a belief that is limiting your life in some way that negatively affects your happiness.
You don’t need pages of psychological studies to grasp both the truth and importance of the above estimations. You only have to think about your day-to-day life, and pick a belief, and ask where it came from, and listen for an answer. If you start now, my guess is you will spend an entire day before you come up with a belief that was deliberately formed by you—in other words, one that did not come reflexively from an observation, or one that was simply accepted from another person—if you can come up with one at all.
So what is a limiting belief?
From where I sit, a limiting belief is any belief that comes between you and any desire that is in your highest interest over time. (This qualification of a desire as one that’s in our highest interest over time is an important one. Desires that are in our highest interest over time tend to leverage our affinities and character strengths, add value to others, and bring us positive emotions—while not harming us in any way).
Well, if you are looking for improvement in an area of your life, that, to this point has evaded you, look at your beliefs.
Having trouble identifying a belief that is contributing to your troubles? Look at your habitual thinking and emotions around a challenging area of your lives, and that will lead to your beliefs.
And with what would you replace a limiting belief? Is there a proven process for picking beliefs that will work for us? I have some guidelines that work for me, and I'll share them with you:
- The belief expands my limits in a next logical step from where I am. (E.g., I might believe that I can run 4 miles today, when I ran 3.5 yesterday, but it is tough for me to convince myself that I can run a marathon today, if I ran 3.5 yesterday. By believing I can achieve something that agrees with my belief in the power of incremental improvement, and that feels right on a gut level, I am likely to succeed.)
- The belief contributes to my highest joy. (Not only pleasure, but heart-opening, heartfelt, joy. Believing that I need to correct someone else, or outperform a colleague doesn't qualify. Believing that that I can uplift others, and contribute value when I earnestly explore avenues of expansion for me, does. )
- The belief assists me in achieving some improvement in my life. (E.g., where I formerly believed hard work created success, I now believe that alignment of my inner life is a more important ingredient to personal progress, far outdoing any kind of external action or group of actions in its effect on my performance and life. This belief has yielded spectacular personal results.)
Here are some questions that I ask when evaluating beliefs:
- Why do I want to believe this belief? (Yes, you do have a choice in the matter, and there is often a payoff to negative/limiting, as well as positive/freeing beliefs.)
- Where did this belief come from?
- Is this belief in my highest interest (over time) to believe?
- Does this belief feel "heavy" or "light" when I consider it?
- Who am I with this belief?
- Who am I without this belief?
- What do I believe that makes this current experience or choice so uncomfortable/difficult/painful in some way?
There is no rule of thumb about what to do with the answers you get, but I'll suggest this: listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Playfully engage in the process of discovery, with intent toward experiencing greater wellbeing. Your attitude/intent is all important here. If you approach this exercise with the idea that something is "wrong," then that belief in itself will filter all your data. Try approaching this exercise with the belief that there is much to discover, and much that you haven't considered. Pair this with the other suggestions in this paragraph.
And what is the process for changing out a belief? There is no set rule, but I work with my clients on the following process.
- Recognize the limitation.
- “Soften the edges” of the old belief while...
- Looking for evidence that the new belief is true.
- Practice feeling “as-if” the new belief were true (Say, 5 or 10 minutes per day).
- Check for misalignment with other life aspects, or conflicting beliefs, and sort those out, making changes where appropriate and necessary.
- Look for people and organizations aligned with your belief, and note their progress and success with the chosen direction.
- Practice self-acceptance, and follow your highest interest and joy!
Rinse and repeat 1-7 for any belief that you want to change.
There are attentional meditation techniques, and more advanced ways of using attitude and imagination to transform, or “change out” limiting beliefs. Have fun with it, and soon you’ll see real evidence of your developing super-power.