What Are Limiting Beliefs?

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Did you ever wonder what moves your behaviour? Did you ever stop to ask yourself where your beliefs come from? Did you ever think about what you think is actually something you truly believe? All these question refer back to the complex system formed in our brain. Does your conditioning define your life? No, your conditioning can be changed and reprogrammed and it starts by creating some level of self-awareness. Let’s get into it.

As Einstein said: “you can’t solve the same problem with the same thinking.”

In my homecoming post I wrote about our comfort zone and the loop of our limiting belief-system. “What is your limiting belief?” is not an easy question to answer. To find the answer we’ll break things down into chunks.

What is a belief and how do they form? 
What is a limiting belief?
Why are you more likely to believe a limiting belief?
Why should we overcome limiting beliefs?
How to identify/recognise a limiting belief? 
Getting to work 

First things first, what is a belief and how to they form?

When growing up you are constantly reinforced and punished. It’s a time when you’re dependent of your peers and you unconsciously create a system in your brain to stay out of trouble. This system protected you by mirroring and pleasing your authority figures and by learning how to do well. The brain wants to be efficient and thus creates a system to make our actions more effortless — this is why we form habits. But unfortunately, as we grow up, this system doesn’t. The system is outdated and wants to judge and criticise to ‘keep you safe’.

Another way a belief is formed is by a reoccurring thought, the meaning you give things, fear (of not being enough), through the words of others, assumptions or a past (traumatic) event or experience. I know, it’s a lot. When we run the same thoughts over and over again, combined with the experience of a certain emotion we ‘install’ these thoughts (language of the brain) and the emotion or feeling (language of the body) into our belief-system. The more often we run the same thoughts and emotions, the more we hard-wire it into our system.

Example: you’re a child and your parents always pick you up as they get home and give you loads of loving attention. But today is different. Today your parents arrive home and they don’t pick you up. Instead they send you to your room and from there you can hear a lot of fighting going on. As a child (and some never grow up) you are very egocentric. You start to reason what just happened and it all revolves around you. You start giving the event a meaning: “what have I done wrong? Do they don’t love me anymore? Why are they upset with me?” etc. 

Your mind is really good at making something small turn into something really big if you feed it. But the real problem is that your mind and body don’t know the difference between the outer-world experience (the actual event) and the inner-world experience (the memory and meaning you give it). By experiencing this thought and emotion time after time your mind and body become so familiar with it that it becomes automatic and habitual. Which means that these thoughts and emotions become easier and easier to switch on, until they’re a loop of habitual thinking. 

Your belief-system is a habitual way of seeing your outer- and inner-world — your perspective. Which means that if you have the habit of thinking the same thoughts over and over again, it becomes a belief. Your beliefs together form your belief-system. You could see it as a storage with many boxes. This storage also functions as a big filter. Every time you experience something new you take it through that filter, label it (give it meaning) and try to put it in the appropriate box. And what happens if it doesn’t fit into one of the boxes? You’ll start feeling anxious and insecure, because it’s unpredictable. In other words: you’re feeling uncomfortable.

The problem with these boxes? You created them subconsciously and they probably aren’t exactly the way you’d like them to be… Which means there are mistakes, malfunctions, it is outdated and sometimes doesn’t even makes sense with the reality at all.

I can imagine this was a lot.

The good news?

Your current belief-system doesn’t have to define your life. The neuropathways in our brain literally form a system, but thanks to neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reshape, change and recover) we aren’t defined by this system. which means that the structure of our brain where our habits are shaped – can be changed.

“man often becomes what he beliefs himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning” – Mahatma Gandhi

Now, what is a limiting belief?

Often a limiting belief is about our self or our identity. A limiting belief limits us and holds us back from living life fully and freely, keep us from seeing opportunities presented to us time after time, prevent us from seeing our own gifts and potential and keep us stuck focussing on the negative aspects of circumstances and experiences. Frankly, it’s a terrible and crooked lens through which we see the world and ourself that puts ourself and the world around us in a negative light.

  • “I am not worthy enough”
  • “this always happens to me”
  • “I don’t think I can because ____”
  • “I don’t have enough ____” (money, time, energy, experience, etc.)
  • “I am not ____ enough” (pretty, skinny, young, smart, etc.)
  • “I am too ____” (ugly, fat, old, dumb, etc.)
  • “There’s something wrong with me, I need to be fixed”
  • “People will probably think I am ____”
  • “I don’t deserve this or that”
  • “I’ll get hurt if I am myself”
  • “I’m not going to be happy because I don’t deserve this and I know it will be over soon anyway” (unfortunately this is a BIG one!)

So, why are you more likely to believe a limiting belief?

Your brain is a 2-million year old mechanism developed to keep you safe. It’s not designed to make you happy, to feel limitless and to be free. It doesn’t only want to keep you safe and preserve energy, but it also wants to keep your identity safe – how you see yourself and how you think the world sees you. Your brain is constantly scanning out your environment to spot out danger. If something strange happens in our environment — and even in our imagination — your body plugs in to your senses and fires stress hormones. Your body and mind switch to survival mode and will do everything to keep you safe, including your identity. This switch is the fight, flight or freeze mode. We don’t have to run for Sabertooth tigers anymore, but we still have these survival skills in the modern world today. It’s why people lose their shit in traffic, why you go nuts when your bank account hits zero, why you can’t play ping-pong with your friends because you go mental losing a game, Oh, you worry about spots, wrinkles, balding or weight? Same thing. 

You limit yourself, or better put, your belief-system limits you. As confronting as this is, we like to hold on to our limiting beliefs because we can hide behind them. It’s an illusionary safety. Because it makes us less vulnerable, and vulnerability is fukkin’ scary.

Here’s an example of me hiding behind my limiting beliefs: I had been diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 10 years old and I sucked at reading. Of course I felt ashamed for reading out in class and thus I choose to hide behind my dyslexia: “I can’t do it because I have dyslexia” (I’m broken, I cannot be fixed). I stopped reading out in class and kept myself from trying and learning to become a better reader. And trust me, I really, really sucked. But the funny thing is, the more I focussed on how bad I sucked at it, the more I started stuttering and the more frustrated I got. But, after high school and especially when travelling I found out how much I actually love to read and started picking up more books. My relationship with reading totally changed. I don’t accept the though “I have dyslexia” anymore, because I know (or believe) I can read. Sometimes though, the thought of “I just cannot read out” still creeps up from time to time when I read out to friends or especially family (who know how much I used to struggle with it) and when I give in to my thought it becomes a total stutter disaster party all over again.

To translate it to what I was saying before, I was hiding behind my dyslexia (limiting belief) because it feels much safer than saying “I’ll do it, I’ll try.” (being vulnerable).

This doesn’t merely go for me and my dyslexia story. It goes for self-acceptance, physical abilities, chasing dreams, trusting yourself, trusting Life/God/Universe, love, etc.

In case you just don’t see the point let’s move on to another question.

Why should we overcome limiting beliefs?

As if this isn’t a rhetorical question, let’s just briefly get into it:

“Your beliefs are responsible for your perspective of the world and it guides your thoughts and your behaviour.”

Let’s talk about that.

Your belief-system is so important because it drives your actions and behaviour, the choices you make, the things you say and the opportunities you see. Which basically is your personality. The behaviour you have and what actions you take shapes your personality and simultaneously determines your future.

I suppose you’d want to live life fully and free. Right? But often we hold ourself back from living wholeheartedly, because of what we believe. We try to protect ourself by staying in our comfort zone. We miss out on opportunities and are afraid to chase dreams. Why? Because we’re afraid of the unknown, whether it’s an inner-world or outer-world experience. We rather have a predictable (and thus safe) future than being open to unknown and unfamiliar feelings, experiences and opportunities. Do you tell yourself you’re not good enough when you’re thinking in the unknown/unpredictable future? 

Overcoming limiting beliefs is a great way to develop self-confidence and improving a healthy self-esteem. When you step out of your comfort-zone and disprove your limiting beliefs you show yourself that we’re capable of things that once were your biggest obstacle. When you do that extra mile, when you do overcome who you think you are, when you don’t to keep yourself small, you realise: “my thoughts aren’t even that real after all”.

Recognising or identifying limiting beliefs can be difficult, because it’s how we’ve always seen the world. To us, it’s not a believe, but feels like the truth. In order to create more awareness around our belief-system there’s a few things we can do.

How to identify a limiting belief? (Creating self-awareness)

First of all, self-talk is a big one. Try to become aware of the things say to yourself. Listen to what goes on in your mind and the way you talk to yourself. Is there a series of thoughts that make you feel like a bag of shit? Or is your mind chatter about moonshine, flowers and holy river flows? Give it time. Just observe and don’t judge yourself. 

Another way to recognise your limiting beliefs is by looking for certain patterns. Do you have reoccurring patterns that hinder or challenge you? You can ask yourself if there’s anything that you’ve been talking about a lot, but didn’t get yourself to actually do it. Especially over the course of some years. There might be a limiting belief that’s worth investigating. Try to also look at things that you act inappropriate at, like jealousy or envy for example. Is there something that you’ve really been wanting or meaning to do but ‘somehow’ never got to it? Perhaps you’ve been distracting yourself by doing other things. You might be doubting yourself. In other words, there might rest a limiting belief underneath. I’ll give you a personal example of what I recently experienced:

If I take a look at myself I’ve been talking (for several years) about wanting to write, share and teach and eventually grow an online income to sustain myself on the road. Especially in COVID-19 times I found myself doing everything, but that… learning things, starting projects, building stuff, printing teeshirts, playing guitar, building a garden, but not writing. I found myself looking up studies and courses. “Should I start here or there?” Until, it was my parent who put me on the spot “You’re avoiding the one thing you really wanna do, soon you’ll run out of distractions and have no choice left unless you come up with something ridiculous”. I knew exactly what I had to do. Why I avoided writing? “it takes so much time”, “I don’t know where to start”, “What would people think of what I write?” etc.

Often when it comes to limiting beliefs there is some sort of a pain point. Something that consistently gives you the feelings of anger, frustration, pain, stress and/or anxiety. A good place to start peaking around are those emotions. What beliefs do you have around your pain point? Ask yourself if you really believe the belief you have. Do you agree with that belief and can you change it, or just as important, is it worth your time to change it?

If the answer is “yes” then it’s time to get to work.

Getting to work

Yes, it’s be confronting. But wouldn’t life be boring sitting in your comfort zone? Wouldn’t it suck to sit in sorrow beating yourself up with regret? Paper is power, so let’s get to work and ask yourself some questions. But, to make it easier, let’s try to see your limiting beliefs as if it were some figure, like another person. I know it sounds lame, but it works. You could even name ‘him’ or ‘her’. Do whatever rocks your boat. It’s a helpful way to disconnect from your thoughts and your beliefs. So, when negative thoughts creep up, try to identify where they come from. Again, remember that what you limit yourself with might not even be true.

This might be worth wrapping your head around:

To me, failure means _____
Experiencing challenges mean _____
My work is _____
A career should be _____
Emotions are _____
Being a man/woman means _____
Being a parent means _____
Being a partner means _____
Being single means _____
Exercising is _____
etc.

The following question is: how do these beliefs work for you?

And the last question to sink in to today:
Who would you be without your beliefs? Who would you want to be(come)?

Thanks for your time!
Love.

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What I share and write about only goes as far as I’ve expended my own mind, body and soul. You need to think about what is right and holds true for ya’self. I’m merely sharing what I’m seeing and experiencing through the lens of my eyes, shaped by my lessons, studies and experiences, along with the research and studies of professionals in the particular field. I’m here to share but have no means of taking others’ credit or claiming to provide you with ‘the truth’. 

Oh, and there will be some grammatical slips here and there. So here’s my apologies in advantage (that was a joke), but as long as I’m getting the point across I’m pretty stoked. 

I’m always open and interested to hear your perspective, even — or especially — if my content is not in alignment with yours. But more importantly, I’m here to reach out a hand — you can find me here, or you can visit the FAQ Page

*This article is written for educational and informational purposes only and not for medical advice. Always check in with your doctor for medical advice. You know the deal. And don’t forget to do your own research ;). 

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Renzo Kaashoek
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We’re hiding behind fancy websites and a bunch of words and filters. I’d love to introduce myself with some stories to make the chaos on your screen a little more personal. Feel free to reach out and ask or say what you’ve got going on. See ya’ in the mailbox, on the road or, in da barrel.. 

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