Do you limit your own success by having beliefs that are unhelpful? You may not even be aware of these limiting beliefs because they are so ingrained in your psyche. Why would you limit yourself intentionally? Most people who come to my coaching sessions are totally unaware of how their own thoughts and beliefs are holding them back. In this article, I explain where these beliefs originate.
There are some things in life that you hold to be true that are unlikely to change. These are things that just are, for example, the sunrise and sunset, the rivers flowing towards the sea, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. You would not want these to change as they are fundamental to your sense of safety and security. Knowing that these things are continuing to happen as you sleep, helps you to sleep.
The development process of a negative belief.
Whenever something out of the ordinary occurs, your sense of security is rumbled and you start to feel fearful. For example, a totally unexpected Tsunami or Volcanic eruption. For those involved directly, it is devastating. For others what you think and feel about the situation can be unsettling. Your thoughts can turn to ones of fear and negativity and if allowed to those thoughts can limit your opportunity. Imagine if you start to believe that the worst is going to happen at any time. You want to travel abroad however, your belief is that there will be a disaster, so you stop traveling.
If you control your thoughts you put things into perspective, yes there is always a risk that this might happen again however, you believe the chances are small. You have listened to what the experts are saying and as they are more likely to be better informed than you, you choose to believe that the disaster is unlikely to happen again. You start to feel safe and soon it becomes a distant memory and you go about your normal routine.
What is a belief?
In these examples, I am referring to beliefs that we hold to be true. A belief is something that you think is true about the world, nature, an event or experience, a person, science, life, work, or business. In fact, anything you have an interest in. A keyword that I used in that previous sentence is thought. A belief is a thought. Hold that thought while we examine where these come from.
Clearly, the thought is in your mind. But what puts it there? I am not talking about the anatomy and physiology of your brain. I mean, what influences the thoughts that you choose to believe? You start to accumulate beliefs as a child through listening and watching your parents, teachers, friends, and family. As you continue to develop and learn your beliefs will grow and change. Other sources of beliefs are religion and faith, experiences, TV, Radio, newspapers, and politicians. All of these influence your view of the world and the thoughts that you choose to have. The thoughts that you choose to believe to be true. You all have different experiences in life and so your thoughts and beliefs will be different from the next person.
Impact of the beliefs.
Many of these beliefs will be helpful and positive and help you to understand the world and feel safe and secure. As Abraham Maslow describes in his Hierarchy of Needs theory you all have basic biological, physiological, and safety needs before you can feel motivated to perform to your fullest potential. Part of those basic needs is the belief that the world and your environment are safe and secure. When you believe that you are safe and you can overcome any life challenge then you are better positioned to achieve what you want.
When your beliefs are negative these can be unhelpful and limit your progress and success in life. In particular, if these beliefs are about your immediate environment, the people in your life, and you. For example, a belief that life is dangerous. This may come from a fearful mother. You may have grown up with children who said that you are too stupid to play with them and now you believe that you are stupid. When you hear it often enough you start to believe it. You start to act in a way that reinforces your thought. The more experiences that you have that confirm your belief then the stronger the belief becomes and you stop taking notice of the information that goes against your belief.
Someone once referred to a belief as being a tabletop. It becomes a strong table when it has four legs. The legs are references that support the belief. The references can be events or experiences that give you evidence that the belief is true. The more references you have the stronger the belief. If a table only has one leg then the belief becomes weak and is easier to change.
Can beliefs be changed?
The important thing is that you can change those unhelpful and negative beliefs. If the belief is from your childhood with many references then it will be more challenging to change however, with time you can change.
Many of my clients tell me that they are dissatisfied with things in their lives that they are unable to change; perhaps they are not artistic or creative enough, or they feel that their social skills are not up to par. Perhaps something happened in your personal life or in the workplace that you wish you could have done differently. Labeling yourself in a negative way because of your limitations or a past occurrence can lead to shame, anxiety, and depression…as most of us know, kicking ourselves when we are feeling already down or vulnerable is not the most helpful way of getting yourself to a place of feeling better!
If you look at your entire self based on one small aspect of your whole self, you are judging yourself in an incorrect and unhelpful way. As human beings, it is important to remember that we are always in the process of changing, growing, and developing. You are too complex to be accurately rated on the basis of one or more individual traits or actions.
Instead of calling yourself a globally negative label (i.e. “I’m a failure”, “I’m weak”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m a loser”) try to assign a label ONLY to the specific action(s) or aspect(s) of yourself that you might currently be displeased with. As an example, instead of saying “I’m a total loser”, specify precisely what you may have lost by saying something to yourself like “I lost the promotion to my colleague.” Being more specific and avoiding global negative labels acknowledges that you are a complex individual who is also capable of succeeding in the future.
Here is an example: John Doe anchors a great deal of his self-worth in his career/monetary success and his popularity with friends. He often tells himself that he is “a loser” or a “total failure” if he makes a small mistake at work or feels he has embarrassed himself on a date or out with friends at a party. John Doe reports feeling tense and anxious before going to work in the mornings and meeting up with friends in the evenings. Due to his beliefs that he MUST be a smashing success in his career and in his social circle, he experiences unhealthy negative emotions (such as shame, guilt, and sadness) when his personal rules are not fully met. He does not give himself any “wiggle room” for human error.
As human beings, we are fallible and capable of BOTH success and failure. We can do negative things from time to time, but this does not make us inherently negative as a whole.
Think about the questions below:
- List the areas that you commonly rate your “whole self” based on: (i.e. career/job success/social success)
- What negative labels or messages do I most often use about myself? (i.e. “I’m a failure” or “I am inferior”)
- What are three good reasons to lose these negative labels? (i.e. “I seem to feel really bad about myself and sad when I call myself these things” or “I tend to avoid social outings because I feel I might mess up” or “I get so nervous at work that I feel paralyzed out of fear of looking dumb”)
- What are more healthy/self-accepting alternatives? (i.e. “Everyone makes a mistake at work, it’s normal!” or “Lots of people seem to like hanging out with me, even though I feel awkward, they think I’m kind and funny.”
Tags: anxiety and depression, career anxiety, negative labels, poor self-esteem, positive thinking, relationship problems, self-awareness, self-image, self-worth.