Someone my age can’t do a job like that.
It’s called “work “ for a reason.
I’ve always been like this – it’s just who I am.
It’s too late to change now.
What do each of these statements have in common? They are all examples of limiting beliefs.
What are limiting beliefs and why do they matter?
Limiting beliefs are a type of core belief that you have about yourself – or about the world – that holds you back. They’re called “limiting” for a reason…because they limit what you believe is possible for yourself. And we all have them.
The tricky thing about limiting beliefs is that they are often operating under the surface – unconsciously running the show (better known as: your life). We believe them to be objective truth when, in fact, they are subjective, unconscious beliefs that have been formed over our lifetime.
I talk a lot about limiting beliefs in my new book, The Big Scale Back: Success and Balance By Your Own Design (available October 25! Learn more about it at stephaniewoodward.com), because they play such a critical role in how we live our lives and, ultimately, such a critical role in how fulfilled we feel in our lives. Your beliefs about what’s possible for you directly influence how far you’ll stretch yourself and what you’ll open yourself up to.
Understanding and unpacking your own limiting beliefs is important if you want to create sustainable change in your life, or break free of limiting patterns that have been holding you back in your life. Before you can create sustainable change in your life and create the conditions for something new, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing that is creating your current circumstances.
You need to understand what current beliefs are driving your current behaviors, actions, and outcomes. Once you become consciously aware of these beliefs, you can make a conscious decision to change them. So long as your limiting beliefs remain unconscious, making real, sustainable change in your life will be challenging.
Note to leaders: Your own limiting beliefs can shape how you relate to, and assess, individuals on your team. Deepening your awareness around your own limiting beliefs is critical for optimal and highly effective leadership.
An introduction to Perspective Taking
We ultimately live in our own beliefs, and unpacking them can be intense, significant work and you may want to engage a therapist or certified professional coach to work through major blocks or major limiting beliefs. But I’ll share an exercise that you can do on your own on a small issue or problem to make a change that you’d like to see in your life.
First, though, I want you to consider that each of us sees the world through our own unique lens – shaped by our upbringing, our culture, our personality, and our lived experiences. It’s important to keep this in mind when unpacking limiting beliefs. To remind yourself that they are just that: beliefs, or perspectives. (Personally and professionally, I do a lot of work with the Enneagram – which explores 9 personality archetypes which serve as lenses through which we each view the world.)
Imagine each of us walking around with our own unique lens: what one person may consider ridiculous, impossible, challenging, or inevitable may be something another person considers exciting, uplifting, and well within the zone of possibility.
Where to start: a perspective taking exercise
Think about a relatively simple issue, problem, or something you’d like to change in your life. For example: I’m constantly scrambling at meal times to come up with something quick and healthy.
Ask yourself – What do you often think about with respect to this topic? For example: I’m a bad cook, I’m not creative in the kitchen, I don’t have time to cook anything from scratch, it’s easier to order or pick up food, I’m just not the kind of person who cooks, nothing I cook tastes that good.
For every thought that you have about this topic, re-word it so that it starts with “I believe…” So that each of your thoughts and statements is turned into a statement of what you believe. For example: I believe I’m a bad cook, I believe I’m not creative in the kitchen, I believe I don’t have time to cook anything from scratch, I believe it’s easier to order or pick up food, I believe I’m just not the kind of person who cooks, I believe nothing I cook tastes that good.
With your new list of “I believe” statements, begin to imagine other people (create a few characters in your mind, or imagine others in your life without the same problem or issue). Note: I personally like to imagine each of the 9 Enneagram archetypes for this exercise, and consider what each may think or believe about the topic.
Imagine what each character or persona you’ve listed might believe about this topic and generate as many ideas and perspectives that you can. Bonus points if you choose some perspective, people or personality types that you typically wouldn’t resonate with to really open up the different perspectives and beliefs on this topic. For example: collect recipes for 5 ingredient meals and meals in under 15 minutes, batch cook and freeze on the weekend, your food will taste better with practice, start with learning to make your favorite dish, once you get the hang of it it’s faster and easier than take out
Go back over your list of these different beliefs and perspectives on this topic and ask yourself the following:
- Is there an alternate belief that would be more helpful to you in the situation? For example: It is helpful to know that my food will taste better with practice, and that it can be faster and easier than take out
- How is your current belief or beliefs influencing your current outcomes? For example: my current belief means I’m reaching for the first thing in the kitchen when I’m hungry – regardless of it’s nutritional value.
- How might you “Try on“ another belief? For example: I like the idea of preparing in advance. I’ll start with lunches and find three 5-ingredient recipes I can try this week. I’ll make sure I have all the ingredients at the start of the week.
Choose a small action you can take to “try on” a helpful alternative belief. Keep doing this so that you practice perspective taking and begin generating new beliefs outside of your own beliefs and perspectives.
If you’re looking to unpack some deeper limiting beliefs to make long-term, sustainable change in your life, schedule a complimentary discovery call to see if a coaching program may be the right fit for you at this time.