6 steps to positively shift your limiting beliefs
One of the reasons I became a coach and why I love helping people make positive shifts in their life is because, through personal development coaching, I learned that we all have the ability and resources within us to think in more positive, helpful ways. We can bust negative beliefs and give ourselves opportunities to create more productive thoughts. It’s just we don’t always know how to help ourselves do that.
A limiting belief is a state of mind or belief that negatively blocks us from doing something or limits us in some way. We humans are particularly skilled at developing these negative thoughts and limiting beliefs and then convincing ourselves they are correct and true.
Negative self-talk and thoughts can unexpectedly creep in and can be destructive and hard to shake. They can lead to a negative overall state in our mind and body that saps our energy and create anxiety and stress. In this negative state, we question ourselves and our abilities. For example, we may think others are doing more, achieving more than us, or that someone is obviously better and more successful/happier, whilst we are still struggling.
These are, however, unsubstantiated assumptions we are making. We have no idea if they are true or not. We don’t know what other peoples’ worlds are like and how successful their lives might or might not be. Without hard facts, we only have our own thoughts and just plain guesswork based on what we see and hear. Things can spiral quite quickly into self-doubt and negative rumination that undermines our confidence. So, when we think these thoughts, it’s time to take a breath, stop and take control of the thoughts in our head and think differently.
When we have thoughts, what is our brain actually doing? Our brain is amazing with approximately 86 billion neurons that constantly connect/reconnect and rewire through plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to adapt and, without it, the brain couldn’t change or learn new things. It uses and makes new neural connections from taking in constant streams of internal and external information and so creates our stories and our reality based on all our senses and stored memory. (This is to do with our individual perceptions and how we sense, make sense of and interpret our environment. Our perceptions are unique to us).
But ‘your truth’ isn’t necessarily ‘the truth’. In our vocabulary, we use lots of general terms, such as ‘every’, ‘always’, ‘never’. These words serve a positive purpose in language because they neatly cluster thoughts together and we call these ‘Generalisations’ in NLP.
However, these can also work against us when our mindset and state is negative by producing quite extreme phrases that accentuate the negatives. Even if there was some truth in what we are hearing or saying to ourselves, it is rarely true or appropriate to generalise. Negative examples might look like:
“It will always be this way.”
“I’m never going to achieve that.”
How does this fit with negative limiting beliefs? A very important and complex area of the brain called the limbic system is primarily responsible for our emotions, learning and the formation of our memories. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions associate here and how these relate ultimately produce our emotional and behavioural responses. Negative thoughts trigger a negative response and if we continue to think this way, the negative thoughts can embed and persist. When you’ve learnt to be negative it’s a hard habit to break!
A personal example of negative self-talk from early childhood was when I struggled with numbers in junior school. I was labelled as ‘poor at maths’ and this thought got embedded and created a limiting belief (many of the ideas, concepts and labels we live by as adults were laid down in our formative years). Over time my inner voice kept playing the same negative belief and I literally learnt from an early age to be ‘poor at maths’.
We must be aware though that our brains are there to help us. The brain tries very hard to provide what it thinks we want and looks for and pays attention to that because it has a positive intention to serve you. In my example, the brain’s intention was to provide me with examples of the ‘belief I held’ i.e. poor at maths. My brain simply gave me what it thought I wanted ‘to be poor at maths’ and then looked for lots of opportunities to prove me right.
The great news is that you can challenge your limiting beliefs to think differently and rewire your brain to a positive belief instead. I’m pleased to say I did achieve my degree in psychology and biology and the course involved so much maths I didn’t have time to be poor at maths.
When we ‘believe something to be true’, we accept that truth even without concrete proof. However, if we choose to, we can equally believe something different. You have the power to change your negative thoughts by changing what you believe. But first, you need to understand what it is you are thinking!
When you next get a limiting belief, consider the following six steps to help look at your thought and instead help create a more helpful one.
1. “What was I just thinking that triggered my negative thoughts and emotions? What am I telling myself? If it’s a word or phrase from your story, write it down, e.g. “I’m no good because...”
2. Read the phrase to yourself and identify the negative you are telling yourself and then challenge it! Is it really true or just a limiting belief you keep running in your head? Most likely it will be largely guesswork.
3. Now stop and question your assumptions. Break them down and test out what you are hearing. Which parts aren’t really true?
4. Ask yourself “What is unhelpful about this belief/assumption?” Find arguments against that belief that suggest the opposite is actually true.
5. Recall current and past achievements related to the belief – whether large or small, they are your evidence. Focus on them, write them down and acknowledge them.
6. Using this new evidence - replace the negative phrase with a new more positive and factually correct version creating a fresh statement that negates the old belief and replaces it with something positive and helpful. Say it to yourself several times a day, every day. Remember the brain is powerful and reinforcing a new belief helps make it ‘your truth’.
When negative thoughts emerge, remember to believe something better to increase your confidence and create a more positive state.