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How to Challenge and Change Your Limiting Beliefs

by Harinder Ghatora Personal Empowerment

I believe one of the most powerful things we can do if we want to move forward in life is to examine and release our limiting beliefs.

Beliefs such as I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough, I can’t trust anyone, I’m a failure, I’m unlovable and their variations are the source of great unhappiness and disempowerment.

They serve as a hindrance, preventing us from being, doing and having what we want.

They keep us feeling stuck and unfulfilled.

This is why if you want to create positive change in your life, you must do the inner work to identify your limiting beliefs and change them into positive, life-enhancing ones.

In an earlier blog, I presented a simple but powerful technique that can help you pinpoint the specific limiting beliefs you are holding; you can check it out here.

I’m now going to show you how to convert the limiting beliefs you have discovered into healthier ones – ones that empower you and serve you better.

There are three steps in this process.

Step one: examine your belief

The first step is to take a good look at each of the beliefs you have identified, with a view to understanding how it drives your self-talk.

Limiting beliefs share four key characteristics: they involve rigid demands, they “awfulize” (i.e. they lead a person to envisage a situation to be as bad as it can possibly be), they exhibit low frustration tolerance (i.e. they represent the inability to tolerate unpleasant feelings and stressful situations), and they are self-depreciating (i.e. they belittle and denigrate the self).

Here are some examples.

Rigid demanding beliefs: I must never fail, I should always keep others happy, I can’t trust anyone.

Awfulizing beliefs: I’ll lose my job if I say no, My life will be over if I fail my exams, I’ll be rejected forever if I upset anyone.

Low frustration tolerance beliefs: I can’t bear to let other people down, I can’t stand feeling uncomfortable when I have to do something new, I won’t be able to cope with life if I don’t succeed at this.

Self-depreciating beliefs: I’m a complete loser because I made a mistake, I don’t deserve to have what I need, I’m not as competent as other people believe me to be.

Work out which of these characteristics are true of your belief.

Step two: challenge your belief

Once you have some insight into the nature of your limiting belief, the next step is to question, or dispute, it.

The goal when questioning beliefs is twofold: first, you have to recognise that the limiting belief is unhealthy and does not serve you, and then you have to replace the limiting belief with a healthier one.

In order to evaluate the usefulness of your limiting belief, you need to ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this belief going to help me?
  • Is this belief in line with reality?
  • Does this belief make sense?

Take a look at the following scenario for an idea of how this might work in practice.

Imagine your dream role has become available at the company you work for. Your manager has said you have a good chance of getting the job, but you’re too anxious to complete the application. You worry you’re not good enough and, what’s more, that you couldn’t cope with the disappointment if you were unsuccessful.

Having done the analysis described in step one, you realise you have an awfulising and low frustration tolerance belief that It would be terrible if I didn’t get this job because I couldn’t bear the humiliation of being rejected.

Working through each of the above questions in turn allows you to test the validity and usefulness of this belief in this situation.

Is this belief going to help me?

No, it is not. Instead of moving you towards your goal of securing a better job, one you would enjoy and gain satisfaction from, this belief will keep you stuck in your present situation.

Is this belief in line with reality?

No, it is not. Firstly, you are making a huge assumption about the outcome: that you are more likely to be unsuccessful than successful. You are ignoring your manager’s opinion, which should hold some weight since he has worked with you for several years and is able to accurately judge your capability, competency and professionalism. Moreover, you tick all the boxes for the skills and experience required for the job.

Secondly, you’re catastrophising by imagining how terrible it would be to not get the job. But would it really be so terrible? Sure, it would be disappointing; perhaps even uncomfortable and inconvenient to have to explain to others that you were unsuccessful. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world. New opportunities would likely arise in the future.

And thirdly, the belief that you cannot handle rejection is actually not in line with your past experience. You can think of other times in your life when you didn’t get what you wanted, e.g. a place at the university of your choice, but you got through it. You experienced some unpleasant emotions and felt distressed for a time, but you survived.

Does this belief make sense?

No, it does not. Why would it be so terrible if you made an application and then didn’t secure the role? You’d still have a job. You’d have gained valuable experience through the application and interview process. Your initiative and motivation would have been evident to management and would stand you in good stead for future opportunities.

The belief that not getting the job would be humiliating and that you couldn’t bear to feel that way is also an irrational response to the situation. It takes initiative, courage and hard work to put yourself forward for a new role, and most people would view the attempt itself as admirable, regardless of the outcome. If you happen to be unsuccessful, it would simply mean that the role was not the right fit for you at this time. Yes, it’s painful to experience intense feelings of disappointment or embarrassment, but your feelings cannot harm you and would eventually subside. You would cope.

The above process can be used for any limiting belief you identify.

If at first you find it difficult to challenge the belief because it is deeply ingrained in you, then it’s helpful to enlist the help of a friend who can offer alternative perspectives.

Step three: replace your limiting belief with a healthy one

Once you have thoroughly examined the belief and convinced yourself that it no longer serves you, the final step is to replace your limiting belief with a healthier belief.

Healthy beliefs have the following characteristics: they encourage flexible preferences, they foster a rational and realistic viewpoint, they exhibit a high frustration tolerance, and they focus on self-acceptance and self-respect.

In our example, the limiting belief It would be terrible if I didn’t get this job because I couldn’t bear the humiliation of being rejected could be replaced by the following positive belief:

I can’t know what the outcome of my application will be. I’ll do my best, and I believe I have a chance of securing the role but know it could go either way. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be okay. If I don’t get the job this time round, it will be disappointing but not the end of the world. I know I’ll feel upset for a time but I’ll cope.

This new belief

  • has flexible preferences – Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be okay
  • fosters a rational and realistic viewpoint – I have a chance of securing the role but know it could go either way
  • exhibits a high frustration tolerance – If I don’t get the job this time round, it won’t be the end of the world
  • focuses on self-acceptance and self-reliance – I know I’ll feel upset for a time but I’ll cope.

As you work on formulating your new belief, notice how it makes you feel. You should find that the new healthy belief induces more positive feelings in you than your limiting belief.

Once you connect with these positive emotions, you’ll find it easier to accept and, in time, fully internalise your new empowering belief.

The more you practise working with this process, the easier it will get. It may take some time and effort at first, but it will be worth it; because replacing your unhealthy beliefs with rational, supportive, empowering beliefs has the power to not only transform your emotional state and your habitual patterns of thinking and behaving but also to move you towards whatever it is you are seeking in your life.

In the words of coach and author Gail Lynne Goodwin,

“Change your beliefs and you’ll change your thoughts. Change your thoughts and you’ll change your habits. Change your habits and your life opens to unlimited possibility.”

What one action will you take today to get started on this journey?

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