How Self-Limiting Beliefs Can Sabotage Us (and what to do about it)

What are Self-Limiting Beliefs?

Image source: Open source
  • influence your perceptions about the world and people as well as yourself.
  • define what is good, bad, true, false, imaginary, real, possible and impossible.
  • affect your positive or negative view of the world.
  • control or limit the actions you take.
  • determine your happiness and well-being level.

What About False Beliefs?

Where Do These Self-Limiting Come from?

What are Some Examples of Limiting Beliefs?

  • “I’m not good enough to.…”
  • “I’m not pretty/handsome compared to…”
  • “I’m not smart or as smart as….”
  • “ I don’t deserve….”
  • “I’ll never be wealthy as….”
  • “When I’m under pressure I always….”
  • “I often feel guilty about…”
  • “When ______ happens, I get stressed and always feel….”
  • “I’m always trying to avoid/stop….”
  • “I always feel responsible when ….”
  • “If only ______happens, then I would be….”

Is There A Cause And Effect Relationship?

Strategies to Change Your Limiting Beliefs?

  1. Positive Affirmations: A positive statement targeted at reprogramming an existing negative belief. Remember, any thought repeated enough can create an unconscious belief as long as the positive thought is consistent with your inner values and morality. Examples of positive affirmations:
  • “My body is attractive the way it is, it doesn’t have to look like a model’s”
  • “I set and uphold healthy boundaries in my relationships”
  • “I invest in myself first before anyone else.”
  • “I practice self-compassion as powerfully as compassion for others.”
  • “A female leader can be both strong and nurturing, and not have to be like a typical male leader.”
  • Create a picture in your mind of the habit or belief you want to change.
  • Let that picture dissolve.
  • Create a picture in your mind of the way you would like to be.
  • Change the visual intensity of this picture — size, brightness, more color, aliveness, etc.
  • Bring back the first old picture in your mind and step into the picture as though you were there.
  • Now insert in the lower left hand corner the small darker second picture of the desired state.
  • Simultaneously, have the picture of the current negative state you are standing in rapidly shrink and recede to a distant point until it explodes. This must be done fast.
  • Step back and view the new positive picture as though you were doing it from a distance.
  • Repeat these steps at least 6 times.
  • Write down your limiting belief: Eg: I have trouble making conversation.
  • Write down your self-talk about that belief. Eg: “What if I go up to someone and they find me boring and leave. That would so embarrassing.”
  • Describe your comfort zone — what would be easy for you in that situation: Eg: Just sit there by myself and watch people.
  • State the opposite of your limiting belief.
  • What does it feel like to have this positive belief?
  • Visualize yourself taking action to make this belief happen.
  • Act as if you have this belief at the first opportunity to do so.
  • Repeat at least 30 times.
  • Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)( Yes or no.)
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Does that thought bring peace or stress into your life?
  • What physical sensations and emotions arise when you believe the thought? Allow yourself to experience them now. (Refer to the Emotions List available on
  • What images do you see, of past and future, when you believe the thought?
  • What obsessions or addictions begin to manifest themselves when you believe the thought?(Do you act out on any of the following: alcohol, drugs, credit cards, food, sex, television?)
  • How do you treat that person, others, and yourself in this situation when you believe the thought?
  • Who or what are you without the thought?
  • Next Step: Turn the thought around. A statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. Find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in this situation. ( For each turnaround, go back and start with the original statement. Do not turn around a statement that has already been turned around. For example, “He shouldn’t waste his time” may be turned around to “I shouldn’t waste my time,” “I shouldn’t waste his time,” and “He should waste his time.” Note that “I should waste my time” and “I should waste his time” are not valid turnarounds; they are turnarounds of turnarounds rather than turnarounds of the original statement.)
  • Is the belief false or inconsistent with reality? The client is asked to find some evidence that counters their self-limiting belief either completely or partially.
  • Is the belief rigid? The client is asked about the rules of the belief — does it apply all the time or just some of the time or in certain contexts? For example, “I must feel loved before I can lose weight” is a very rigid and confining belief. If you were to substitute the word “must” with “want” and the word “before” with “as” and remove the word “can” things start to change.
  • Is the belief extreme? Sometimes self-limiting beliefs are expressed in all or nothing terminology. For example “no matter what I do” or “I never can…”are absolute expressions that are highly unlikely to occur.
  • Is the belief logical? Is there a logical and rational connection between what you believe and what is actually occurring, or are you emotionally reacting?
  • Is the belief helpful? Consider how does this belief help you? How does it hinder you?
  • Use a cognitive reframe. Cognitive reframing is a technique in which the person that consists of identifies and then disputes irrational or maladaptive thoughts.
  • Filtering, Magnification, Overgeneralization, Catastrophizing, Fortune Telling and Negative Predictions.: You take the negative details of a situation and magnify them in your mind, while filtering out all positive or neutral aspects of the situation. You come to a general conclusion based on a few incidents or pieces of evidence. For example, if something bad happens once or twice, you expect it to happen over and over again. You expect disaster or the worst possible outcome. You notice or hear about a problem and start with the “what ifs:” What if tragedy strikes? What if the worst happens? Your overestimate the likelihood of an occurrence. Anxiety and fear often accompany this kind of thinking, because your mind is in the future and not the present.
  • Polarized Thinking: You see things as black or white, good or bad. You (or someone else) have to be perfect or you/they are a failure. There is only choice A or B. There is no middle ground or gray area. An even more extreme version is thinking you have no choice, there is only one course of action.
  • Perfectionism is one type of polarized thinking — your choice or action must be perfect. Religious or political extremism is also a type of polarized thinking.
  • Personalization: This is thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, more successful, etc. You think people are secretly criticizing or judging you, constantly watching you. In extreme forms this can become paranoid and narcissistic.
  • Control Fallacies: You believe you can and need to control the external world — either events or people. This desire to control usually comes from a need to reaffirm your worth or self-esteem, or sense of security. Often, the need for control is accompanied by anger or anxiety. The reality is the only things you can control are within you — your emotions, feelings, thinking and your behavior.
  • Fallacy of Fairness, Reward and Entitlement: You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t agree with you. You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come. You believe the same rules that apply to others should not apply to you. This is also acting like a victim, because your mental or emotional state is dependent on external events.
  • Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain or inconvenience, or you take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal. People who blame others for their negative emotional or mental states (disappointment, frustration, anger etc), are acting like victims and not taking responsibility for their lives.
  • Shoulds”: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules. You are critical either of others or yourself for not acting in a certain way. Judgment, criticism and guilt are often present.
  • Fallacy of Change: You believe you can change other people — their beliefs, behavior or emotions, if you exert enough influence, persuasion, reward or punishment. This is self-deception. You expect that other people will change to suit you, if you just hang around long enough or if you pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because you feel responsible for them or because your hopes for happiness seem to depend mostly on them. Or you want them to be more like you.
  • Confirmation Bias.Y ou have a certain belief or perspective, and you are open to or seek out only those facts and information and people who reinforce your belief or perspective, and are close-minded to others’ perspectives or beliefs.
  • A belief that self-criticism and self-judgment are effective ways to improve yourself. Self-criticism and self-judgment actually weaken your ability to improve performance and your self esteem. Practicing self-compassion after taking responsibility for your behavior actually makes for effective improvement.
  • Write down the situations in your life where you are not happy with your reality.
  • Write down limiting beliefs you have that either caused you to make the decision to get there, or are keeping you stuck in the situation.
  • Write down the type of reality you want to create.
  • What kind of beliefs does the version of you who lives this reality have?
  • How would this version of you live out these beliefs (how would this version of you act, speak, interact with others, walk in to a room? What kind of decisions would they make)?
  • What can you choose to believe today to align with the reality you want to create?




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Ray Williams

Ray Williams

Author/Retired Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others