3 Beliefs That Limit Us From Growing and Being Successful
A few years ago I found a picture on the internet of a horse that is tied to a plastic chair and I use it as a visual aid when working with clients because it communicates one thing in stark simplicity. That most things that stop us or limit us are purely mental. The horse in the picture doesn’t move because it believes that it is tied down when it’s really not. It’s only stuck because it believes that it’s stuck.
In therapy, I have often turned people onto a therapy model called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT. It’s an older therapy model but I still find a ton of value in it because it talks about core beliefs that are irrational and limiting. Before we sink our teeth into limiting beliefs there’s an extremely important thing to understand about beliefs.
Most people just accept the idea that their set of personal beliefs were formed based on the evidence that they found in their world but the opposite is actually true. We form our beliefs first and then our minds filter the evidence around us to support that belief while rejecting or ignoring any evidence around us that refutes a belief. This is called confirmation bias. It just means that when you believe something, you will only notice the evidence that confirms that existing beliefs. The stronger a person feels about a belief, the greater this bias is likely to be.
I even saw an interesting study once that examined how confident people were that something was factual and compared their confidence to how consistently they were right and the study showed that there was zero correlation between how confident people were about being right or accurate and how consistently they actually were. In other words, just because people felt extremely confident that they were correct didn’t mean that they were. This supports my stance that people, too often, take their feelings as facts.
Beliefs are almost tangible in our minds. The limitations that we believe to be true appear to be extremely real. It is really helpful to first understand that your concrete beliefs are the result of mental filtering and a case of confirmation bias. We all do it. All of us. We’re all guilty of confirmation bias. Me, you, your doctor, the pope. But this essentially means that even though many beliefs seem chiseled in granite, a lot of them are essentially bullshit. And just because you are super committed to certain beliefs doesn’t mean a) they are accurate and b) they are doing good things for you.
Let’s talk about three of the most common limiting beliefs:
- The belief that it’s not okay to fail – I feel like I talk to people about failure to the point of exhaustion and there are a baker’s dozen of reasons why this one continues to exist and dominate. The fear of rejection from others. Disappointing mom and/or dad. They think that if they fail it means something pervasively bad about themselves. Etc, etc, etc. The fear of failure is so entirely irrational and nonsensical. It’s something that I have said over and over again. If you want life to change, if you want life to be better, then chances are you are going to have to confront your fear of failure. You can take the first couple of steps by shackling yourself to your current belief system around failure. The truth is that will only pull you down because you have incorrect beliefs about failure.
- The belief that we must please others or gain their approval – I firmly support the idea that those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind. I’ve worked with young people for almost two solid decades now and it has been in the last few years that I have seen a massive surge in young people who are utterly miserable because they believe their purpose in life is to please others or gain their approval. I wish I could remember the exact point in time when I freed myself from needing the approval of others and decided to live my life according to what was good for me instead of what others wanted from me. There really wasn’t an exact moment when a switch was flipped and I was met with the emotional and physical freedom that I still enjoy. Along with this would be the belief that we are somehow responsible for how others feel and experience life – which is a whole other steaming pile of garbage.
- The belief that we are fundamentally incapable – Most people are far more tough and capable than they think that they are. People believe that they can’t do what other people do. Years ago, I saw Nick Vujicic, he’s the guy from Australia that was born without arms and legs. Over the years he has vastly surpassed what most people would believe was possible for a guy who was born without limbs. He inspires people in the same way that he inspired me because he helped me realize that he has done so much, even when he has huge limitations. He has limitations that I don’t have, which essentially meant that the only thing holding me back was my own lame excuses and limiting beliefs. Like so many others, I somehow got it into my head when I was young that I was somehow different and fundamentally flawed and born incapable and I realize now that it is a load of BS.
We’re not born physically strong and in order to become that way we have to do some heavy lifting, so to speak. In the same way, we’re not born mentally strong. Limiting beliefs can really be the proverbial tether that keeps us tied down. Sometimes we can’t make progress in our lives and we need to take a closer look at our core beliefs because those will hold us back until we resolve them.