In coaching, the concept of “limiting beliefs” encompasses the (often untrue) stories that we tell ourselves. Typically, these beliefs are reinforced by negative self-talk, and after we repeat them over and over to ourselves these beliefs become so ingrained in our expectation of life that they can hold us back in big and small ways.
An example I share with people when they want to understand the concept of limiting beliefs is this: say you’re eight years old on the playground. You’re trying to learn how to play soccer, and you hear somebody say, “You missed the goal again! You’re not very strong!” You internalize that message and believe it is the truth, thinking to yourself, “I must not be very strong, or very good at soccer.” You try another sport but because you don’t have encouragement around you, you soon think, “Well, I guess pickle ball isn’t my sport, either.” Before you know it, you’ve internalized the belief that you’re just not athletic and you give up trying.
See how one moment in an eight-year-old’s life can affect him or her for years? When that person becomes an adult, they may believe so strongly that they are not athletic, that avoiding physical activity altogether becomes their modus operandi.
Limiting beliefs don’t always start in childhood. They can start when we are teenagers, young adults, or anytime we decide to try something new, but wherever (or whenever) they become part of our experience, they hold us back in some way until we surface them and replace them with new stories.
Unearth Your Limiting Beliefs and Create a New Story
I was recently on a coaching call with my coach. At one point I casually said something like, “I have two speeds: on and off!” I laughed, but she stopped the conversation and pointed out to me that while that story may have been true years ago, it’s no longer true. It has become a limiting belief.
When she said that, I remembered where the story started. Back in my 20s, I was at a bar with a friend, and after a few hours, I was tired. I said, “I’m done, I’m going home,” and he laughed. He responded with, “Carol, you have two speeds: on or off!” In the moment I agreed with him, and that story has become my story ever since then.
Through the years I’ve thought of myself as a high-speed mixer in a bowl of raw eggs. Either I’m scrambling some eggs and bits of yellow yolk are being flung on the cupboards, or I’m off and nothing is happening. That is how my life felt for a long period of time; I’m a whirling mixer, or I’m a couch potato, but nothing in between.
Those of you who are familiar with Insights Discovery, which measures our preferences in how we like to work, will recognize this analysis of my two “modes”. The “off” version of me is the essence of Earth Green energy on a bad day. My Earth Green on a good day looks like I’m listening at a deep level, being collaborative, building strong partnerships, and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard. On a bad day, or when I have given all my energy away, I’m passive, stubborn, indecisive, and highly introverted. Not qualities I care to own up to, but very real sometimes.
My coach then asked me, “What is the new story you want to tell yourself that is up-to-date and true?”
We all change and evolve over time, and we often don’t give ourselves credit for the fact that we make positive changes on an ongoing basis. The changes are so gradual that sometimes we can’t see them without another person sharing their perspective; sometimes the shifts take place over months, years, or even decades!
I’ve put focus and effort into finding a happy medium. I’ve worked hard to figure out how to say yes to things I want and no to things that don’t really align. In fact, the last two years I have chosen the word “space” as my word of the year; in creating that space, I no longer have to be just on or off, I can live a happy medium. This is my new story.
How to Identify Your Stories
It can be tricky to identify our own stories. We’re so close to them — they feel so real — that we don’t know they’re made up. You may need the assistance of a coach or a trusted friend to help you see your blind spots.
Asking these questions (or having someone ask you these questions) will help you dig a little deeper into hidden limiting beliefs:
1. What negative self-talk do you hear when you are about to try something new? This question is important because it brings immediate awareness to the stories you tell yourself. You can also use this as a follow-up to questions #2-5.
2. Where are your results not in alignment with what you really want to be, do or have? What negative self-talk do you hear?
3. Which area of your life have you really tried to improve, but no matter what, things just don’t get better? What negative talk do you hear in this area? For example: “I’ve tried to exercise more, but it’s hard because I don’t have time.” “I want to be more productive, but I just don’t have the ability to focus.” “I’d really like to write my book, but my ideas aren’t very good.”
4. Where in your life are you doing what you believe you have to do or should do? What negative self-talk do you hear?
5. What would you do if nobody was looking (or judging) you? What negative self-talk do you hear?
This kind of reflection is so important. Until you slow down and tune in to how you are “being” (as opposed to what you are “doing”), you won’t be able to identify the roadblocks that stand between who you are now and who you want to be.
In my next blog post, I’ll help you take the next step to clarify your limiting beliefs and create a new empowering belief to help propel you toward who you really want to be… which will put you in a position to receive what you really want.