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Someone's Holding You Back. It Might Be You.

Four strategies to manage self-limiting beliefs

Ironically, as I was writing this article, I was wrestling with my own self-limiting belief. Despite a long career leading, mentoring, communicating, and more recently, coaching, I find there are times I doubt my credibility. For me, the thought process goes like this:

“Am I credible enough to write on this subject? I’m not an expert. I don’t have the right ‘credentials.' I’m sure people would prefer reading what others have to say. Who can I source or quote to add credibility? What research can I find?”  And so it goes.  

Whether we’re aware of the barriers in our mind or not, we all have them. At best they make us hesitate. At worst they impede our progress and keep us stuck.


What are self-limiting beliefs?

Self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, assumptions or perceptions we have about ourselves. They’re self-limiting because they hold us back from achieving what we’re capable of. They’re not to be confused with weaknesses. My struggle with math is not a self-limiting belief, it’s a fact (the struggle is real)! However, a self-limiting belief around math could sound like “I’m not smart enough to improve my math skills.”

What about you? Do any of these self-limiting beliefs sound familiar?

  • I’m too old. They’d never hire me.
  • I can’t learn new things.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I don’t have the skills or experience to apply for that role.
  • I can’t ask for a promotion. They’ll just say no.


Taming the mind

Once we’re aware of self-limiting beliefs, how do we start to tackle them? Try one of these five strategies the next time your mind tries to hold you back.


1. Ask: is it true?

A friend of mine was clinging to a job she hated. She believed no one else would hire her because she was over 50.

 I’m not saying ageism doesn’t exist (it’s alive and well) but my friend hadn’t, in fact, been rejected from jobs due to her age. She hadn’t even been applying. This self-limiting belief was holding her back from stepping out and making an important career change. The truth is, people over 50 get hired all the time.

When we have a thought that seems to limit us, we can ask ourselves if it's a truth or a belief. Answering this question leads to greater understanding. From there, we can decide if/how we want to move forward.


2. Draw from past experience

During a coaching session I was working with a woman who didn’t believe she had the courage to make a bold move. As her coach, I asked her to think about times in her life when she had been courageous.  It took a while, but in the end, she came up with concrete evidence from her own past.  The process of looking back helped her understand how to tap into her courage in order to move forward.

Similarly, when my self-limiting credibility beliefs creep in, I write down examples of times where I’ve demonstrated credibility. I also lean into my network and ask for feedback.

Self-reflection and meaningful feedback help us identify our strengths and mitigate crippling and often inaccurate thought distortions. 

Can you think of a time when you’ve been stuck? How did you successfully navigate your way forward? 


3. Take time to reframe

Think of a friend or colleague you care about. Picture having coffee with them. Now imagine they share a self-limiting belief that makes them feel stuck and discouraged. How would we show up in that moment? If we really cared about their success, we’d most likely be supportive and encouraging.

When it comes to our own self-limiting beliefs though, we’re often critical, hard, and judgmental. We spend so much time indulging the negative thoughts swirling in our brain that we don’t know how else to respond. The more we stew on an issue, the narrower our focus gets until it’s all we can think about.

The antidote? Positivity. Optimistic, positive thinking broadens our perspective and begins to open up possibilities and options.

What would it look like to reframe your self-limiting belief through a positive lens? How can you get curious about your situation?  How could a compassionate approach help broaden your thinking? 


4. Talk about it

Unlike chameleons we don’t have a 360° perspective. We have blind spots. We don’t always know why we feel stuck and we can’t always see the barriers.  Sometimes, we just need to talk it through.

Processing our thoughts out loud can be a game-changer. If you’ve ever worked with a coach, or if you have a trusted friend who listens and asks insightful questions, you know firsthand the value of being able to verbalize what you’re thinking.


Take the next step

What self-limiting beliefs are holding you back?  How, if at all, can you use the strategies in this article to help tame your mind and tackle your beliefs?


smart_savvy_logo_CMYK_REV_with NEW red box-3Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.

Catherine Ducharme

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