Are Your Beliefs Limiting Or Empowering You?

Your beliefs can either limit you or empower you, and in this post, I've shared a short story that will teach you how to have empowering resourceful beliefs that can take place of any limiting beliefs that are preventing you from achieving your best. Enjoy the journey.

Katia stood staring at the page she had just written. How on earth had she allowed these beliefs to limit her life like they had? How had she prevented herself from living a fulfilling, engaging and rewarding life? Why would her mind or anyone else’s mind do that? Well, today she was going to find out why and what to do about it, once and for all.

Katia was booked in with her performance psychologist for a session to help tackle these ‘limiting beliefs’ and she was feeling both angry and scared at the same time. Angry that she had inadvertently steered her life in a certain direction which had created an existence that wasn’t as fulfilling as it could be, and scared that the mind, her mind, could do such a thing.

Katia had been staying with her old school friend Natalie and her son Ted after years of travelling abroad (really escaping from reality). Every project, every venture she had undertaken seemed to fall by the wayside and in the end she would defer to travelling to escape the discomfort of having to push through things. Katia didn’t want to call herself a failure, but she felt like there were some things in her life she really wanted to change and coming to her friend’s house had been the start of that transformation.

Seeing how her former ‘bestie’ had created her amazing life despite some challenges (being a single mother, running her own business, having a boy who went through Leukemia) was inspiration for Katia. She had already been starting to copy some of Natalie and Ted’s lifestyle behaviours and she could start to see a change. Best of all, was that Natalie had asked her if she needed any help, and confessed that asking for help was the best thing she had done in creating change.

It took more courage than she thought, but Katia finally admitted that she wanted to change things in her life and that she needed help to do that. That’s where the psychologist had come from. Natalie had used her, and she swore that every cent spent was worth it. Today’s upcoming session was going to be her second session, this time they would be reviewing Katia’s homework. God, Katia hadn’t done homework since high school. She had to identify what limiting beliefs she has had or still has in her life. So far, Katia had painfully identified 5 core beliefs, but she was determined to change them in any way she could.

“So, tell me Katia, how did you go with your homework on those limiting beliefs?” asked Dr. Miles.

“Well it wasn’t fun, but I’m pretty sure I got the key ones down. I’ve got to ask, is it normal for people to have limiting beliefs, and why on earth would our brain create them in the first place?”, asked Katia.

“Great question, Katia, and I can understand how uncomfortable it feels to do this activity. I still remember what it was like when I worked through some of my limiting issues years ago. In regards to your question, yes it is normal for people to have one limiting belief, if not several. How these limiting beliefs originate and their purpose is a point of much conjecture. Depending on which academic psychologist you speak to, you’ll get a different answer, but in the most part research tends to the conclusion that our brain creates a belief as a response to a threat, be it real or imagined. The earlier in our life that we experience a threat and have an emotional experience as a result of that situation, the more likely that threat will manifest itself into a limiting belief and we will subsequently behave in a way that responds that feels or appears most safe to us, even though it may not be the most logical thing to do”.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the fight and flight response, Katia?”

“Err yeah, that’s when we either run from a threat or stay to fight it” replied Katia. 

“Exactly, now imagine that you’re a younger child who’s mind is still developing and you encounter a stressful situation that threatens you in some way. Let’s say for example, you had to give a speech to your class at school. Imagine what would be going through your mind before, during and after the speech. There could be thoughts and feelings of nervousness, anxiety, fear, embarrassment and a host of other thoughts. You could deliver the speech and stumble through it or even deliver it well, yet your mind might make up that it was the worst speech ever, that no one likes you, and you’re not smart enough to speak in front of a group. Now, that highly emotional experience has just forged a neurological circuit in your brain, based on an experience that is tinged with fear and pain. Going home from school that day your friends bring up something about your speech and you relive that speech in more vivid intensity than when giving it. Later that night your parents might ask you how your speech went, and in an instant you relive the speech once again with all the emotions as before. Neurologically you are firing that same circuit and each time you relive that experience with heightened emotion you strengthen the neural connection, in essence you are hard wiring a circuit in your mind for a particular situation and creating a long term memory.”

“So, you’re telling me that a stressful event plus lots of emotion is going to hardwire a circuit in my brain and create a long term memory?” 

“Exactly, and the weird thing is the brain doesn’t discriminate between a positive experience and a negative experience. Meaning you can create long term memories that are of both good and bad experiences. Subsequently your brain then reasons with this experience and makes up a belief as to why it may have happened and create a warning or avoidance mechanism so that this discomfort is not repeated again. In this example a limiting belief that might develop over time is something like ‘people don’t listen to what I have to say’, or ‘I’m not worthy enough’, or ‘I’m not smart enough’. To compensate for this a behaviour might develop that is avoiding any public speaking opportunity, not sharing your ideas or thoughts because you don’t think they’re worth listening to, or giving up trying and quitting before really starting because you’re not smart enough to succeed at it.”

“Yikes, one of those sounds familiar” remarked Katia.

“Okay, now it’s time to hear about what your limiting beliefs might be.”

Katia went through her top 5 limiting beliefs. She finished with what she thought was the most critical one ‘I don’t believe I can ever create a business and make it work’.

“Hmmm, tell me more about that last limiting belief Katia. Can you think of a significant emotional event or your first memory of an experience that may have reinforced this thinking and limiting belief?” probed Dr. Miles.

“Well I’ve got a good track record of starting new things, but not finishing them or sticking with them. I remember when I was about eleven that I wanted to earn some money, and I came up with an idea for a combined car wash and dog wash because there were lots of families in my neighbourhood who had dogs and big cars. I called it the ‘Woof & Wheels Wash’, anyway, I created some signs for it, worked out a price for it and went to my mum to see if she would help design and print out some signs so I could hand them out. She said she was really busy and thought that the car wash idea was good but doing both would never work. She said she’d print out the signs in a couple of days, and when I followed up with her, she said something like “Look Katia, I just don’t think your idea will work. Why don’t you just stick to your chores and I’ll see if we can increase your pocket money”. I got really angry and when I threatened to do it anyway she said I don’t have the time to keep an eye out on you all weekend, I have too many things to do around the house”.

“And how did that make you feel Katia?”  “Angry and stupid, because I thought it was a good idea” replied Katia. “Can you think of any events or experiences that might have reinforced this again?”

“When I finished school, I didn’t want to go to University, I wanted to start a business creating a travel website that would showcase all the photos I would take and stories of my travels and get paid for my reviews by the hostels and places I would stay. I guess it would have been a blog before blogs existed. Anyway, when I told my dad about it, he said that running a business was hard work and didn’t think I was cut out for it. He said I hadn’t studied photography or had I done well in English so writing would be hard for me. In the end he convinced me it would better to get a job working as a flight attendant so I could travel and get paid for it. I ended following his advice and worked as a ‘trolley dolly’ for about 6 months but hated the continual jet lag and the annoying customers so I quit and got a job in a cafe instead”.

Dr. Miles got Katia to reveal a couple more events that reinforced her limiting belief.

“Okay, now I want you to share what times or situations when this limited thinking or limited beliefs come up for you”

“Well I guess a big one is at the start of the year when write out my goals and that includes the goal to invent a million dollar business” said Katia. “Any others?”

“When I hear stories about my 20 year old nephew who invented a new app and is making lots of money. When I read stories about travel bloggers who travel the world making oodles of money, and when I’m working in dead end casual job thinking that I hate the twenty something year old boss, the job and wanting to start my own business”.

“I can understand how that must feel. What do you think is the downside of thinking this way. Think of how this thinking has held you back, what has it cost you and how has it disadvantaged you? probed Dr. Miles.

“Gosh, I reckon that I could have made enough money to buy an apartment or house by now. I give up before starting anything, or even if I start something I quit before finishing it. I’ve avoided my family because I don’t feel like I’m successful enough. And I think it’s cost me relationships, because my partners have said I’m lazy and too much of a drifter and not wife material.”

“Thanks for sharing Katia, now this might seem a bit weird but what could be the upside of this belief, what have been any upsides or positives that have come about because if it?” 

Katia thought long and hard on this one and was feeling pretty stumped until she got one thing. “I guess the only thing I can think of that’s positive about it, is that I have travelled a lot around the world, to try and escape everything so I have gained a massive amount of travel experience, understanding of cultures, and I’ve probably picked up the basics of about 10 languages.”

“That’s interesting, now moving along if we were to replace this limiting belief with a more resourceful belief that eliminates any downsides and taps into the value you have gained from your travel what might that be?”

Katia, went silent and couldn’t for the life of her, think of anything to say.

“Katia, do you think it’s possible to learn and apply something new? Say for example would it be possible to learn how to start up and run a small business?”

“Of course, I mean there are a stack of courses out there on how to set up a business, and I’m sure I could learn.”

“And do you have the ability to acquire these skills and apply them?”

“I think I could”

“And what behaviours can you think of that you might need to demonstrate in order to see this through?”

“I guess, I’d have to stay focussed, be motivated to make that happen.”

“Good, and what would you need to be able to put up with the obstacles that invariably will come up such as having to find customers, doing accounts, paperwork etcetera.”

“I guess I’d have to develop a thick skin, be more resilient, and patient when i comes to solving problems. Maybe I have to increase my ability to handle frustration more too I guess.”

“Excellent Katia. Now can you put that into one sentence for me as your new resourceful belief starting with the words ‘I can…’”

“Hmmm, I can learn and apply the steps to start up and run a small business by being focused and disciplined and by accepting or dealing with the frustrations that will come with running a small business”

Katia smiled, could she really do this? Dr. Miles smiled too. “Can you say that for me again Katia, and this time I want you to really feel what happens in your body as you say it.”

Katia repeated her new resourceful belief, and she felt excitement, a tingle that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She felt empowered.

“So what might be benefits of thinking with this new more resourceful belief Katia?”

Katia reeled off a stack of benefits without any hesitation.

“I could have an income doing what I truly would love to do. I could generate enough income to buy a home. I would feel like I’ve finally achieved something in my life that I can be really proud of.”

‘I like the sound of those benefits Katia. Now, what I want you to do is imagine it’s 3 months into the future and you have started a small business course, you’re just about to start your business and either some self doubt comes up or your parents find out about your idea and say you can’t do it. What will you think or do in this situation so you can apply your new resourceful belief?”

“I guess I could say something.”

“What specifically could you say?” asked Dr. Miles

“How about, I can learn just like anyone else how to start and run a small business. I have the training resources, I have the skills, I have the ability, the desire to do this and millions of people around the world successfully do it too!” 

“Bravo, Katia, specifically what I like about your language their is the reference to learning skills, ability and that other people can do it too. You could strengthen that even more by adding the word ordinary so that you say and millions of ordinary people around the world successfully do it.”

Katia felt elated, she really could do this and now with her new resourceful belief on her side, she felt confident and prepared like never before.

“Okay, Katia, before you head off to start up that business I want you to repeat this process with your other limit beliefs. Your homework is to…

  1. Write out your limiting belief

  2. Identify any significant emotional event or first memory that created and reinforced this limiting belief.

  3. Identify the times and situations when this limited belief occurs

  4. Write out the ways this thinking holds you back and what it costs you

  5. See if there have been any positives to the limiting belief and write them down

  6. Create a more resourceful belief being mindful of skills and behaviours that you can learn and apply

  7. List out the benefits that using this new belief might bring

  8. Think of a future situation when you might want to use this new resourceful belief and how you might think or behave with it”.

Limiting beliefs are a reality and can seriously hamper not only people’s performance but also their quality of life. By addressing your limiting beliefs and replacing them with more resourceful ones, you will find that you are better equipped to meet your work and life challenges with confidence.

Best of luck with your new beliefs.



Founder of Ideas with Legs

Michelle Ignacio