Whatever your beliefs or belief systems may be, you face limits.
Old-age, sickness, and death are the existential, causal constraints that are part of being human. The body will degenerate and die, and everyone is equally subject to this inescapable truth.
Therefore, it’s important to know ‘where you are’, to understand yourself and your motivations, so that you can be better, be more alive, and live with more compassion and courage.
We can better understand the suffering that is necessarily part of being human and be of greater service to others by studying and overcoming our limiting beliefs.
This attitude is a good start for thinking about how to live—how to help each other be free.
What are limiting beliefs?
Most, if not all people have some limiting beliefs. These beliefs are a kind of thought distortion that holds you back, like “I can’t be an engineer because I am a woman” or, “I am unlovable.”
These beliefs are obstacles to your growth and self-actualization and can have disastrous effects on your wellbeing, affecting your ability to accept yourself and others, to act spontaneously, to act creatively, to identify with humanity, or to identify with democratic values.
For example, beliefs about your character can affect the outcomes of your life.
Research shows that shame leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair, and undermines the efforts to improve which reaffirms the feeling of shame thereby impeding personal growth.
Similarly, studies have shown that praising ability as opposed to character is a more effective means to produce positive behavior.
In a study where children were told they were caring people for doing something generous, they later engaged in more altruistic behavior than children who didn’t receive praise.
A belief is limiting when it has a harmful effect on your life, stopping your ability to help yourself and your ability to help others.
Mastering your own limitations will make you a stronger person and give you the power to be of greater service to others.
The greater your mastery, the greater and more profound your service can be.
How are limiting beliefs formed?
Limiting beliefs are false beliefs formed by your belief in them.
Like Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell who is revived from death by the audience’s belief in her, your beliefs are given life by your belief in them.
While external forces like mindless parents, manipulative media, a cruel teacher, a nightmare boss, coach, boss, husband, wife, etc. or the overly demanding expectations you grew up with may have planted and nurtured a seed of negativity — you helped it grow into your belief by believing it.
Fortunately, you can nurture a new belief, something more creative, accepting, spontaneous and loving.
Overcoming limiting beliefs
Your beliefs may — or may not — have a basis in reality. But, beliefs have power over you not because they are the truth, but because you believe them. So, recognizing your limiting beliefs and why you have them is the first step to changing them.
We all have the ability to grow and give life to a new vision, especially when we learn to master our beliefs.
Here are five powerful ways to overcome your limiting beliefs.
1. Write your beliefs down
First, take an account of what you believe.
This might not sound easy, but with some focused attention, you can do it.
Making the effort to write your beliefs out will help you to see them in a new light.
You may even realize that one of your beliefs is completely irrational —and in that recognition, you could be free from it.
So, I encourage you to give it a try.
Start with a simple list form.
- I believe the worst thing about me is :
- I believe the best thing about me is :
- I believe I could be the best in the world at :
- I live in ____________ city because I believe :
- I eat ____________ food because I believe:
- What I believe about Love is that :
- What I believe about Freedom is that :
- What I believe about Friendship is that:
- What I believe about family is that :
Then, you can look at these beliefs and ask yourself, “What does it mean to believe 1. 2. 3.?” What is the effect of that belief? Does that belief make the world freer or a better place in some way?
2. Choose a supportive environment
Beliefs that guide the environment in which you live and work dramatically affect you.
People are happier and work more productively when their well-being, capabilities, and development are supported. The beliefs circulating in your environment will affect what you believe and how you think and feel about yourself.
When trying to overcome a limiting belief, it’s not always enough to try to just change your belief.
You may need to change your environment and go where your beliefs are supported. The environment may be limiting your belief more than the belief itself.
Situations that are not supportive may include an abusive partner, a toxic work environment, a negative group of friends, an overly controlling family member, or a ‘best friend’ who is threatened by your values.
If you find yourself in any of these or similar conditions, try to gain a wider perspective by taking an account of your situation.
Question the beliefs of your friends, family members, or coworkers and examine what values are being promoted at work, in your home, city, or country.
If your environment isn’t matching your beliefs, recognize the disconnect and consider leaving it.
You may find that in order to overcome a limiting belief, you must change your environment to suit your new beliefs. Or else your environment may change you to suit its beliefs.
To learn more about how supportive environments have had a positive effect on people, I recommend reading about countries and institutions that have placed value on happiness over material output — using (GNH) Gross National Happiness as opposed to (GDP) Gross Domestic Product.
3. Take responsibility
Seeing how your actions affect others, can help you see your beliefs more clearly.
A good way to start to see what we believe is to look around and ask: “What are the effects of my belief on others?”
For example, if you’re an executive leading a team and you believe that “your underlings” are all greedy, selfish, and unrustable people, you may treat them as such with strict surveillance measures, you’re likely to generate resentment among them that causes them to despise you.
And out of their despising, they will become un-loyal and unhelpful to you and your cause.
One of the important questions for leaders to ask is: how is my behavior affecting the performance of my team—what am I contributing to the situation?
Not recognizing or taking responsibility for how you are affecting your people is called “spoiling human life”.
One very powerful anecdote to such thinking, behavior, and consequences is the Loving Kindness Meditation.
4. Practice the Loving Kindness meditation
The Loving Kindness Meditation is a powerful antidote to many ills because it sees all beings—regardless of our likes and dislikes of such beings—as worthy of love.
It’s not that we need to see the world with Pollyanna glasses, but that when we act as we must according to clear-sighted observation, we do so with an attitude of loving-kindness so that we can guide our circumstances and the circumstances of others to the highest possibility of love—with an attitude of love.
It’s our job in such a case — to act nobly to raise society to be a better place and to do so tirelessly, over and over, as patient with ourselves as we are with others to better ourselves and better our world.
All of this is based on the belief we have in love.
So, instead of staying in negativity, we cultivate love and use our practice and belief to overcome all kinds of distorted thinking.
We do this meditation because the belief in loving-kindness has an effect on ourselves and on our world.
5. Face your existential anxiety
Facing existential anxiety can help you overcome your limiting beliefs and grow into a more sensitive and humane person.
The role of developed culture and a sign of how civilized a culture is: how it treats the weakest members, like the elderly, the sick, and dying, as well as those making difficult transitions in life.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” –Gandhi.
We can choose to see one’s purpose as being a self that lives as love—as the manifestation of loving-kindness.
Knowing that all beings live with a kind of worry and uneasiness about these things can help us keep such worry in mind.
We can exercise and develop our sympathy and compassion and mediate and make more gentle these difficult life transitions.
We can ask: what transitions are you making, do you feel supported on your transitions?
Not being sensitive to suffering can be caused by limiting beliefs around death and dying. And when you become more comfortable with this difficult human dilemma you have the possibility to deepen your humanity.
Taking the next steps
Fortunately, identities are not fixed, so you may utterly remove a belief through transformational work.
Overcoming a limiting belief may happen in an instant, or you may go through a regimen of self-discovery and change to overcome your limiting beliefs.
However it happens, overcoming the limiting belief doesn’t necessarily mean your work is over. So you should always tend to your mind and regard it as a kind of garden — it will be overrun with weeds unless you look after it.
Find good methods to clean out your negativity, reframe your pessimistic views, keep a check on your prejudices and arrest mean-spirited thoughts. Stay vigilant because your limiting belief may sneak back, or a new one will creep into its place.
With some work, you can overcome your harmful limiting beliefs and you can become the best version of yourself for the good of all beings.