Module 5: Identifying & Letting Go of Limiting Beliefs
Remember the metaphor of intention as the bed and banks of a river: it provides shape and structure that create movement in a particular direction. The shape and structure reflect something so basic about intention that it’s easy to overlook, which is that intention arises from desire. We would never consciously intend anything if we didn’t want it or think it would benefit us in some way.
That’s why giving yourself permission to want what you really want is so important, because what you want is the heart of your intention. And intention is a powerful creative force. Consciously acknowledging what you want, and intending to create or experience it, is like putting your raft in this river rather than another one, because this is the river that’s flowing where you want to go.
Taking this metaphor one step further now, recognize that any beliefs you hold that are not aligned with where you want to go are like rocks or dams in the river, impeding or even blocking your movement. In many cases they are merely thoughts to note and move beyond. In fact, that is the ideal response to a limiting belief: to simply acknowledge it, then let it go and refocus on what you want.
However, limiting beliefs often seem difficult to let go or to move beyond, which is why I wrote this module. But even as I share with you how to identify, challenge, or let go of limiting beliefs, I want to emphasize that you don’t want to turn this into a career! It is an exploration, a willingness to see with new eyes and make conscious choices about what you believe that can serve rather than diminish you.
A key point to keep in mind is that you’re exploring how to recognize and change those beliefs that are not aligned with what you want. You’re not digging for every limiting belief you may be holding. This is not a search and destroy mission!
And here’s why: it’s not necessary or efficient. Your desires for growth, fulfillment, and self-expression will naturally cause you to bump up against the beliefs you’re now ready to change. You don’t have to methodically canvas your inner psyche and catalog your beliefs. You only have to step in the direction of what you want, and the beliefs that limit you will either become very apparent in your inner conversations about what you want, or you’ll encounter obstacles that reflect limiting beliefs you’re not fully aware you’re holding.
Another reason you don’t want to dig for negative beliefs is that the very act of doing that can subtly reinforce an underlying belief that “there is something wrong with me that I have to fix”—and that is tremendously disabling. Remember, what you focus on is what you create, so if you’re myopically focused on finding your limiting beliefs, you’re focused on limitation.
So hold this exploration lightly, with curiosity and an open mind. Know that your intention to become aware of and release limiting beliefs will reveal most of what you need to know. The practices I suggest are simply ways to support that intention and give your mind something to do other than point out all the reasons you’re not moving forward.
Are you with me on this? Good. Before we get started, I want to review the basic premises that can help you understand why and how your beliefs are so powerful:
- We are living in an energetic, vibrational universe. Everything is energy, vibrating at different frequencies, and that includes your thoughts and beliefs. Just as microwaves are real even though we can’t see them, so, too, are the vibrations of your beliefs.
- Like frequencies of vibration resonate with one another, so the frequencies of your beliefs will determine what you see, attract, and experience.
- Your attention—your focus—is a powerful frequency tuner. What you focus on is what you vibrate with, or as.
- There is not a single, objective reality. Just as different radio signals can occupy the same airspace and are translated into the music you hear when you select a particular radio station, our many diverse personal frequencies can co-exist, creating diverse personal experiences for each of us, depending on our dominant vibrations. In this course, reality means your personal, lived experience.
The vibrational nature of the universe is the reason why beliefs can so greatly affect, and even direct, our lived experience. The beliefs I’m speaking of here are not only the formally recognized statements of faith that we often associate with belief, such as a belief in God or a belief in reincarnation. The beliefs I’m talking about are any thoughts you have that you believe to be true.
The types of thoughts that often become beliefs are interpretations, conclusions, assumptions, and projections—what I collectively refer to as stories. I want to emphasize this up front because one of the most challenging aspects of this process is to recognize something as a belief, rather than as a statement of fact. You know intellectually that beliefs can be changed, yet you probably don’t think facts—or what you think of as reality—can be changed. If you consider your thoughts as statements of fact rather than as beliefs, the idea of changing them seems daunting or ridiculous…or both.
It’s essential to keep in mind that reality is not a fixed set of circumstances; it is an ongoing creative process. It is organic, fluid, and changing. It may appear fixed and unchanging because you keep adhering to the same fixed beliefs. Become willing to consider your observations and conclusions as beliefs rather than as statements of unalterable truth.
What makes this a bit tricky is that you’re not usually observing your thoughts, you’re observing what’s happening in your life. And a well-established belief, either fully conscious or not, will generate experiences you see as evidence of fact. You observe what’s happening, which then reinforces your unexamined belief, and your strengthened belief generates more evidence that it’s true, and you observe that, and…on and on it goes.
It takes a clear intention to step back from all of that and remember that the belief is the shaping force and the circumstances are the result, and not the other way around. But here’s the good news: if you are willing to see it that way, you immediately move to a more empowered place. Changing countless outer circumstances is virtually impossible, but changing your inner beliefs is something you can choose to do. This, of course, is why you’re here! So let’s keep going.
As noted above, a belief is any thought you believe to be true. This is perfectly fine as long as what you believe to be true lines up with what you want to create or experience. Often, though, our beliefs limit what we can create or experience, because we’ve been conditioned to focus our attention on what is wrong or what is missing. The conclusions we draw thus tend to be ones that limit, diminish, or disempower us.
Here is a simple example of how our tendency to focus negatively can generate thoughts about a circumstance that quickly become limiting beliefs. Let’s say you’ve been laid off and want to find a new job. After reading or hearing news about the economy, you may conclude, “It’s almost impossible to find a good job right now.” From there you might add an assumption such as, “I’ll need to go back to school and learn ________ before anyone will hire me…” and a projection such as, “This is going to take way more time than I have. I’m going to run out of money!”
Collectively your conclusions, assumptions, and projections form your interpretation—your story—of what it means to be laid off. This is an essential distinction to note as you move forward and learn about letting go of or challenging your beliefs. What you’re challenging is what you’re making things mean. You can easily see from this simple example that, if you believe this story, you are subtly—or not so subtly—disempowering yourself. The stories you tell become the life you live.
One way you can know that a story is not aligned with who you are and what you want is that you feel badly when you think it. It really is that simple, elegant, and profound: if you’re feeling frustrated, resigned, etc., then you believe something to be true that is not aligned with the deeper truth of who you are.
Another way to say this is that you’re not seeing yourself, or your life, as your Large Self sees you. You’re seeing limitation rather than growth or possibility. That’s why your feelings are so important: they’re indicators that you’re out of alignment with what you want.
Think about the example of getting laid off. You can easily see that telling yourself that story would not feel very good! Once you know that feelings are indicators, you would be prompted by your negative feelings to pause and see what story you’re telling yourself. And once you see the story you’re telling yourself, you have a choice about whether to believe it…or create a new story.
Let’s pause just for a moment and consider the highlights of what we’ve covered in this module so far:
- Beliefs are more than just formal statements of faith. They include all the stories and interpretations we have about ourselves and what is possible in our lives.
- Most of us have been conditioned to think in terms of what is wrong or what is missing, so many of the beliefs we’ve formed are in some way negative or diminishing.
- We don’t need to search for every negative or limiting belief we may be holding. The ones that are ripe for change are the ones that hold us back from what we now want to create or experience in our lives.
- Our negative feelings are an excellent indicator that we believe something to be true that doesn’t serve us.
So let’s move now to exploring how to uncover the beliefs that are holding you back. As many of you may have already discovered, the beliefs holding you back aren’t always obvious. They’re just the way you think things are, and those thoughts are embedded in your worldview. You don’t even think about them much, they’re just there.
Here’s an example from my experience. After having spent many years in the corporate world, earning a great salary, I had formed a conclusion—a belief—that corporate work pays well. And that belief served me well, as long as I was in the corporate world. But when I left that world to become an entrepreneur, it wasn’t as good of a fit for where I wanted to go! Over time I recognized that my belief had become, “Only corporate work pays well”—a belief I very much wanted to shift (and so I did).
As in this example, your job is not to look for every limiting belief you could possibly be holding. You’re just looking for the ones that are holding you back from what you want now. You’re bringing a greater awareness to something that you may not have been fully conscious of before. So let’s dive in.
Recognizing Limiting Beliefs
Think of something you would genuinely like to create or experience in your life that you haven’t yet been able to do. And again, the key here is to choose something that is a genuine desire, not something you think you should want.
Once you have it in mind, explore any or all of the following:
- Fill in the blank: “I haven’t created this yet because __________________________.”
- Ask, “When I consider this area of my life, what are the thoughts that immediately come to mind? How do I think about this? How do I talk about it to others?”
- Describe what you’re currently experiencing in that area of your life, which is not yet what you want to experience. Ask, “What beliefs might this set of circumstances reflect?”
Remember, hold this lightly—this is not a search and destroy mission, it’s more of a scan. You’re canvassing your psyche for the “reasons why not” that, up until now, you thought of as simply the way things are—and you’re now willing to see them as beliefs.
Look for a little “aha!” of inner recognition. There may be several beliefs that aren’t in alignment with what you want. Which ones seem the most significant to you? If you’ve come up with something that simply appears to be true, there may be a layer of interpretation just below the surface that reflects the limiting belief. So take a look at what you wrote and, for any statement that seems like a fact rather than a belief, ask: “So what? What am I making this mean?”
For example, maybe you want to find a job you love, and in filling out the statement, “I haven’t created this yet because…” you wrote, “I just got laid off again.” So what are you making that mean? That you have no marketable skills? That you’re too old to be hired in this economy? That you don’t have what it takes to succeed? Look for your story – your interpretation, conclusions, assumptions, and projections.
If this simple exercise hasn’t revealed anything useful yet, let it go for now. Intend for greater awareness about this and refocus on what you want. As you move forward, be willing to notice more clearly how you’re thinking and talking to yourself about this area of your life that you want to change. Your limiting beliefs will become more and more obvious.
Once you recognize a belief holding you back, the process of changing it is really one of disempowering it and creating a new belief that you want to empower. Often, just recognizing the limiting belief and intending to let it go is all that’s needed to disempower it. Start there! Be willing for this to be simple. If the belief holding you back still feels stubbornly true and real to you it’s probably worth a little of your time and attention to intentionally challenge it. Or as I like to say, to poke holes in it so it doesn’t seem so heavy and convincing.
At the end of this section is an activity designed to walk you through the dismantling of a limiting belief. Approach it with an open mind, not an analytical one. It is simply a series of questions that are designed to loosen the hold that your beliefs have on you. Respond to them sincerely and thoughtfully, yet lightly. Do not turn this into an excuse to beat yourself up. Let it be an opportunity to open yourself up.
You don’t have to be perfect at this or to get it exactly “right.” Just your willingness to ask and answer the questions will help you see your beliefs as beliefs, not as statements of absolute truth, which means you’ll become better able to let them go.
Once you recognize a limiting belief, call on your awareness in day-to-day life to help you notice any thoughts that surface, or actions you continue to take, that reinforce the old belief. Be willing to suspend them and consider other options. Be curious rather than judgmental, and don’t turn this into a major project. Intend to become more aware of the beliefs that run counter to your intentions, pause when you notice them and be willing to see them as beliefs. Get in the habit of challenging them or simply letting them go. Shift your focus to finding ways to support what you want, which we covered in the last module and will revisit in the next one.
And congratulate yourself every time you recognize that something you believed to be true is…just a belief, not a statement of fact. You are well on your way.
But what about…?
But there are certain things that are observably true! I work for a woman who is arrogant and mean-spirited. She never stands up for her employees or recommends any of us for promotion. Everyone who works for her has the same experience. So what do my beliefs have to do with how she acts? She’s holding me back from progressing in my career.
Remember, your beliefs are an attractive force that calls circumstances into your experience. Anything you observe or experience reflects your mix of vibrations—your intentions, beliefs, and thoughts. It’s very common to have experiences similar to other people because many of us share similar beliefs. So don’t let the fact of your colleagues agreeing with you distract you from recognizing the beliefs you may be holding that have created this situation in your life.
Sometimes it helps to think of it this way: your boss and your company are the way they are, and your vibrational mix is what allows you to “plug in” to that environment. When you change your vibration, either the environment will start to shift, or you’ll make different choices and create a different outcome.
Get in the habit of asking, “If everything I experience is a reflection of my own vibration, what might this be reflecting back to me? What beliefs are being played out?” Here are some possible beliefs you may be holding that have landed you in the position of working for someone who doesn’t support you:
- No one ever supports me.
- Managers don’t have a clue how hard their employees work.
- Businesses are all about making money. They don’t care about their employees.
- I’m not worthy of being supported.
- I never do anything right.
Be willing to consider that your view of yourself, or your view of the world, or both, are strongly held beliefs that have predisposed you to experiencing things that validate them. Then use the checklist in the next section to begin poking holes in those beliefs. Clearly they are not serving you!
There are a lot of things I experience that I don’t specifically “believe,” or maybe I even believe the opposite. For example, I truly expected to get a nice raise this year, but I got only a tiny one – the lowest percentage that anyone was given. So how could my beliefs have created that?
Many of the strongest beliefs we hold are general, “this is the way the world works” or “this is just how I am” beliefs, such as:
- It’s a dog eat dog world.
- Life isn’t fair.
- There’s not enough to go around.
- I never get what I want.
- Whenever things are going well something bad always shows up. (Waiting for “the other shoe to drop”)
- There must be something wrong with me.
- No matter how hard I try, I never win.
Any of the above beliefs (or any number of other ones) could have generated the outcome you describe, if it is a stronger vibration than the expectation of a good raise. There are countless specific circumstances that can be generated from a general belief. Beliefs are formed from the general to the specific. This is how layers or constellations of beliefs are created.
For example, you might start with an undercurrent of “Life isn’t fair,” which shows up in your experience as the low raise. Now you might conclude, “My boss doesn’t like me” – a more specific thought that, if you actually believe it’s true, will call into your experience circumstances that reflect that back to you.
Once again, the challenge – and the opportunity – is to view everything that shows up as a reflection of your vibrational mix of intentions, beliefs and thoughts. Unexpected circumstances always reflect a vibration you’re holding that you weren’t fully aware of.
Activities & Practices
Once you’ve identified a limiting belief, write it down and then answer as many of the following questions about it as you feel are relevant. (And by the way, the first and last questions are always relevant!)
- Is this really true?
- Is it true for everyone, or just for me? (If “just for me,” ask why that would be so—then question what you write in response)
- Has it ever not been true?
- Is it possible it is not true now?
- Even if there is some truth to this right now, is it true for all time? What might be more true moving forward?
- What other assumptions or conclusions have I made that relate to this one? Is it possible they are not true? (For example, I may have a belief that I’m not good at a particular thing. A related belief is that I “have” to be good at it in order to succeed. If that related belief isn’t true, then this one has no meaning or power.)
- Regarding negative projections—Has this ever actually happened to me? If so, how are the circumstances different now? How am I different now?
- What could I change so that this becomes less true or less important?
- What ideas might I have, or what choices might I make, if I didn’t believe this to be true?
- What else might be true about me or about this situation that is more affirming and empowering?
Tip for writing statements in a form in which they can be challenged, if you feel stuck with something that seems very true:
Ask “So what?” or “What am I making this mean?”
Example: If you wrote “I keep getting laid off” as a thought that explains why you haven’t yet created work you love, ask, “What am I making this mean?”
- Possible responses: “I’ll never be able to find a job that pays as much as the one I had” or “I’ll lose my home” or “There aren’t any good jobs in this economy.”
- Challenge those interpretations, assumptions, or projections with the suggested questions.
Approach this with sincerity, curiosity, and an open mind—treat these exercises as an exploration, not as a mental analysis. Keep it light and be willing to be surprised!