Have you ever chosen not to pursue a dream because you didn’t believe you had the ability to achieve it? Me too.
For many years, I’ve had a desire to help people through communication. It’s been a passion of mine that brings an incredible amount of fulfillment. However, every time I want to step towards that desire, I disqualify myself. I talk myself out of it because, internally, I don’t believe I have what it takes. I don’t believe anyone will care, or listen; I’ll be ridiculed, and ultimately people will laugh at my failed attempts. Those beliefs drove me to suspend my dream, and caused an internal battle for years.
I don’t know what that dream or desire is for you. Maybe you want to start a business, or step into a greater level of leadership within your job; maybe you have a burning passion to develop an ability God has given you… but time and time again, you talk yourself out of it.
Through my experience, I realized what’s holding me back from my dream is not my ability but my beliefs. And if you can change your beliefs, you have the ability to change your outcomes.
Let me explain. Our beliefs drive action. If we believe we can accomplish something we want, we do it. But if we believe we can’t accomplish it, we don’t. Therefore, our beliefs often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One example of this is the four-minute mile. For many years, scientists believed running a four-minute mile was impossible. And for many years, no one could do it. After almost quitting his running career, Roger Bannister set a goal to be the first person to run a 4-minute mile. His belief caused him to up the intensity of his training routine. In 1954, he succeeded. Now, the 4-minute mile is the standard for all male professional middle distance runners. Once these runners knew a 4-minute mile was possible, it changed their beliefs … which changed their action.
Just like the 4-minute mile, we have self-imposed limits that keep us from attempting to do what we feel God has called us to. These beliefs hold us back and stop us from being as effective as we can be. And if we don’t challenge these beliefs, they will continue to direct our lives.
So where do these beliefs come from?
THE ORIGIN OF LIMITING BELIEFS
We aren’t born with limiting beliefs. As children, we believe we can be whoever we want, have whatever we want, and get it whenever we want it. But something happens as we grow older. We start changing our beliefs. We become acquainted with our own mortality. We begin to realize our limitations, weaknesses, and need for connection.
These realizations don’t just happen. We don’t just wake up one day believing we’re inadequate. A belief change is always based on a decision we make, which is preceded by a specific event. These belief-changing-events could be a particular situation, action, or conversation that served as a catalyst.
Limiting beliefs aren’t instinctive, they’re developed.
When I was in 1st grade, I loved writing. I did well on every writing assignment and enjoyed documenting life’s every detail in a notebook during my free time.
I remember running around my house one day, recording my thoughts on a notepad as if I was a spy capturing clues. I logged things like my parents whereabouts, my thoughts on the movie I just watched, and any “important” notes from conversations. Writing in my notebook was effortless. Thoughts flowed freely and I never second-guessed the words before they were etched on paper.
But later that day, my older brother found my notebook. He picked it up and read it aloud in his best mocking tone, insulting my every thought line-by-line.
Up to that point, no one had ever criticized my writing. I had never been ridiculed for something I wrote. In a moment, I learned people can reject you for your writing. And because I had an incessant need to please people, and also feared rejection, I chose to stop writing unless I absolutely had to.
I never thought much about this childhood event until this morning. I was sitting at my desk, wondering why I struggle to write. Why I struggle to put my thoughts into words. Why I have an intense fear of doing so. Why even when I want to create something simple, like an Instagram caption, I throw in the towel. Why I’ll say something basic, so people know I’m not really trying, instead of saying what I really want to say.
I knew this struggle came from somewhere. I knew there was probably a catalyst event that —even if it was minor —gave me the opportunity to change my beliefs. And this was my earliest memory of my writing being rejected. So there it was. As a kid, an event happened, I assigned meaning, and subconsciously made a decision that allowed fear to reinforce it for years.
I thought about my identity before that moment. I was a writer. I loved writing. I loved putting my thoughts down on paper. I loved learning, observing, and sharing. But I allowed fear to dictate my actions.
Like I said before, I don’t know what you’re struggling with. I don’t know if there is an internal battle that makes it seem like there’s a huge gap between your dream and your reality.
I also don’t know how that struggle makes you feel. Maybe the event that caused this limiting belief made you feel ashamed, rejected, and alone. And after time, you accepted that it’s just who you are.
But I’m here to say that even if you’ve already accepted your limiting belief, you can eliminate it. Your limiting beliefs don’t have to hold you back anymore. A decision like this is one of the most powerful ones you can make.
If you decide you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, there are three additional choices you can make to help you along the way.
I get to choose my response.
Often when an event like this happens — in my case, it’s the event with my brother — we want to abdicate our responsibility. We act like Adam (see Genesis 3:12), wanting to pass the blame. Wanting to make someone else responsible for what happened. Wanting to play the victim.
Do I blame my brother for this happening? Not at all. I love my brother. He and I are the closest friends and always have been. We were young and navigating adolescents. It was an isolated incident, and the responsibility for my reaction was my own.
When we pass the blame, we give away the control. We give away our responsibility. If I look at what happened with my brother as something he did, I can’t change it. But once I realize I’m able to choose my response, I’m able to maintain responsibility and therefore maintain control. You can’t pass the blame, yet maintain the control.
When we give away the responsibility, we give away our ability to respond.
We do this all the time. I once had a distressed friend tell me she’s a control freak. She said, “Whenever something happens that I can’t control, I get mad. If that stopped happening, I’d be fine.” After listening to her for a while, I pointed out that she isn’t actually a control freak. Whenever something happens that is out of her control, she actually gives her control to the event. She allows the event to determine her emotions and her actions. The event controls her, she doesn’t control it.
We don’t have to let the event control us. We have the ability to choose how we will respond. We aren’t victims, we are “response-able.” And once I decide to take back control and not play the victim, I can take the next step.
Decide not to make someone else responsible for choices you made after the event.
ASSIGNING AN EMPOWERING MEANING
I get to assign an empowering meaning.
Once the event with my brother happened, I assigned meaning to it. The meaning I assigned to this event was, “I’m not a writer.” I could’ve assigned a different meaning, like, “my brother may be tired.” Or, “he may be feeling insecure.”
But an event happened, and I chose to believe that writing makes me vulnerable to rejection. And because I didn’t want to feel that pain again, I created a mental drawer, an internal belief, to protect myself from this pain. This is something our minds do naturally to protect us, keep us alive, and keep us away from pain.
So I created a mental drawer in the filing cabinet of my mind called, “Bad Writer.”
Whenever something happened that supported this label, I would open my mental drawer and file away the evidence that supports why I don’t write. Whenever someone would ask me about writing or ask why I don’t write, I would open my cabinet and start pulling out the evidence.
We all do this. This might explain why we feel an internal struggle whenever we want to step into what’s next. Why? We have mountains of evidence we’ve collected over the years telling us, “This is a dumb idea.”
Personally, this internal conflict was magnified because, even though I had a desire to write, I never did. Which made me feel like a failure. And the entire time, the thing that was holding me back was this limiting belief.
Pay attention to your internal conflicts. Subconsciously, they may be telling you something’s off. They can even show you what you believe you should be doing with your life.
Our internal conflicts often revolve around things we care about. I’ve never had an internal conflict about not being a doctor. I don’t care about being a doctor. So I never think about that. I only have conflict about the things I care about doing, but aren’t doing.
Like I mentioned before, as we continue filing evidence to support our limiting beliefs, they often become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Remember, beliefs drive action. Because I believed I wasn’t a good writer, I would ignore any conversation about writing. I would say to myself, This doesn’t apply to me. I would never work on it. I would never sharpen my skill. I would never do anything. Therefore, I never got better.
Believing that God gave you an ability isn’t enough—you still need to practice. But who enjoys practicing when they think they suck? We hate discomfort, therefore we choose to do things we believe we’re good at instead.
I needed to create a positive mental drawer called “Good Writer” and decide to file away some new evidence.
RECLAIMING THE EVENT
I get to choose the identity I believe.
What about you? Has an event like this happened in your life? Is there an internal conflict you’re facing? It could be that you know you’re supposed to be more authentic on social media, but you think people will reject the real you. Maybe you have a dream for a specific job, but you don’t believe you could ever get it. It could be your desire for a happier marriage, but the one you have feels too far gone to fix.
Whatever limiting belief is causing an internal struggle … think back. Think back to your earliest memory of when that happened. Think back to the moment you first accepted that belief.
You weren’t born with it, you learned it.
For me, it was that moment with my brother. For you, it might be something much more significant. Or it could be something that feels so insignificant that you hardly remember.
You see, this concept became solidified after talking to my wife. Paige is an incredible writer — her flow, cadence, and choice of words are superb. I’ve always told her this yet she would always respond with, “Thanks, but I’m not a writer.” Even after writing literally thousands of posts (she works in social media) with many going viral online, she’ll still tell me, “I’m not a writer. I can only take what’s written and make it better. I can’t create.”
I asked her, “Did you always believe that?” She shook her head. She told me growing up, she thought she was a great writer. She enjoyed writing in school, got A’s on all her essays, and often wrote stories and made little books she would give to her family for fun. In her mind, she was a writer.
So I asked, “When did you stop believing you were a good writer?”
She thought about it. After a few moments, she told me about an event that happened later in life. There was a meeting that was scheduled within her organization for writers. She didn’t get invited. When she inquired about it, someone unassumingly told her, “You’re not a writer. You take what other people say and edit it.”
Paige felt hurt. One way she dealt with the pain was deciding what was said was true. Because if it was true, she wouldn’t need to be offended.
From that point on, Paige chose to believe she wasn’t a good writer. But the lies didn’t originate with her. They were echoes of what was said to her, and how she interpreted it.
When we rehearse something like that with passion and emotion, our brains begin interpreting it as fact. We create neurological patterns in our thought life that become habits. And the lie becomes true for us. Paige rehearsed a lie to herself so frequently that it eventually became true for her. I did the same. And maybe you have too.
That’s what we want to overcome.
So let’s get practical. What limiting belief is keeping you back from doing what you need to do? What’s stopping you? What lie from the enemy have you been rehearsing consistently?
I want you to think about that negative belief, that negative thought that’s overpowering you. It could be, “I don’t have what it takes.” Or, “I don’t have the skills or talent.” “I could never do what they do.” “My time has passed.” “No one will care.” “I don’t deserve love.”
Think about whatever that belief is. Next, I want you to think back to the earliest moment when you chose that belief.
What happened? Who were you before that moment? What did you believe about yourself? What did you believe about others?
Maybe you decided in that moment that you didn’t have the time, intellect, or willpower. Maybe you decided you could never measure up.
Regardless of what you believe about yourself now, you have the ability to reclaim who you once were. You have the ability to choose to see yourself the way you did before the lie. To put aside the lies and accusations of the enemy and see yourself the way God does.
Once you remember that limiting belief, take these steps.
Once you have done that, I encourage you to take a small step towards your new identity. For me, it meant writing. Therefore, I wrote.
I think about things like this daily. Yet, they sit in my mind. I’ve never communicated them because “I’m not a writer.” Today I chose to confront that fear. And I’ve now accepted what I knew as a kid… I am a writer. I naturally want to write. But my skills need to develop to my taste. It takes practice, but even the smallest step is a success.
Whatever your limiting belief might be, take action today to change it. Accept the identity you believed before. You may find that identity is more in line with what God thinks of you than what you’ve thought of yourself.
This change is hard to sustain. Because even though change happens in a second, even though you can reclaim who you were before, you will still have patterns of negative thoughts. You’ll have created neurological pathways that take time to undo. The way you undo them, is by consistently reminding yourself of the truth.
The Bible encourages us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Renewing our minds is a daily practice, not a one-time event.
So remind yourself of who you truly are daily. As time passes, you’ll start eliminating your limiting beliefs.
I want to help you overcome what’s holding you back as much as possible. That’s why I designed this PDF, “Overcoming Your Limiting Beliefs“. It’s a 10 step framework that will help you gain freedom over the beliefs that have been holding you back. Download it below.