Rewrite Your Story—Don’t Let Limiting Beliefs Rob You of Happiness

July 28, 2017

Most of us tell ourselves stories. Stories about what kind of people we are, our capabilities, about what other people are like or what they think about us, even about how the world works. Some of these stories are harmless, but many of them keep us stuck in places we don’t want to be, or keep us from doing things we want to do. Sometimes our stories get in the way of our happiness.

These stories are often called limiting beliefs because they limit our lives and our potential.

What does a limiting belief look like?

Limiting beliefs are usually blanket generalizations, and they often start with the words “I can’t,” “I am,” or “I am not.” Here are some common ones:

I am not smart.
I am not athletic.
I am not enough.
I am broken and need fixing.
I can’t do that.
I am not worthy of _____.
I can’t afford that.
I am not lucky.
I am not creative/an artist/a writer.
I am too old to _____.
I am too young to ______.

Where do limiting beliefs come from?

Many limiting beliefs have crept into our subconscious minds and set up camp without our even being aware of them. Sometimes we’ve picked them up in childhood from a careless remark we overheard, experiences that we barely remember, or from what society has drummed into our heads. We’ve all received messages about what makes a good woman or a good man, for example. We’ve probably also had more personal stories woven around us by our families of origin—maybe we were labeled the “klutzy one” or the “goofy one,” and that story has influenced and limited how we think about ourselves even now.

Our stories may have a small element of truth, or they may have been true at one time. Remember, however, that they are almost always generalizations, and make the assumption that things and people are the way they are, and there’s no such thing as change and growth.

How do we rid ourselves of limiting beliefs and rewrite our stories?

First we must become conscious of them. When an opportunity comes into your life, what does your mental chatter sound like? When you really want to go for it, does a voice in your head tell you, you can’t, it won’t happen, so why even bother?

Or maybe that voice is critical, telling you you’ll look ridiculous, or questioning whether or not you deserve this opportunity. Limiting beliefs come in many different guises.

Once we become aware of our limiting beliefs, we can challenge them. Are they really true? Every time? Think about times when they were not true. Push the boundary of that belief. What have you learned or experienced that you can now use to disprove it? (Byron Katie has done some really amazing work challenging thought patterns like this. Click here for an introduction to her teaching.) 

Discard the beliefs that are not true, and replace them with new stories. Start small, or take a giant leap—whatever works for you. “Act as if” your new belief is true. Taking action will help make your new belief real.

I write this article for myself more than for anyone else. I wrestle with many limiting beliefs—“I am not brave,” for example. I feel unsure of myself often, get tongue tied when I should speak up, and cringe while contemplating any number of activities other people don’t think twice about. The desire to live a full life and pursue my dreams has helped me to challenge those limiting beliefs. I am not brave, yet I own and ride a 1,000-pound horse, something that most people can’t say. I am not brave, and yet I wake up every day and do things that scare me (because many, many thing scare me)!

And that’s what it really boils down to. Very often, the underlying emotion behind a limiting belief is fear. Fear of criticism, of looking ridiculous, of failing. I’m sorry to say, these fears are likely to come true. If you’re out there daring to learn something new or live in a way that is out of the ordinary, you will experience failure, looking awkward, and probably someone will criticize you.

I have two little words for you: So What?

We have the choice of allowing our stories to mark out the boundaries of our achievements and our world. We can stay comfortable and hidden and afraid—or we can rewrite our stories and live.

Do your stories (limiting beliefs) keep you from pursuing the things that make you happy? What limiting belief are you willing to challenge?

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  1. Wonderful post, Kathy. I love thinking about our hidden fears as stories we tell ourselves. It gives them objectivity. I tend to think of myself as a growth-mindset person, believing I can do something as long as I'm committed to practicing it, but I sometimes don't differentiate between "can't do" and "don't want to do."

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Leanne. Your comment reminded me of something Linda Formichelli wrote in her book, Commit: "Please don't confuse 'This makes me uncomfortable' with 'This is impossible.' I should have it posted somewhere in my office!

  2. Oh, so important. Yesterday I watched someone mentoring a high school student at her first job. Had she had a different supervisor, she could have gone into her future with limiting beliefs. She still may, but what a gift this supervisor gave her to help her to feel confident!

    1. Rita--so nice to hear a happy story like this. Something to remember: we have impact on other people's stories.

  3. Amazing thoughts Kathy. I checked out your link - such good directions to consider. Our minds are so fickle at times that it is difficult to figure out what is true and what is not. Thanks so much for such a great post. Hugs!

    1. Thanks for your unfailingly kind comments, and for taking time to read my words and follow my links!