Self-Limiting Beliefs: The How and Why

Imagine the things you could do (or would have done!) if your life had no limits.




Feels good, right?


But here’s the thing: Life doesn’t have limits.

walking through revolving door

It’s this never-ending valley full of revolving doors. They open and close continuously, heedless of foot traffic. Through them are a million potential lives.

We choose to cross over the thresholds … or not. Our limiting beliefs are what dictate our life’s potential.

When you look at the grand expanse of existence (human, earth, universe, etc.) and realize how insignificant your chunk of time on earth really is, you realize that of course it’s foolish to have limiting beliefs—life’s just too short and full of amazing.

Let’s figure out how to get rid of limiting beliefs. 

Read on…

Because I’ve been on the road so much since returning from my “writer’s retreat” in Italy, I’ve had a real tough time finding the space to write. At the end of over two weeks, productivity has been at an all-time low and self-punishment at an all-time high.

I’m barely out the gates on this quest to become a writer, and already I’m in the dirt.

But this quest is not just about writing, it’s about learning to believe in myself.

When we pursue creative endeavors, the first step is believing that the creation will be worthwhile.

That’s been especially tough with this voice in my head chanting “You’ve already screwed this up. Look at how easily you’ve become distracted. Blah blah blah.”

But that, my friends, is an example of a limiting belief.

Here are some more I’m wrestling with:

  • I’m a mess

  • I don’t know where I’m going in life

  • I literally don’t know where I’m living for the next several months

  • I don’t have anything published!

  • Nobody will care about my work

It’s like a virus working its way through my psyche.

But this morning, I received a lovely response to my post from yesterday which served as a nice little e-hug (technology!) and got me feeling proactive. Looking through past notes on writing ideas, I found this quote (forgive me for lack of source):


“Replace self-limiting beliefs with counter affirmations.”


D’oh. It seems so simple.

We are going to dig deeper into how to resolve that in tomorrow’s post. For now, I want to take a look at why we have self-limiting beliefs in the first place.


The Sources of Self-limiting Beliefs 

It’s simple enough.

1. Culture

2. Family

3. Past Experience

The process of growing up, filled with beauty though it may be, is also a process of an (usually) innocent form of brainwashing.

We’ll box up culture and family together because the interaction of the two generally leads us to believe that life’s preordained route is:


school career family retirement path


This route was so unconsciously planted in my brain that it took me over two decades to realize I was even allowed to question it.

It’s like a four-course meal. But what if you want a buffet? A little bit here, a little bit there … One a bite and leave the rest? Devour dessert first? Pour French Onion Soup on the Mac and Cheese?

Self-limiting beliefs tell us that buffets are not possible. They say things like:

  • Only the very lucky or especially gifted become successful after deviating from the norm.

  • Following passions are only for the whimsical.

  • It’s too risky!

  • You have responsibilities to society, self, family, etc…

These things just aren’t true. I’ve seen too many successful/happy people who have gone the buffet route:

I mean, Samantha Martin runs a cat circus and tickets sell for $24 bucks a pop.

Justin Gignac sells cubes of trash as “art” for $50 each and has made at least $65,000 on that project alone. Do you think it’s especially gifted?

My good friend Jake started a floating sunglass company. How random is that? How risky?

Living in Hollywood, I’ve met tons of people (too many, probably) who have found success as actors. I know for a painful fact that there is nothing *especially* gifted about many of these people’s acting talent. Myself included.

The above examples show that instead of working hard at a “normal” job, these people invested all that effort toward following a goal. And (big ‘and’) they persevered.

That’s how success happens—perseverance and belief. Not just adherence to a formula.


The Limits of Past

Let us not, however, think it quite so simple, for there is also Past Experience to consider. He will saunter in and mess with your head with reckless and hedonistic abandon.

Ol’ Bad Boy Past Experience is a two-faced fella. And whichever face you call upon is the one that will answer.

So when you say, “Hey, remind me of some fun times, ol’ buddy,” you’ll get memories of that that time you ate skittles off the floor in high school and everybody cheered. Or the time you slept under a park bench in Park City, Utah.

I love skittles and irony. Also, I’m simple-minded.

But when you say something like, “I am a screw up” and you don’t even ask to hear from Life Experience, well, he’s ready to show up anyway.

He’s just doing his job.

He reminds you of the time you were fired from being a concierge at a 5-star resort because you were too disorganized. Or how a couple years ago your reported tax income was under $10,000.

So here is where we must remind ourselves of our boy Thomas Edison, who flubbed the lightbulb 1,000 times before making it work and said:

“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

three lightbulbs

Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because his editor believed that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Freaking Oprah was fired from one of her first reporting gigs because a producer said that she was “unfit for television news.”

(Use this link full of non-limiting bad-assery whenever you need a pick-me-up.)

Past failure is just part of the game. A necessary part. The more research I do on failure, the more I realize that it’s a gift to the successful.

Past experience (and failure) are the ever-building steps you need to go higher.

But sometimes just reminding ourselves that we’re okay isn’t quite enough. And that’s okay.


In tomorrow’s post, we’re going to tackle three surefire methods that you can use immediately to overcome self-limiting beliefs.

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, tell me: What do you do when the limiting thoughts kick in? Do you wrestle with this the way I do? What’s your greatest hits soundtrack?

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