Whatever your beliefs or belief systems may be, you face limits.
Old age, sickness, and death are the existential constraints that come with human life. Your body will degenerate and die. And we are all subject to this inescapable truth.
Therefore, it’s important to know ‘where you are’, to understand yourself, your motives, and how to make the most of your life within nature’s limits. To do so is to live a better, vital, more compassionate, mindful, conscious, and courageous life.
You can face the suffering that comes with being human. And when you do, you’ll realize that there is a purpose to suffering: a reason. Because when you suffer and reflect on suffering, you get insight into what it means to be human. Suffering is the ground out of which compassion grows. And as you learn how to embrace and study suffering, you will learn how to identify and overcome your limiting beliefs.
Therefore, your quest for freedom is a good place to start thinking about how to live and what to do with your life. Indeed, your purpose is to be free. And to help others be free.
What are limiting beliefs?
We all have some limiting beliefs. Such beliefs are a kind of thought distortion that holds you back. They might take the form of thoughts like: “I can’t be an engineer because I am a woman” or, “I am unlovable.”
Limiting beliefs stunt your growth and stifle self-actualization. Also, limiting beliefs undermine your ability to accept yourself and others, negatively affecting your well-being. They destroy your ability to act naturally, spontaneously, and creatively. And without the kind of active reflection that exposes limiting beliefs, you lose your capacity to identify with humanity or to celebrate enlightened ideals.
For example, beliefs about your character can affect where you end up in life.
Research shows that shame leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Shame undermines your efforts to improve which, in turn, creates more shame that stunts and discourages your personal growth. The result is nothing good: cycle upon cycle of shame leading to despair.
Interesting studies show that praising ability as opposed to character is a more effective means of producing positive behavior.
When you call someone’s act of generosity “caring,” that person engages in more altruistic behavior. But when you neglect to call a generous action “caring,” you reduce altruistic behavior.
A belief is limiting when it has a harmful effect on your life. When a belief stops your ability to care for others, it’s a limiting one.
Mastering your own limitations will make you a stronger person and give you the power to be of greater service to others, which is the key to true happiness.
When you master overcoming limiting beliefs, you make your life more meaningful, happy, and profound. Because when you overcome your limiting beliefs you start to want to help others— the true meaning and purpose of every human life.
How are limiting beliefs formed?
Limiting beliefs are false beliefs. Their power over you comes from your belief in them.
In the Broadway show Peter Pan, Tinkerbell is brought back to life by the children in the audience who are prompted to clap for her. They’re asked to clap to show their belief in her, the demonstration of which will save her. And their clapping brings the magic fairy back to life. Beliefs are the same. Your beliefs are given life by your belief in them.
External forces like mindless parents, manipulative media, a cruel teacher, a nightmare boss, a mean spouse, etc. may have seeded a negative view of yourself. But you help the view grow into your belief by believing it.
Fortunately, you can nurture a new belief: something more creative, accepting, spontaneous, loving, and open.
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 have 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 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.
You can read about the positive belief systems Nicolas Sarkozi’s supported with his 2009 study of alternatives to GDP, or Bhutan’s unprecedented success in battling COVID-19.
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.