What we believe can often limit our professional progress. Here are 3 steps for busting through self-limiting beliefs…
I was having a conversation with a successful entrepreneur yesterday and our conversation came around to self-limiting beliefs.
Now for those of you who haven’t studied psychology, self-limiting beliefs are beliefs that we hold about what we believe is possible for ourselves.
We label these beliefs as limiting because they often prevent us from doing the things we really want to do in life.
I recall someone saying once, “My business idea can’t be a good one because if it were good, someone would have done it already.”
Talk about self-limiting beliefs! Imagine where we would be today if Edison, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates and others thought this way.
Self-limiting beliefs are just as common in the career space. I often hear refrains like this from my career coaching clients:
- “They won’t hire me for that role because I haven’t done that before.”
- “You just have to pay your dues and do something you don’t like for a while.”
- “There are no jobs in San Diego (or Seattle or wherever they happen to be).”
- “If I say no it will end my career.”
- “Networking doesn’t work.”
Now, how do you overcome self-limiting beliefs? The first step is becoming aware of them. If you could imagine your dream career (i.e. doing exactly what you want to be doing in the way you want to be doing it), I’m guessing you have some self-limiting beliefs about you being able to achieve it.
Step #1: List your biggest ambition
The idea is to first think about exactly what you want in an ideal world (see How to find the right career). Dream big. Is your ideal world owning your own business? Traveling the world while writing a travel blog? Whatever it is, write it down.
Step #2: List your self-limiting beliefs
Next, consider the beliefs that limit you from achieving that goal. Let’s say you want to be a professional blogger and get paid to write as you travel the world. Self-limiting beliefs may include:
- “I’m not a good enough writer.”
- “Nobody makes money blogging anymore.”
- “No one will pay to hear what I think.”
- “I’m too old.”
- “I can’t take the financial risk.”
Step #3: Prove your self-limiting beliefs wrong
This is the toughest step. It is hard because we frequently have a lot invested in these beliefs. If I believe I’m not a good enough writer, for example, it gives me an excuse for not trying. –And the beauty of not trying is that you can’t experience the pain of failure.
This is why so few people try and why self-limiting beliefs are so persistent. So the key is to design experiments that will prove your self-limiting beliefs wrong.
One of the easiest experiments is the, “has anyone else done it?” test. This is simple, all you need to do is find someone else who has done something contrary to your belief and you will know it is possible.
The challenge is that you will immediately come up with reasons why they are different than you are. They may have more education, money, connections… whatever.
Think about the book “The 4-Hour Workweek.” It has been a bestseller for years and years. The book pretty clearly outlines how people today can create businesses that work with very little effort while traveling the world living like kings.
If you read the book, the first thing you will tend to tell yourself is that Tim Ferris is a Princeton educated genius and that it doesn’t apply to you.
Frankly, I had my share of excuses (i.e. self-limiting beliefs) about it to until I met someone who had done it. He was smart, but I had far more advantages… yet he had done it, I had not. Self-limiting belief destroyed.
Other experiments that crush self-limiting beliefs are simpler. Just think about what evidence you would need to prove to you that your belief was inaccurate.
Take this example: for years in the corporate world I had a belief that I always needed to be available in the evenings and respond to emails quickly from key people.
I believed this was necessary to prove that I was a committed employee and an expected part of my role within the firm.
Then I tried an experiment. It was a small one at first. I turned off my iPhone for an hour each evening.
Nothing happened. Emails came in from critical people from time to time, and I responded when I turned my phone back on. So far, so good.
Then I upped my experiment to two hours. Same thing.
Then I experimented with shutting my phone off at 11pm. No consequence. Then 10pm. No consequence.
By taking one small experiment and consistently expanding it, I was able to destroy the belief that I always needed to be on, reducing my stress level, getting me a break from work, and ensuring a good night’s sleep.
Self-limiting beliefs can be persistent, and the biggest challenge with destroying them is that you tend to realize that it is time for you to put-up or shut-up.
In reflecting on my conversation with an entrepreneur yesterday, I realized one of my self-limiting beliefs, which is that to run a big business you need to give up your free time. For that reason, I had justified thinking small to myself.
Then I remembered meeting someone many, many years ago who had a huge business and insisted that he and his team not work more than 35 hours a week. So, clearly it can be done… and for me it is time to get to work and think bigger.