The way we think has an enormous impact on the way we feel and behave, and we often have a set of limiting beliefs that play a role in our struggles. If you struggle with anxiety, you may be able to use techniques to limit beliefs and replace those ideas with healthy ones.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Limiting beliefs can be roughly defined as any thoughts or ideas you have that may be getting in the way of healthy function, success and/or goals. Most limiting beliefs boil down to negative self-talk that we’ve picked up along the way.
Consider the following examples of things you might say and the limiting beliefs that may lie at the root of them:
What you say: “I’m just naturally shy.”
What you tell yourself: “I’m not worth socializing with.”
What you say: “I don’t have time for that.”
What you tell yourself: “I’m a failure, so I’ll just fail at that, too.”
What you say: “I’m terrible at sports.”
What you tell yourself: “Everyone’s going to judge my ability. If I can’t play well right away, I probably won’t get any better.”
What you say: “I’m too old to go back to school/start a new hobby/make new friends.”
What you tell yourself: “People will judge me because I don’t have it together at my age.”
Acknowledge the negativity of the belief and recognize that you can’t possibly see the big picture from your perspective. What you perceive as the truth may be completely different from what others see in you.
How Limiting Beliefs Can Hold You Back
Even if you’re already seeing a professional to learn how to get over fear, you may be underestimating how much beliefs like these are fueling your anxiety and holding you back from enjoying life. If you believe that you are not attractive enough for potential mates, for example, you might turn down opportunities for romance, unintentionally reinforcing the false belief and exacerbating the fear of being alone.
What might you achieve if you allowed yourself to believe that you can do something and that you already are good enough? How might new hobbies and experiences help you express yourself, vent stress and work through your anxieties? When you push out limiting beliefs and replace them with self-affirming ones, you bring yourself closer to answering those questions.
Replacing Old Thoughts With Empowering New Beliefs
One of the most valuable techniques to overcome fear is the active re-writing of the script you’ve got in your head. Of course, replacing limiting beliefs with empowering ones is more than just “being positive.” Like any change you seek to make to your physical body, it takes hard work and practice to break mental habits and create new ones.
Here’s how you can make it happen.
Identify the Core Limiting Belief
Go beyond what you say to others and identify what you’re really telling yourself. If you say, “I’m just a loner,” for example, you might have the root negative belief, “I’m awkward and people don’t like me.” Even if you want to connect with others more, your limiting belief that you are better off alone prevents you from putting yourself out there.
List the Reasons You’ve Come to That Conclusion
Even if you know these reasons are illogical, write them all down and look at them. The reasons may be built up from things you’ve been told, experiences you’ve had, or your own evaluation of yourself and your success.
Turning to the example of believing you are awkward and unlikeable, your list of reasons might include things like:
“My brother always calls me ‘the weird one.’”
“I don’t have many friends.”
“I got laughed at when I was on stage in the school play.”
Consider the Possibility that the Belief is not Based in Truth
No matter what the reasons are for your limiting belief or the supposed evidence you use to support it, chances are that much of it is driven by baseless negative self-talk. As you examine the reasons you’ve listed, you’ll likely find that you cannot confirm the validity of many of them. The belief might instead be based on poor self-esteem, a traumatic experience or even a simple misunderstanding.
Start putting the “evidence” for your belief to the test.
What if your brother thinks of “weird” as a term of endearment and doesn’t realize you find it hurtful? Have you asked him about it?
What if you’ve simply been defining friendship in a limited way? What if more people consider you a friend than you realize? Alternatively, what if it’s perfectly okay to have a small group of friends?
What if the audience at the school play was chuckling because you were an adorable child and not because you were a bad actor?
If the reasons you’ve listed doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, isn’t it possible that the resulting belief might not be true after all?
Even if you somehow still feel the reasons are good, it doesn’t confirm that the belief is true. It’s easy to fall into the trap of generalization and conclude that a few poor choices or behaviors mean you are inherently bad or broken, but your past does not control your future. Additionally, if your limiting beliefs have been shaped by the actions and words of an abuser or otherwise hurtful person, those things were never based in truth; they were designed from the beginning to break you down.
Create a New, Empowering Belief (You don’t Even Have to Believe It Yet)
Once you are open to the possibility that the old belief is not the truth, it’s time to craft a new belief to replace it. Although you may not initially believe it (and it may even sound ridiculous at this point), this is your chance to actively define what you would like to believe about yourself. In our example, it might be something like “I am capable and personable. I have many strengths and people like me.”
Repeat your new belief regularly to yourself like a daily affirmation. You can do this however you like, whether that’s aloud in front of the mirror or in your head during your drive to work. You may feel silly at first, especially if you still aren’t fully on board with your new belief, but regular practice is key to instilling the new belief. Neuroscience research shows that practicing self-affirmation can change brain pathways for positive results, but you’ve got to stick with it! ¹
Learn More About How You Can Manage Your Fear
When fearful thoughts and anxiety make every day a struggle, you need real, practical advice. One resource could be my book, “A Layman’s Guide To Managing Fear.” I offer more than 100 straightforward, non-resistant fear management techniques drawn from Psychology, Christianity and personal experience.
Whether you’re unable to afford counseling or simply want another tool at your disposal, the book employs real-world, practical techniques for dealing with everyday anxiety, supported by real information and evidence.
Stan Popovich is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods.” For information, visit managingfear.com.