Five Common Limiting Beliefs and How to Challenge Them
Limiting beliefs can also be defined as “cognitive distortions” – literally the way we use our mind and perceptions to distort reality. Dr David Burns compiled this list of the top five cognitive distortions:
1) All-or-Nothing Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking is when we think in terms of extreme opposites, for example, “If I’m not successful, then I’m a failure.” The truth is we can’t all be the best, but we can still be on the spectrum of success. So, we won’t all become CEOs, but we can still progress to become team leaders, middle managers, or department heads. However, when we apply all-or-nothing thinking, we limit our ability to achieve relative greatness and celebrate our achievements.
Challenging your all-or-nothing beliefs: Next time you find yourself thinking in black- and-white, ask “Is this really a clear-cut black-and-white situation?” Then challenge yourself to find the shades of grey in between.
2) Magnification or Minimisation
These types of beliefs are opposites of each other, but each is equally powerful at limiting our potential. An example of these limiting beliefs in action is when your boss gives you feedback on your performance (some good and some bad), but you magnify the negative aspects, focusing on your mistakes and how you’ve failed (magnification), or you ignore the positive feedback and think that your achievements are “no big deal” (minimisation). Both magnification and minimisation prevent us from seeing our achievements and value, which distorts our perception of our abilities and growth areas, thus reducing our self-confidence.
Challenging your magnification beliefs: Next time you find yourself focusing on your mistakes, try reframing your “failures” as “growth areas”. Add “YET” onto the end of a statement “I am not good at timekeeping yet.”
Challenging your minimisation beliefs: Start focusing your attention equally on your areas of development as much as your successes. Next time you find yourself dismissing compliments or positive feedback, try asking yourself “What did I do well?” and “What value do I add?”.
3) “Should” Statements
“Should” is potentially one of the most harmful types of limiting beliefs. When we say we should be doing something, we create a disconnect between who we are and what we should be. The word implies that we’re trying to live up to someone else’s expectations, values, or permissions for our behaviour. “I should be more friendly to my colleagues at work.” is a good example, as it implies that we’re not enough. A natural introvert, analytic, or observer won’t have this strength. By perceiving that we “should” be different to WHAT we are, we prevent ourselves from actually thriving and growing as WHO we are.
Challenging your “should” statements: Start with catching the “shoulds” as they happen. Ask yourself “How can I phrase this differently?” or “Is this something that I personally value enough to pursue?”
Personalisation is when we take responsibility for things that don’t turn out well, even though we weren’t personally responsible for the outcome, and it was out of our control. When we fall prey to personalisation beliefs, it’s easy to slip into an anxious, self- deprecating mindset. The impact of this is that our brain gets hijacked by our anxiety which reduces our cognitive ability, and, in turn, our performance. This will lead to mistakes and the affirmation of our weaknesses and failures. It’s a dangerous negative cycle which over time can lead to burn-out, lowered self-esteem, and reduced job performance.
Challenging your personalisation beliefs: Next time you catch yourself taking responsibility, ask yourself “Is this, in fact, something that I need or am responsible for?” and “Am I actually able to change the outcome by taking responsibility?” and lastly “Am I willing/able to take responsibility for the outcome of this?”. Challenging your limiting beliefs may require you to admit your boundaries, limitations, or weaknesses, but by doing so you’ll succeed at what you’re responsible for and in turn increase your achievements.
Overgeneralisation is when we take the meaning that was ascribed to one scenario and apply it to a similar or different unrelated scenario. An example of scenario one: “I was always picked last for team sports at school.” Overgeneralisation of this scenario would present as: “Because I was always picked last for team sports at school, I’m not a good team player. I won’t even try to be a team player and no one wants me on their team.” This may seem like an oversimplified example, however, we all have negative experiences in our past, and if we aren’t aware, these can quickly become limiting beliefs that prevent us from taking on new challenges.
Challenging your overgeneralisation beliefs: Start catching yourself when memories from your past come up with current tasks. Or start noticing when negative feelings show up. In these moments ask yourself “I know this happened in the past, but is it an accurate perception of what is actually happening now?” or “I know I’ve been through something like this in the past that didn’t work out well. What can I do now that would prevent the same from happening again?”