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As most of us already know, setting goals is the only tangible way we can reach new heights in our lives. However, while it’s all well and good to want changes in our behaviour, career, relationships, appearance, or mental health, setting goals is only the first step to getting what we want. The real work begins on the path to achieving those goals.

One of the obstacles we need to overcome in order to transform and grow is our limiting beliefs. These beliefs constrain performance; by believing them we don’t think or act outside of them. This leads to frustration, reduced self-esteem, and inhibited performance.

It’s by not challenging your limiting beliefs that you slip back into your comfort zone and never reach your full potential.

Challenging your limiting beliefs is one of the most effective ways of increasing your motivation and achieving real change in line with your goals. However, challenging your beliefs takes constant attention, self-reflection, and practice, which is often why we don’t succeed.

Here is an outline of the five most common limiting beliefs, and strategies you can use to start challenging them. Doing so is a sure-fire way of achieving the goals you never thought possible.

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?”

4)      Personalisation

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.

5)      Overgeneralisation

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?”

In Conclusion

Challenging your limiting beliefs takes courage, practice, and perseverance. However, when you start to replace these beliefs with more positive ones, you’ll be able to see yourself, others, and situations more accurately and objectively. If you begin reframing your self-talk, you’ll notice the difference not only in your self-esteem, but also in your performance, motivation, and goal achievement.

At 4Seeds we know that taking this step can be difficult. We have personally and professionally seen the impact that challenging your limiting beliefs can have on happiness and goal achievements. We pride ourselves on being strong accountability partners, who can help you identify your limiting beliefs, keep you aware of them, guide you to reframe them, and celebrate your successes.

If you want a coach or accountability partner, we’re here to help. Contact us at info@4seeds.co.za for a FREE 30-minute discovery session.

We look forward to meeting you.

The 4Seeds team