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Self-Limiting Beliefs

When Self Doubt Interferes with Progress.

We have a lot going on at Work2Live and as is my nature, we just keep adding more. But each time I have an idea for a new program or project, I have to face my internal doubter. That doubter gives voice to my self-limiting beliefs. When I decided to change careers from being an accountant to being a coach, the doubter pretty much screamed that I would fail, that it’s too hard to make a living at being a coach because I wouldn’t be able to find clients. When I decided to launch an online coaching certification program, the doubter was quite vocal in pointing out that I didn’t know how to use the technology to launch such a project; that there were much larger organizations already doing the same thing; that I might not know what I’m even talking about so who am I to teach others; and of course, that I’m too old to be starting something like this. The latest additions to the program mix include a video series with coaching tips and an online book club. The doubter is in full swing, noting my lack of experience in video technology and having no idea how to facilitate a book club online. Fortunately, I learned early on that failure is just a learning opportunity and that persistence matters. I have a thriving coaching practice, the online certification program is probably the favorite thing I do right now, and as I’m in the midst of tamping down the doubter’s voice, I’m excited to launch the videos and book club. That’s not to say I didn’t procrastinate for quite a while as I considered some of these endeavors. That’s what self-limiting beliefs do – they slow you down or hold you back.

can't, self doubt, paper cut

We begin to form beliefs about the world and our place in it from a very early age. Our brains are very efficient at spotting patterns and making associations and as we process the constant stream of information about the world around us, our beliefs are formed. In our early years, beliefs are typically based on our own experiences and are shaped by our parents, teachers, or other dominant figures in our lives. As we age, beliefs become more complex and are influenced by a wider range of sources such as peers, cultures, books, movies, and even TV ads.

But the core beliefs that we formed as children can be very powerful, and even when we encounter new information or explanations, we often cling to our old beliefs because frankly, we don’t like to be wrong. Unfortunately, however, the beliefs that served us as children may not be serving us well as adults.

It’s important to remember that beliefs aren't facts. They may or may not be true or helpful, but they still inform the way we behave in life. Beliefs lead to action or in the case of self-limiting beliefs, a lack of action. Self-limiting beliefs are beliefs that hold us back from doing what we want to do.

For example, the I’m not good enough belief. Now, you may not say those exact words to yourself, but do you ever say things like, “I would love to do that, but I don’t have a degree.” Or, “I want to paint, but I’m not artistic.” Or, "I wish I could write a novel, but I’m not creative.” Or, “I would love to be my own boss, but I don’t know anything about business.” These are “I’m not good enough” statements. It’s where we’ve decided that we either don’t have the outside validation others think we should have or we don’t have a natural ability that good artists, writers and entrepreneurs have. To use an old-fashioned word, this is just poppycock. Most people don’t have natural talents – babies aren’t born with a paintbrush in their hands ready to create the next Picasso. We all have imaginations, we all have the ability to create and we all have the ability to learn. That’s all that’s required to do anything. Many of us have allowed those traits to lay dormant for a while, so they may be a little dusty, but they are there, just waiting for us to tap into them.

Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg had no experience or training in social networks before he created Facebook? That Colonel Sanders had no experience in business or cooking beyond making dinner at home before he founded Kentucky Fried Chicken? Andrew Carnegie had almost no formal education, dropping out of school at a young age, not even knowing how to read. He taught himself and went on to build an empire and become one of the wealthiest people in the country. Henri Rousseau, Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo had no formal training in art and yet became some of the most successful artists of all time. Truman Capote, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain and H.G. Wells are among the many successful writers who never attended or didn’t finish college. What they all have in common is that they overcame their self-limiting beliefs about what they could do.

Another self-limiting belief manifests as worrying about what others will think. I can tell you from personal experience, this is an area you can overcome. I’m sure people have thought I’m pretty crazy during different phases of my life and have felt no need to hold back on what they thought were helpful comments. I dropped out of high school, but after getting a job in a law firm, went back for my GED in my 20s. After I got a job as a manager in a large corporation, I went back to school and got my BS in business. After I had started my own coaching business and was doing well, I went back to school and got my masters in psychology. So yes, I did it all backwards. And each time people asked, why would you want to go to school or get a degree at your age?

When I quit my last job in my 40s and started my own business, I frequently heard, why would you give up the security of a job and benefits at this point in life? Worrying about what others think is a strongly self-limiting belief because you’re telling yourself that everyone else has to accept your ideas and desires in order for you to proceed. They’re your desires! If I had believed that it was more important to behave the way others expected me to, I would still be an accountant, plugging away 8 hours a day at something that has little meaning for me. Instead, I love my work, I love my independence, I have fun working and I am grateful every single day that I can dedicate my time to meaningful work.

Another major self-limiting belief that many have is “I don’t have time.” This is simply not true. We have time to do anything we really need to do. If your car breaks down on the way to work, don’t you suddenly have time to get it towed and fixed? If your child is sick and has to be taken to the doctor, you make time, right? The time issue is not about not having enough. It’s about how you’re prioritizing and the choices you’re making as to what you say yes to. It’s also very much about wasting time. We waste a lot of it. The first step here is self-awareness. Every time you hear yourself say, I don’t have time, self-correct that phrase to “I’m not choosing to make this a priority.” That in turn can open up a lot of insight into why you haven’t done whatever the thing is you were saying you don’t have time for. For example, “I want to write a book, but I don’t have time.” Do you watch tv or follow Instagram and other social media apps? There’s found time to reallocate to writing. Many famous authors started out writing early in the morning before their children woke up or late in the evening after the kids went to bed. When I first started writing, I carried around a voice recorder (this was pre-smart phone days) and spoke my stories into it that I later transcribed. That meant I could write in the car, write while standing in lines or squeeze in a few words pretty much anywhere. This leads to a related self-limiting belief, that you can only do something in a certain way. That’s also just not true. You might have to think outside of the box.

Let’s say you want to learn how to throw pottery, but you’re using the excuse that you don’t have time. Perhaps you don’t choose to change your current schedule in order to attend classes at a local school. That’s not the only way to learn. You can watch videos, read books, go on a ceramic-learning holiday…there is absolutely nothing preventing you from learning what you want to other than your own beliefs.

The soon-to-be coaches in our certification program are adding 5 to 10 hours of reading and writing to their workload a week. Some not only have full-time jobs, but are also in college or have families or other obligations. It deeply inspires me every time we discuss challenges around time because despite being very busy (and who isn’t very busy anymore?), they’re enthusiastic and willing to make this a priority. Some have had to switch to listening to books as they drive in order to eek out that extra time needed instead of the traditional method of studying. Some work in a roller coaster fashion, falling behind, then catching up in a flurry. It doesn’t really matter how it gets done if something is a priority. It matters that we set aside the self-limiting belief that we don’t have time to do it. We make time for the things that are important to us.

Another self-limiting belief is “I’m too old” or “I’m too young.” The truth is, age is only a barrier in the mind. You’re never too old or too young to do anything. Louise Hay was a great inspiration to me because she started her now very successful publishing business in her 50’s. Stan Lee, considered the godfather of Marvel comics, didn’t create his first comic until he was 39. Julia Child didn’t release her first cookbook until the age of 50. Charles Flint created what would become IBM at the age of 61. And back to Colonel Sanders – he was 62 when he franchised his company. On the other end of the scale, Henry Patterson, just 10 years old, is the creator of Not Before Tea, a sweets and children's products company. Henry designs all the new products and writes books featuring characters who work in the sweet shop. Lizzie Marie Likness, age 14, is the creator of Lizzie Marie Cuisine. She creates and shares healthy recipes on a web series hosted by WebMD and is the recipient of a grant from to teach healthy cooking classes in her community. Michael Dell started the Dell Corporation at 18. James Casey started UPS at the age of 19. And Walt Disney was just 22 years old when he created what is now the Disney empire.

While there are endless types of self-limiting beliefs, we’ll close this list with money. “I don’t have the money or I would …” There are about 37 trillion dollars of physical money in the world today. There’s more than enough money to do anything we want to do. We just have to figure out how to get some of it. Most entrepreneurs, artists, writers, performers and inventors started off with little or no money. Jan Koum worked as a janitor and collected food stamps before launching WhatsApp. John Paul DeJoria was homeless before he founded his Paul Mitchel hair products line. Oprah Winfrey was so poor as a child, she was dressed in potato sacks and had to work hard to scratch her way up to fame and fortune. J.K. Rowling was a single mom on welfare while writing the first Harry Potter book. And Howard Schultz sold his blood to pay for college before launching Starbucks. I’m not saying it’s always easy. I’m saying if there’s a will, there’s a way. But self-limiting beliefs can prevent us from even starting.

A great resource for getting out of your own way is NLP. Neuro-linguisting-programming. Check out this 5 step process for releasing limiting beliefs


When you have a few quiet moments today – and yes, you can make time for this – write down this question, think about it, and then write down your answer: If money were no object and there was no fear of failure, what would I want to do?

Once you write down what you really want to do, see how many self-limiting beliefs you can identify as possibly preventing you from doing this thing. List them out.

Now you can begin to change these beliefs. Not at all at once, but start somewhere on your list and ask yourself these questions:

Where did this belief come from?

What experiences have I had to reinforce this belief?

Is there any knowledge or proof that this belief is true?

How has the belief benefited me in the past?

How is this belief benefiting me now?

Once you have identified and analyzed your beliefs, you’ll probably have a list of self-limiting beliefs you’re ready to change. This can take a while and it can be quite uncomfortable at times. You’re bravely going where you’ve not gone before! So take it easy on yourself. Test the waters by dipping a toe in. By that, I mean start with something small and work your way up to the big changes. You can even start with something as simple as changing your self-talk.

I don’t have enough money – add: yet.

I don’t have enough time - add: because I haven’t made this a priority.

I’m too old – add: to be thinking that age matters.

Other people will judge me – add: but who cares? It’s my life.

What if I’m not good enough – add: but who decides that other than me?

We can be whoever we want to be and we can do whatever we choose to do. Period. Start shedding those self-limiting beliefs to reach your full potential. I know you can do it!

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