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Published on: HR Coaching & Mentoring

Are these self limiting beliefs holding you back?

Why do some people experience more success than others?

They seem to streak ahead while you are stuck at the starting line.

A lot of it comes down to holding onto beliefs that you have acquired over time, that limit your potential.  In coaching terms, we call these ‘self-limiting beliefs’. And there are lots of these gremlins lurking in everyone’s subconscious.

How do you identify them?  Follow this simple three-step exercise.

  1. Think of an area in your life that you have wanted to change but haven’t managed to yet.  It could be work, family, money, health… absolutely anything.
  2. Once you have that goal in mind, finish the phrase ‘I want…’ in one sentence
  3. Next, finish the phrase ‘I can’t because…’ in one sentence.  You can complete this one multiple times for all the reasons you can think of.  Up to 5 reasons is ideal.

Now notice your responses. What are your answers telling you? Are you finding yourself holding onto one or more of the following self-limiting beliefs?

 “I can’t because…. I’m no good at xxx” or “I can’t because…. I’m not smart enough”

Do you catch yourself saying that you are not smart enough, or no good at something?‘I’ll never learn how to read a P&L – I’m no good at maths’
‘I’m not smart enough to do that job’

If you constantly tell yourself that you aren’t good at something, the belief becomes self-fulfilling. This has been proven by Carol Dweck’s fixed/growth mindset findings. Developed over 30 years ago, Dweck found that students with a fixed mindset believed their intelligence and abilities were fixed traits. However, those with a growth mindset believed that their intelligence and abilities could be further developed with effort and persistence.

Dweck found that having a growth mindset allows you to put more time and effort into your learning and development. This in turn leads to a higher rate of achievement.

If you find yourself stuck in a fixed mindset, don’t despair. It is possible to train your mindset to go from fixed to growth.

“I can’t because…. it’s out of my control” or “I can’t because…. it makes no difference what I do, I’ve tried everything”

Are you waiting for someone else to make this happen for you?

Locus of control was a concept born in the 1950s by psychologist and social theorist Julian Rotter. The underlying question with the locus of control is whether you control your own life or if it is controlled by something else.

The concept classifies people along a continuum, which goes from very internal to very external. The internally minded believe they have influence and control over events in their lives, while externally minded individuals might place responsibility or blame on other factors like luck, other people or a higher power. It is generally accepted that having locus of control that is more weighted to internal than external is more psychologically healthy, and also makes a person more achievement oriented.

Another concept, linked to this idea is learned helplessness –  a principle of behavioural theory that sometimes explains why individuals accept negative situations even if they have the ability to change them. It occurs when we have repeatedly been rejected, punished or blocked in some way, to the point where the subconscious believes it is hopeless to try. When you believe that you have no control over your circumstances, you will not act to help yourself.

You may find yourself overlooking opportunities for possible change and remedy. You may even miss the chance for a promotion or advancement simply because you keep putting yourself down.

If this belief resonates with you, there are ways to address this to reframe the perception. Look out for my future blog on this with practical tips.

 “I can’t because….it’s not good enough”

Perfectionism is a great time waster.

Of course you want to do great work that you can be proud of. But is it really worth fussing and stressing over every single detail. Indeed, is a perfect outcome really the issue, or is it a mask for some other reason for procrastination (such as fear of failure – see below).

To combat perfectionism, a good place to start is to consider the relative importance of getting something right, as opposed to getting something done.  There are times where perfectionism is essential, for example where lives are at stake.  But in the general, there comes a point when concern about something being perfect is superseded by the benefit of getting something actioned.

Think about what will constitute ‘good enough’. Aim to work efficiently to get the task completed to a normal standard, not an unrealistic perfect standard.

It might be helpful to use the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle.  This principle determines that 80% of output is determined by 20% of the effort. What that really means is that 80% of the time you spend on a task is wasted, as you do the key work within 20% of the time.

Look out for a future blog on this with practical tips to address perfectionism.

“I can’t because…. what if it doesn’t work?”

Fear of failure is frighteningly common (if you’ll pardon the pun!).

Fear can be a helpful thing. It encourages you to avoid situations that might be harmful to you. However, it can also cause self-doubt and get in the way of your development and progress.

Making mistakes is unavoidable and totally fine, as long as you are learning from them! I am a firm believer that we learn from our mistakes far better than from our successes.  How often do we step back from the glory of an achievement to dissect exactly what went right, and how we got there?  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably too busy figuring out the next move forward, rather than truly analysing what aspects worked well.  The same cannot be said for mistakes.  We are far more likely to scrutinise the mistakes we make, in order to avoid repeating them again.

How can we build confidence to crack on despite the chance it might fail?  It might help to think about what you would advise a friend to do in a similar situation.  Often stepping out of your shoes and into another person’s give you enough perspective to look at your situation differently.  What is the worst that could happen?  If that were to happen, what would you advise them to do about it? Once you’ve looked at your advice, turn the mirror back on yourself, and consider whether that helps you to make your next move.

There will be a future blog on this topic, with more thoughts and tips to overcome fear of failure.

Take action today

Self-limiting beliefs can be very damaging, not least because they limit your thinking and hold you back from reaching your fullest potential. It is important to recognise the signs and take proactive action.
Start small – work on changing one belief at a time.

One of the ways to conquer these beliefs is to use the expertise of a coach, who will listen to the use language you use, and help you to recognise where you might take a different perspective in order to make progress.

Stay tuned for future blogs on each of these self-limiting beliefs, with tips on how to overcome them.

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