By Renee Bethel, Crosswalk.com
Have you ever known what you needed to do, but for some reason, you never could get it done or move past it? You felt stuck and possibly even unsettled.
Maybe you want to reach a certain goal, but it seems like it will never happen. What’s holding you back? What’s keeping you from moving forward? Why is this so hard?
Do you find yourself saying, “I don’t . . .," "I can’t . . . ," "I’m not . . . ," "I could never . . ."? We use these words all the time without realizing how they impact us. These words express what we believe or, more accurately stated, don’t believe is possible about ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
Our beliefs shape our perceptions and perspectives, which impact everything we do. What you believe affects who you are and the way you live your life—what you do and what you don’t do.
Dr. Shad Helmstetter, author of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, asks the question, “Have you ever considered just how much of what you do—how you act, how successful you are—is dependent on the conditioning, the programming you received from others, and on the conditioning you subsequently accepted and kept giving yourself?”
Let’s examine where these beliefs that limit us from moving forward and taking action come from and what we can do to combat such self-limiting beliefs:
Limiting Beliefs Begin in Childhood
We all grow up with ideas of how things are. These are beliefs or assumptions we hold to be true, but they may or may not be true.
When our beliefs hold us back from achieving what we can achieve as children of God, they are called limiting beliefs.
Many of the beliefs we hold as adults were developed as we grew up.
Children often take on perspectives of the world (and life in general) from their parents or other significant people in their lives. Think of your own childhood. What did your parents believe and do that was “caught” by you? It may be something that was done, and you assumed that everyone did that certain thing. It may be something that was said to you specifically that shapes the running narrative in your brain today and impacts your self-talk.
According to Dr. Helmstetter, “During the first eighteen years of our lives, if we grew up in fairly average, reasonably positive homes, we were told ‘No,’ or what we could not do, or what would not work, more than 148,000 times.” That far outweighs how many times we were told what we could do or what was possible to accomplish.
Think back to your own life and see if this research is consistent with your experience. How might the thoughts you think today (your beliefs) be different if vision was cast for what you could do?
The Power of Thoughts
Our thoughts are powerful! The more our beliefs are activated and reinforced, the more they become our automatic way of perceiving. Neuroscientists have discovered that our repetitive thoughts form neural pathways where neurons fire together and then get wired together.
The field of neuroscience has proven the relationship between how we are mentally wired and our success or failure in achieving big goals or small day-to-day tasks. Dr. Helmstetter believes that “how successful you will be at anything is inexorably tied directly to the words and beliefs about yourself that you have stored in your subconscious mind.”
We often don’t realize we have these subconscious beliefs (many from childhood) until they are pointed out to us by someone else.
“Leading behavioral researchers have told us that as much as 77 percent of everything we think is negative, is counterproductive, and works against us,” as stated by Dr. Helmstetter in What to Say When You Talk to Yourself.
One encouraging word about these negative thoughts can be found in an article in Psychology Today, in which Dr. Barbara Markway says, “The difficulty isn’t that we have negative thoughts. The problem comes when we believe our thoughts are true.”
Believing negative thoughts as truth is something we all do without realizing it. This is negative self-talk. Before you dismiss this as something that you don’t do, let me remind us all that we are the most influential people in our own lives. We never stop talking to ourselves. Even if we don’t realize it, we constantly comment internally on everything we encounter in our daily lives.
One reason we adopt self-limiting beliefs is that they serve us in some way. These limiting beliefs keep us safe, protect us from failure, keep us from struggling, and keep us in a comfortable place. It takes intentionality and work to change our limiting beliefs.
Common Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs can hold us back in several different ways. They can affect our personal growth, our finances, our work growth, whether that’s having your own business or working for someone else, the way we manage our time, and our willingness to try new things, just to name a few.
Have you ever said, “I don’t have time"? Most of us have said that at some point in our lives. What if you did have time? How would your life be different if you did have time for the things you want to do? When you truly care about doing a certain task, reaching a goal, or spending time with someone, you make time for those things. Am I right? Maybe you need to re-evaluate how you are spending the 1,440 minutes you’ve been given in a twenty-four-hour time period. And let’s be honest. We all need to do this.
Have you ever thought, “I just don’t have what it takes”? This comes up a lot around having your own business or in a career. What’s causing your fear of failure? It’s possible that you may be afraid of what it would be like if you were actually successful.
What about believing that you don’t have enough money? “I’ll never be able to do that because it takes too much money.” “I could never invest in my own personal growth because I don’t have enough money.” “Only people with lots of money get to take trips like that.” Do any of those statements resonate with you?
“I’ll never find someone who will love me for being me.” That’s a powerful limiting belief around relationships. We may self-sabotage relationships and keep others at a distance because of our own limiting beliefs.
How to Combat Limiting Beliefs
1. Notice your thoughts.
This is the first step in making any change. Where’s that thought coming from? What’s making you feel that way?
2. Name what you are thinking.
What’s the limiting belief behind your lack of time or not taking action? Write it down.
3. Ask God if it’s true.
Bring your limiting beliefs to God in prayer and ask Him to show you what is true.
John 16:13 reminds us, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
4. Reframe the thought.
Instead of, “I could never do that,” ask, “How could I do that?”.
Instead of, “I’m afraid of making a mistake,” say, “Mistakes are how I learn and get better.”
Think through the help you might need to move forward.
Write down the reframed thought and speak that aloud when the limiting belief comes into your mind.
5. Practice truthful self-talk.
God’s Word is truth. Take a few minutes and write/type a few Bible verses that speak truth to one of the limiting beliefs that keeps coming up in your mind. When that limiting belief surfaces in your mind, use this truth from God’s Word to replace the untruth. Repeat the verse aloud several times to reprogram the neural pathways in your brain with truthful self-talk.
If you have limiting beliefs around taking action, write/type/speak/sing:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
For limiting beliefs around who you are—your identity in Christ— try:
I am victorious. (1 John 5:4-5)
I am valuable. (Luke 12:6-7)
I am forgiven. (1 John 1:9)
I am loveable. (1 John 3:1)
The Bible tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
What you think directly influences how you feel and what you do.
The thoughts you accept and consider to be true may be keeping you from being and doing all that God has for your life.
Christian life coaches are trained to listen deeply and ask powerful questions to help you uncover limiting beliefs that may be keeping you from moving forward. You can find a Christian Life Coach at FindAChristianLifeCoach.com.
FREE PODCAST RESOURCE: Are you looking for resources to better understand yourself and grow spiritually? You've come to the right place. Join licensed therapist Carley Marcouillier on the Therapy + Theology Podcast each week as she tackles a common question related to therapy, mental health, and faith. Listen to an episode now by clicking the play button below:
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Renee Bethel, author of Finding Me: A Woman’s Guide to Learning More About Herself is a Professional Christian Life Coach and a Gospel Centered Certified Enneagram Coach. She helps Christian women explore what’s possible and live in alignment with their identity in Christ and their personality so that they have purpose in their second half of life. Renee would love to connect with you on Instagram.