"I'll never get over it."
"I'm not strong enough to handle this."
"Life wasn't supposed to turn out this way."
"I must have done something terrible to deserve this."
Have you ever found yourself with thoughts like these? If so, you're not alone because they're common examples of limiting beliefs. And you don't have to accept them.
Sometimes we develop these theories as a way of making sense of challenging circumstances; other limiting beliefs are rooted in childhood. Our brains crave order, so we come to conclusions about life or about ourselves even though there's usually a lot more to the story.
Many of our limiting beliefs have to do with hopelessness - when what we want seems impossible, we don't even try. We feel justified in our conclusion because who in their right mind would keep trying to accomplish something that's not possible?
Another common theme of limiting beliefs is helplessness - the sense that we don't have the knowledge, opportunity, or that there's just too much involved to achieve our goal. Other people might be able to do or have this, but it's just too big for me.
And then there's uselessness - the feeling of "why bother?" Even if I do figure out how to cope with this particular challenge, another one is just around the corner. There's no permanent solution so it won't make a difference in the long run.
Have you ever blamed someone or something else for your misery? If only they would change (or if only they'd behaved better) I wouldn't be this predicament. Sometimes it feels vindicating to believe that only circumstances beyond our control are causing our pain.
And the flip side is blaming ourselves for everything. Feeling undeserving of a good outcome and a sense of worthlessness means we can't acknowledge or utilize our strengths - even though we all have them.
Limiting beliefs keep us from accessing our innate resilience - that ability to bounce back from whatever life dishes out. And I truly believe we can all learn to be more resilient. It's like a default setting on a computer; you can change it but it requires certain steps.
So here are a few ways of banishing limiting beliefs and changing our default settings. They're working for me, but I'm always interested in what's worked for you.
1. Don't believe everything you think. I know it seems like our thoughts should be reliably correct, but that's not always the case. I'm currently working on the thought that "there isn't enough time for me to do everything I want to do." Even though it's hard, I'm choosing not to believe that's actual fact.
2. Challenge the belief: Ask yourself, "Is that always true? Does it really make sense? Can I think of one example that's different?" Keep questioning your negative conclusions and look for other possibilities because things are usually more negotiable and more flexible than we think.
3. Stop defining yourself by the belief. I used to think I could never be a "business person" until I realized I'm actually running a small business. I had to expand my self-definition to include this realization.
4. Observe the feelings that come up as you begin to open up to new possibilities. Are any of them uncomfortable? Try not to judge these emotions; just notice them with gentleness and let them pass.
5. Try something different to break the pattern. I signed up for a business course for therapists! (And I'm actually enjoying it.) See if choosing an action opposite to your limiting belief can open up even more possibilities.
Essays on Grief Resilience