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When Your Beliefs Hold You Back: Release Them to Avoid Regret

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~lan Watts   

Do you hear voices?

Even when you are alone, there is usually someone talking to you. And you hear them loud and clear.

Everyone has an internal dialogue going through their heads for a large part of the day. Just because you hear these “voices” it doesn’t mean you are crazy.

On the other hand, these voices can make you believe some crazy things.

Most of what these voices tell you is negative. And when you hear these negative things often enough, you come to believe them.

The worst part is that these voices speak to you in the first person, making you imagine that it’s actually your words:

  • “I’ll never be able to lose weight. I just have a slow metabolism.”
  • “Old/Bald/Fat people like me never find fulfilling relationships.”
  • “I’m not the kind of person who can start my own business—people like me just get a ‘comfortable’ job.”

Underlying each of these statements are assumptions that restrain your behavior, or limiting beliefs. See if you can spot some.

For a long time, I thought I had to become a professional, like a doctor, lawyer, or accountant.

Since I was good at math, I decided to become an actuary. I was fairly content with this decision for a while.

But despite enjoying my 10-week internship, I felt like I couldn’t handle 40+ straight years of corporate work.

In my mind, however, it would have been a waste of my intelligence to do anything else that I wanted to do, such as writing. Plus, I craved the ego boost that comes from other people seeing me as intelligent.

So I applied for more actuarial jobs. And I got rejected from all of them.

While it certainly did hurt to get rejected, it forced me to choose another path for myself.

I read everything I could get my hands on about blogging, and I learned (and continue to learn) that it is not easy. Intelligence is necessary for blogging just as it is for being an actuary.

As a side benefit, more people probably think I’m intelligent now because they don’t have to compare me with other math nerds!

I know now that just because I am good at math, I am not obligated to use it. I may one day get back on the actuarial path, but I’m free to do whatever I want!

I was very lucky, because circumstances made me get past my limiting belief. Most of the time, this won’t be the case.

A limiting belief can implant itself in your subconscious and stay there for your entire life if you don’t do anything about it.

Had I not challenged my belief, I certainly would not be traveling, writing, and teaching right now.

Instead, I would probably be wallowing in my own unemployed self-pity. If I got an offer next year, then I would be on that boring 40-year career path that I know I can’t handle.

If you look at your own life, you should have no problem finding at least a few limiting beliefs.

You are probably acutely aware of several of them right now.

But despite this awareness, you don’t challenge them. It’s more comfortable to just accept what you have believed for so long. Perhaps the belief will just melt away at some point, so why bother putting in the hard work that challenging it may entail?

So often, we choose to just accept our limiting beliefs, not because we truly think they are correct, but because it’s easier to do so.

Well let me tell you something. While it may be easier in the short term, challenging my limiting beliefs opened up a world of possibilities for me.

Like I said before, I got lucky. I hadn’t even considered all the ways my life would have been worse if I had continued believing what I had for 10, 20, or 40 years longer than I had.

But that’s exactly what you have to do in order to create leverage against your limiting beliefs, giving you true motivation to change them.

So, ladies and gentlemen, sit back, relax, set aside 10 to 15 minutes, and get ready.

The following exercise is not meant to make you feel good—quite the opposite in fact.

If you don’t feel absolutely horrendous by the time you are finished, you probably didn’t do it right. I was crying by the time I finished this exercise my first time.

Well, if that doesn’t make you excited to get started, I don’t know what will!

Ready? Let’s go.

Step 1

Pick one of your limiting beliefs that you find particularly troubling. One that you know you must get rid of, but just can’t bring yourself to fight it.

Step 2

Keep that belief front and center in your mind. Notice the ways it has affected your life thus far. Notice the opportunities you’ve missed. How does this make you feel? Good? Bad? Do you feel stuck?

Step 3

Now take this belief six months into the future. Imagine what your life is like six months from now while you still hold onto this belief. Six more months of missed opportunities, indecision, excuses, and a lack of integrity. Six months of not doing what you want. Six months of extra baggage. Six months from now, when you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you look happier? Less happy?

Step 4

Next, imagine yourself one full year in the future, holding on to the same belief. Repeat Step 3, but with that image of yourself one year from now. Then repeat Step 3 with images of yourself 5, 10, 20, and 40 years in the future. Finally, imagine yourself on your deathbed, still clinging to your limiting belief.

It’s amazing what this exercise can do.

Rarely do we consider the impact that our limiting beliefs have on us. All we think about is how our beliefs let us take the easy way out.

After all, it’s easier to not exercise than it is to exercise. And if you really can’t lose weight, then it’s convenient that you can save time and energy by not exercising, isn’t it?

But your belief is not a fact.

You probably are able to lose weight; you just aren’t doing what it takes because it’s difficult.

But once you project what this belief is doing to you far into the future, you see how destructive it really is.

If you don’t change, you could live a live full of regret. You don’t have to let that happen.

What limiting belief has been holding you back?

Photo by Eddi van W.

Profile photo of Michael Davidson

About Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson has written for over a year about finding happiness and health. The keys to his heart are dark chocolate and an encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons quotes. Get his free 8 day e-course on how to create a healthy lifestyle that makes you happy and follow him on Twitter.

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  • kixn8

    So powerful. Thank you sir.

  • tinacristina

    Hard exercise….i have been living with guilt and cry constantly. Thats all i saw ahead too. I can barely survive and wish the sadness would end. Thats what i cant figure out. ….how to fix or change.

  • joan@thinkgrowlive.com

    Great article thanks. It is so easy to live with thoughts that we have been living with for our entire life, the thoughts that have kept us where we are. It is just as easy to live a better life by changing those thoughts. The message came for me when I resigned from my job of eighteen years and decided to ‘go it alone’. It was scary as hell. But do you know what, it is a million times better than where I was.

    All because I finally gave myself time to think better thoughts. I have trained my thinking and am living a far better life as a result. Once we ‘tune in’ to what the world has to offer the messages come thicker and faster. I am the world’s biggest cynic believe me, so my subconscious mind took some convincing. If I can do it, you can!

  • So true on many levels, I have, and have had many limiting beliefs. Becoming aware of them is key. I have tried fighting them but for me that never really worked, because I was feeding them in weird sort of way. I found if i just accepted them and realized I am happy right now with these limiting beliefs, they slowly dissapear. Maybe to be repalced with new ones, kind of funny. but thats ok too, But thats just me.
    Thank you Fantastic post.

  • Michael,

    Thanks for the exercise and for the reminder that our self-limiting beliefs no longer have to define who we are when we make the decision to just let them go!

  • mike

    i feel the same way. i cry a lot too and i often wonder if any one else feels the sadness of being alive. like if it’s normal to feel this way. hopeless
    absolutelly hopeless. like if someone doesn’t help me or give me an oppurtunity then i will just sit here until the people who are supporting me no longer wish to do so.

  • friend forever

    Michael,

    Thanks for the amazing exercise! I tried it with the most prominent limiting self belief that’s the root of all limiting self beliefs of mine. And, I just saw how disempowered, depressed and sad I would be.

    The main reason I got comfortable with my limiting belief is that it required some risks, work, and non-conformity and I just wasn’t ready to deal with that. I didn’t really believe that I would do it despite evidence to the contrary. The belief really just sprang up and I know a number of factors are responsible for it that I haven’t unearthed till now. Now, I am committed to the process 🙂 ‘cuz I have realized that the risk of not living an authentic life is just too great compared to all that I would have to do to achieve it.

    I am gonna try this exercise with my other limiting self beliefs too and repeat it with the one I did just now so that I reinforce it in my brain to get over it.

    Thank you 🙂 And stay blessed on your journey!

  • Michael Davidson

    I’m glad you liked the exercise! It can be really painful to go through it, but that pain is good motivation. Of course, it’s just motivation, and taking action is what really matters.

  • Michael Davidson

    You know, I’ve noticed that sometimes too. Fighting against the belief can feed it. But that’s only when the fighting is on a mental level, not a physical one. If I force myself to act in spite of my limiting belief, then it crumbles.

  • Michael Davidson

    I’m glad you are doing so much better now than you were before! It must have been difficult to work up the courage to quit a job of 18 years, but it sounds like you made the right decision.

  • Michael Davidson

    I’m not an expert and wouldn’t feel comfortable giving advice about the mental state you guys are experiencing. I would highly recommend reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle as a starting point, but if you truly feel hopeless, therapy might be the way to go.

  • roy

    And He changes the times and the seasons;
    He removes kings and raises up kings;
    He gives wisdom to the wise
    And knowledge to those who have understanding. Daniel 2:21

  • alittlegirlnamedscar

    hi Michael, i asked my magic 8 ball (google search bar) this question, “i don’t feel committed to being an actuary.” and this came up. I too have the same circumstance as you. I like math, and I love learning challenging things, but there is a small yet quiet tug in me that is telling me that I won’t be committed because there is something else I am called to do..but i believe you can only hear that tug if you really go till the end (study hard at it and then get rejected) and then you humbly step down from your crazy career route to listen to your tug and enjoy your life. anyway thanks for a great blog post!

  • Tessa Williams

    So funny, I just googled “how to free yourself from limiting beliefs and go traveling” because I was feeling stuck needed some inspiration as I’d become aware that it was probably beliefs holding me back more than the physical circumstances I keep blaming. The funny part is that a few years ago I also got rejected from all the actuarial jobs I applied for. There are probably a lot of us rejected maths nerds out there who nearly became actuaries and are rising up again after life knocking us down because we weren’t aligned with our hearts’ desires! We should start a club! I am now following my entrepreneurial spirit and aiming to combine my love of travel with self-employment and trying to release my fears about leading an unconventional life. I had no problem leaving everything behind to have exotic adventures a few years ago but the voices in my head that were trapping me grew louder the longer I spent here. Time to look at those beliefs and challenge them! Thank you.

  • Lima Beans

    So how do you get rid of it then