in Mind Tools

The Unchained Mind is all about providing you tools, frameworks, and insights on how to elevate and solve internal conflicts and shackles. In this article, I’m going to give you a very simple and practical methodology to discover your limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs: how they come to exist

We form our beliefs, our reality and our construction of the world from our youngest age through experiences.

We learn our lessons from our experiences and from others (peers, parents) by sharing and communicating:

  • The oven smells good
  • Touching it hurts
  • Oh, this is what we call a burn?

The thing is, when you’re young, you’re a blank slate on which beliefs stick because you don’t have enough points of references from experience to understanding the nuances in the message and the fact that people just express their vision, not the absolute truth.

This is how, when parents tell their young daughter her voice is annoying everyone when they can’t get her to stop asking questions, the young daughter can become an introvert. She ends up believing her voice annoys absolutely everyone and has trouble speaking out and freely expressing herself.

This is even more troublesome as those beliefs are often deeply buried and condition many other beliefs built on top of it. This often leads in a reinforcement of the belief and conditioning of further experiences as life is seen through that prism.

As they constitute the basis for a lot of decision and life-altering choices, it is important to uncover them.

This is the first step to build up a more complete understanding of the self and greater control over our life.

A simple and practical technique to discover limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs have a strong impact on your quality of life. So much so that the easiest way to uncover them is to scan for areas in your life you are not satisfied with.

This can range from difficulty at work, in relationships or even additions and depression.

We all have a few areas where we’re not satisfied and this is a great indication on where to start digging.

Once you have identified these areas, pick one and start asking “why”. Then to identify the root cause, you need to keep asking why.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for 5 whys however, it can vary widely and you might spend a long time through a chain of why before homing in on the root limiting belief that leads to your current situation.

For instance, imagine a frustrated person stuck in a corporate job while she wanted to be an artist. The frustration is very present, every day when the alarm clock rings and the tasks, like the stress, starts piling up throughout the day.

The initial question might be: “Why am I not happy with my job? Why am I living such a frustrating professional life?”.

A plausible answer would be: “Because I don’t like the tasks that are given to me, it’s not aligned with what I deeply want to do”.

Asking why again :

  • “Why did I take a job that isn’t aligned with what I deeply want”
  • “Because I don’t think I can make money by doing the job I really want, there is no money in art. Most artists fail and statistically, there’s very little chance for you to make a living in art.

In this example, the person might have inherited this belief from her parent’s beliefs and view of the world. The parents might not have thought about the many ways artists can earn a decent income, especially now in the digital age.

They shared their truth, possibly encumbered by the fear their child wouldn’t have financial security in pursuit of a domain they did not know very well or didn’t have successful models in their mind.

By sharing this, they led our fictional person to be convinced that there is no money in art and that pursuing a career in potentially the only domain that would make her happy wasn’t a possibility, forcing her to take on jobs that weren’t aligned with her aspirations.

Practical application: do it yourself

Here is the step by step process:

  • Scan your life for areas you are encountering difficulties. Think about your health — specifically mental health, mindset, etc. — your professional situation and your relationships
  • Start by framing the first question: “Why am I not happy with X”
  • Continue investigating by asking a chain of whys

This will help unearth limiting beliefs that might have been crippling your potential until now. In a future article, I will talk about ways to change those beliefs to make them productive rather than limiting and help reverse their effect.

But for now, get comfortable spotting limiting beliefs and self-analyzing them. As limiting beliefs can creep in or be deeply buried, it’s a very good habit to look for them routinely.

References and resources

If you want to have another point of view when it comes to uncovering limiting beliefs, I suggest the “Debugging Your Mental Loops” chapter on MindHacking which talks about this with a computer analogy.

A good article on the 5 Whys and it’s origins that takes route in Japan’s lean manufacturing methodology on MindTools.

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