By Sophia Godkin PhD
You know when you’re reaching for your dreams and you suddenly get that feeling of “What if I’m not good enough?” or “What if I fail?” or “I don’t deserve this”?
That feeling, like most of your automatic, habitual patterns of thinking, is rooted in your subconscious mind. And the seeds for the belief that ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘important enough’, ‘worthy enough’, or whatever version of this rings true for you, were planted many many years ago when you were an innocent child first learning to navigate your world. Though largely untrue, you often believe them anyway because many are rooted so deeply within you.
Now, you might be aware that you’ve got some of these negative thinking patterns and limiting beliefs but do you know how to change them?
Here are 5 steps to undo the negative thoughts you think about yourself and to turn your beliefs – and therefore your experience of life – from limiting to empowering.
1. Identify what is limiting you from your greatest potential. If you listen to anyone you know explain the unfolding of their life, you will easily recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are holding them back. Do the same for yourself. Sit down in a quiet place, get comfortable, and then get real. Think back on your life so far and ask yourself what area you’ve struggled in the most, whether financial abundance, physical health, emotional well-being, career, relationships, etc. Then say to yourself, “I’ve struggled in [this area of my life] because I _______________.” Simply fill in the blank and see what arises. Whatever pops into your mind will reveal to you the limiting thought patterns that have led you to feel not-so-good and have kept you from taking the actions that will lead you to utmost fulfillment in this and many other areas of your life.
2. Begin to unravel the lies that you believe about yourself. Now that you’ve identified a prominent limiting belief, resolve to change it. How? Well, you’ve got to let your mind know that not everything it thinks is based in validity. If this idea of thoughts being other than facts catches you by surprise and you find yourself thinking “Wow I never stopped to think about it that way…”, then you are in the perfect place right now. Most people go through their entire lives without questioning a single thought they think, being at the mercy of wherever their mind feels like wandering to next. Yet, if you stop and think about it (pun intended), your mind thinks some pretty interesting thoughts sometimes. And if you really stop and ponder the nature of your mind, you’ll be left with no choice but to own up to the fact that sometimes it just down right makes things up!
So pause right now and ask yourself, “Is it true that I [insert your limiting belief here] (eg am not good enough, am not smart enough, am unlovable, am a failure, never get what I want, always mess up, etc)?” If your mind answers “yes”, then ask it again “Is it really true that I am [insert your limiting belief here]?” “Can I think of at least one instance in which this wasn’t really true?” Once you remember at least one instance in your life that did not support this belief, you will begin to challenge the illusion of what your mind has been telling you. What it’s been telling you – and what you have been blindly believing – is not the absolute truth. It was simply a passing thought, an imagined idea, a made-up story. Aaaah, you can now take a sigh of relief.
3. Find the root. Every limiting belief begins as a misinterpretation. Someone (usually a parent, teacher, relative or other parental figure in your early years of life) does or says something (eg ignores you while chatting on the phone) and you take it mean something negative (eg that you’re unlovable). You then use this thought pattern to interpret future events in your life (eg the shy guy or girl who looks away and laughs every time you look at him or her in grade school provides further evidence to you that you are unlovable) and before you know it, you’ve got a deeply ingrained belief that governs your entire life experience. Worry no more. You can leave the past in the past and not let it become your future.
But to do so, you’ve got to be willing to see what you haven’t seen before and more importantly, to feel what you maybe haven’t felt before. So have a seat, either alone or in the company of a loving friend or coach (note: the non-judgmental presence and guidance of another person can be a wonderful asset as you go back to reinvent your past), close your eyes, and feel what it is like to be [insert your limiting belief here]. Let yourself feel the full feeling of this limiting thought and then ask yourself “When was the first time I felt this way?” Again, see what arises (perhaps as a stream of words, a visual, or simply a knowing). Don’t filter what comes up, no matter how small, silly, or irrelevant it seems. Your soul remembers everything.
4. Reinterpret and re-envision the past. With the situation you remembered (eg that time your mom paid more attention to your sibling than to you, the time you did something exceptionally well but your father’s facial expression didn’t acknowledge it, etc) at the forefront of your mind and heart, bring to mind what you actually saw happen. Ask yourself “What did I see happen?” (eg I saw mom talking to my brother or sister, I saw dad look away). Then ask yourself, “Did I see that I am not good enough, that I am a failure, that I always mess up, or that [insert your limiting belief here]?” Let your mind come to its own conclusion that “No, I never actually saw that I’m not good enough. I never actually saw that I am a failure. The only place that this belief that [insert limiting belief] existed was in my mind.”
Now that you’ve logically reinterpreted the past and know that [insert limiting belief] was something your mind made up, not something you saw, you can choose to re-envision it. To visualize a different past, close your eyes and see yourself as the little boy or girl you were in the situation you recalled. See yourself re-experiencing the same event, observing what actually happened, rather than making it mean something about you. See yourself responding to what actually took place (eg recognizing that mom is occupied or that dad is distracted and returning to talk to them in a few moments when they have all their attention to devote to you). Notice and feel the pleasure and satisfaction of knowing that the situation meant nothing bad, and everything good, about you.
5. Step into a new way of being. One of the ways your subconscious mind learns after your childhood years is through repetition and practice. Starting today, commit to rehearse your new, empowering belief so that it will replace your outdated, limiting one. Reverse your limiting “I” statement (eg if it was “I am no good at x”, then now it becomes “I am great at x”), get in front of the mirror, and recite it at the beginning and end of every day. In the beginning, if it doesn’t feel authentic or true, just keep going. You will soon get to that juicy place where it feels so right, so true, so you. Real change also requires action. So step into your new belief and let it become your new way of being. Try it on just as you’re about to interact with someone, take it with you when you’re on the verge of trying something new, and wear it proudly as you prepare to face a fear or challenge. Let your actions stem from this new belief of empowerment, rather than limitation, and see what beauty can emerge in your life. Any time you feel a related or similar limiting belief running circles around your mind, simply return to Step #2. Because the more you question your beliefs, the more they will weaken. And the more your limiting beliefs weaken, the more you step into the light of who you really are.
To reach your greatest potential for joy, you’ve got to believe that you can. That’s why making a conscious effort to challenge and replace the limiting beliefs we unknowingly adopted as children is the most important undertaking of our lives.
What has your experience been with using the belief-busting techniques in this article? Are there any others that you’ve found useful to you on your life path? Let us know in the comments below!