Overcoming Limiting Beliefs

I was watching David DeAngelo's Advanced Dating Skills program the other day, and the topic of limiting beliefs was huge. A limiting belief is any belief that inhibits us from having what we want.

The reason that we don't have the success we would like all comes down to the way we behave, and this behavior is ultimately driven by our conscious and unconscious beliefs. Emotions play a big role too, and these are linked to our unconscious beliefs.

Limiting beliefs get learned through our experiences of life, and become built deep into our subconscious. They shape our default response to the world. Once any belief is acquired, our subconscious makes an automatic connection between what we observe in the world and the beliefs that we have, which makes these beliefs self-reinforcing.

We selectively gather evidence that supports our existing beliefs, strengthening them in the process; even if they aren't in our best interests. In some cases a limiting belief was in our best interests in the past, but is no longer working for us; in others, someone else has taught us a limiting belief in the past because it suited their agenda, and we took it on because we didn't know any better. Once internalized, we started collecting evidence to prove it true for ourselves.

Before we can address our limiting behavior, we need to change or at least reduce the emotional impact of our limiting beliefs. Otherwise we keep doing what we've always done, and keep getting the same results we've always got.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has a collection of tools and techniques for changing the way we think by shifting our underlying beliefs and thought habits to be more constructive and less constraining. Changing limiting beliefs so that they no longer have such a strong hold over us is referred to as reframing. But before we change or challenge our limiting beliefs via reframing, we need to identify what those beliefs are.

For example, here are some lists of my own present and past limiting beliefs, which have stopped me experiencing the success with women and dating that I would like:

Limiting beliefs about Myself

  • I can't be happy unless other people understand and accept me.
  • I need other people's approval to feel OK about myself.
  • I just don't get over emotional hurts.
  • It's wrong for me to want an attractive partner; I should just take what I can get.
  • If I got a woman pregnant by accident, I wouldn't cope.
  • Other guys are more attractive and interesting to women than me.
  • Beautiful women aren't interested in me.

Limiting beliefs about Other People and Our Interactions

  • If I'm honest with people, I will offend them.
  • If I offend someone, they won't like me.
  • It's always terribly bad to hurt another person's feelings.

Limiting beliefs about Women

  • All women are as judgmental and critical as my mother.
  • You can have either brains or beauty, but not both.
  • Women are offended easily.
  • Teasing hurts adult women's feelings.

Limiting beliefs about Dating, Flirting and Seduction

  • Flirting is bad. It's leading someone on unfairly.
  • Seduction is evil and wrong.
  • Sex outside marriage is wrong, even when it's consensual.
  • Women don't want to be seduced.

Limiting beliefs about Approaching Women

  • If I approach a woman without her initiating it, I'm bothering her.
  • Women don't want me to bother them.
  • If I annoy a woman by approaching her, she won't like me and I'll feel terrible.
  • When a woman rejects my approach, it means there's something wrong with me.
  • If one woman rejects me, all will reject me.

Imagine walking around with that lot in your subconscious! Little wonder it took me a long time to start being successful with women. Many of these beliefs turn out to be the exact opposite of reality. But we learn them early on, and then just keep acting as though they're true. Because we never act otherwise, we never get to experience their invalidation.

Here's a great example:

  • People won't like me unless I try hard to act polite and nice all the time

In fact, if I act polite and nice all the time, most people will become bored with me very quickly, and many will end up resentful that I'm not straight with them and don't speak my mind when required. Women are actually more likely to end up liking me if I'm straight with them than if I'm polite and nice all the time; even though there's a risk that I may offend them sometimes.

The way to deal with limiting beliefs is to reframe them by looking at them from a different perspective, and then to act based on the new belief. After a while, we start getting validation to reinforce the new, more constructive belief instead of the old limiting one... and our default behavior changes as we start getting more positive results.

I remember when I first started learning to flirt with women by playful teasing, I was amazed at the way they responded. I had no idea that women love being teased, because I had limiting beliefs from my childhood that teasing always hurt people's feelings, and that flirting was bad and wrong. So I never had experiences with women that would show me any differently. Once I started flirting with women, I had new experiences which reinforced my new belief that flirting is fun, and that women are playful and fun to get to know; instead of terrifying.

Breaking Chains Of Belief

Sometimes there is a chain of beliefs that run together, any of which could be reframed to break the negative cycle:

  • If I approach an attractive woman, I'll get really nervous.
  • When I get really nervous I won't know what to say
  • If I don't know what to say I'll feel awkward and bad
  • Feeling bad is intolerable

Or

  • If I don't know what to say, she'll think I'm stupid
  • If someone else thinks I'm stupid, then I must be stupid
  • The worst thing in the world a man can be is stupid

Or

  • I need to be right all the time, or people will think I'm stupid
  • If people think I'm stupid, they won't love me
  • If people don't love me, I'll either die, or live miserably

We only need to reframe or break one of these connections for the chain to lose it's grip on us. We are all driven by a deep desire to be loved. Deep down we don't really care if people think we're stupid or not; we just care about whether they love us. So if I reframed “If people think I'm stupid, they won't love me”, then it no longer matters whether someone else thinks I'm stupid, or indeed whether I am in fact stupid. People will love me anyway. It becomes irrelevant because the thought of being stupid no longer makes me feel unlovable and bad.

Or another example:

  • If I get something wrong, I'll feel really embarrassed
  • If I feel really embarrassed about something, I will get a terribly bad feeling
  • Terribly bad feelings last indefinitely

Here, you could challenge the belief that getting something wrong is embarrassing, or that being embarrassed gives you terribly bad feelings, or that bad feelings last indefinitely. What if getting something wrong wasn't embarrassing? Or what if being embarrassed just felt mildly unpleasant? Or what if terrible feelings passed so quickly that they were of no concern? Any of these alternatives diminishes the power of the chain of limiting beliefs.

Reframing Techniques

Here are some more suggestions on how to reframe other limiting beliefs:

  • Look for counter-examples and evidence that contradicts the belief
  • Consider other possible explanations
  • Make it about them, not you
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes; get their perspective
  • Break it down into a chain of beliefs, and find the flawed link(s)

It takes some effort to reframe limiting beliefs so that we can begin acting differently, getting different results, and coming to more positive conclusions about ourselves and the world around us. But it's worth it. Then we begin to gather real-world evidence to continue undermining the limiting belief. Once past a certain tipping point, the new belief becomes self-reinforcing instead of the old, and the success we've always hoped for starts flowing our way.

About Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.
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