For over a century the elephant has been the face of the circus delighting young and old.
Elephants are huge and powerful wild animals. In fact, depending on the type of elephant, they can weigh 200 – 250 pounds at birth and reach between 2.5 tons and 7 tons as adults. That’s hefty! How do you turn an elephant into a circus performer? It is a methodical and sometimes cruel process.
As babies, elephants are taught to have respect for their trainers through a system of rewards when they obey, and pain when they don’t.
When an elephant is a year old, it is chained to a heavy stake in the ground that is sufficient to holding them in place. While chained, the elephant is washed and examined. Over time, even though they grow powerful enough to pull the stake up, they don’t even bother trying. They have been conditioned to believe that when chained to the stake they are not free.
Just like the elephant, I can be conditioned by the experiences that life brings my way. Soon, my thinking alone keeps me chained in place. I am unable to enjoy the freedom God intended me to have and unable to walk out what God has called me to do.
As a coach, I hear limiting beliefs often:
- I lack experience – I am just a “_____”
- I am not good enough
- I don’t matter
- I don’t have anything to offer
- I have to do it all
- I have to be in control of everything – I am the leader
- Conflict is bad
- My needs are unimportant
- I don’t have what it takes to do my job
- I am too old, too young, too fat, too out of shape, etc.
- I could never do that
- I lack the confidence, the money, the knowledge
- I am really stupid when it comes to X
- I am a failure
- I am a slow learner, poor reader, bad with people, etc.
- Who will think I am an expert?
- If people really knew me they would not like me
- I’ll never be a success
Perhaps you spotted your own limiting belief above. Maybe yours is a variation of one mentioned or something else altogether. There are many!
If you are going to move forward in life, or as a leader, it will require overcoming your limiting beliefs. Ready to ditch those limiting beliefs?
1. Identify the beliefs
Limiting beliefs can feel comfortable and familiar. Letting them go can feel like saying goodbye to a security blanket. They provide you with the necessary excuse for not moving forward. That comfy feeling can make it tough to get clear and identify the belief. Your willingness to get honest and put the belief into words may not feel safe, but it is the path to freedom.
Struggling to pinpoint those beliefs? What do you complain or worry about? What do you criticize? What things do you repeatedly tell yourself? What tapes do you replay over and over in your head? The answer to these questions may help bring your limiting beliefs to the surface.
2. Challenge the beliefs
Once you are clear on your limiting beliefs, the next step is to challenge those beliefs. Let’s say you were told over and over again that you will never amount to anything. Over time you believed those words. The lingering limiting belief is “I am a failure.” There are several ways you could go about challenging this belief. You could list all the things you have succeeded at: you finished high school, you went to college, you paid your taxes – write down whatever evidence you can come up with, big or small, that would disprove that belief.
Another approach would be to define success. Is success having a million dollars and a car everyone is envious of? Is success obeying God or being authentically you? What is your definition of success?
Seek the insight of trusted friends. What successes have they observed in your life? Ask God to show you the success He sees in you.
Two things to be on the lookout for when identifying your limiting beliefs: big generalizations, such as everything I do turns out badly, or blaming others for your beliefs. No matter how much others have contributed to the conditioning process, you still make the choice to believe it.
3. Own new beliefs
Limiting beliefs are lies. In order to move forward you must embrace the truth. When you are able to change your thinking at the core, you are free! The stake no longer holds you hostage. How you view and perceive life will drastically change. Opportunities will come your way you never dreamed possible.
This isn’t easy. It takes intentional effort. It requires dwelling on the truth – a phrase, a scripture, or a visual image that is a reminder of the truth. You will need God’s help. Seek out the help of a trusted friend to keep you accountable or hire a coach to help you move forward.
4. Be patient
Beliefs are things you have had for a long period of time. They may not disappear overnight. It takes practice and allowing God to work on your heart to transform it. Celebrate even the small steps in the right direction. Notice the ways you are stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing freedom. When you slip back into the old beliefs, be kind to yourself. Acknowledge it; ask God to help you and keep pressing forward. Don’t let it keep you from making progress. As you become more comfortable with change and find yourself becoming more able to adapt, your self-worth and self-confidence will soar. That’s exciting!
Moving forward and success, however you define it, is found on a road you have not yet traveled. The journey on that road will be an adventure. It will require careful planning and the willingness to act on opportunities that unexpectedly pop up. When you are tethered to Truth, you will feel secure when you traverse the unknown and things feel unsafe; ready to take action when necessary.
Be aware: when you feel uneasy, afraid, or uncomfortable, your limiting beliefs might be creeping back. Don’t feel bad if you need to walk through the four steps again. Be willing to do what it takes to break free from your stake!
How are limiting beliefs keeping you from pursing all that God has called you to be and do?