Skip to main content
Emotions, Moods and ReactionsHappiness

How to Overcome Our Old, Limiting Beliefs

By May 1, 2024No Comments


Have you ever felt that in striving toward a goal of some kind, that there’s something holding you back? Something that you can’t see or grasp clearly, but you feel it’s there, slowing you down – like you just can’t get traction?

This is something that most of us have experienced to one degree or another.

Maybe we find we hit a wall with how much income we earn; or we find a pattern in our relationships that limits our sense of closeness; or we feel there’s some obstacle in our work that we can’t seem to overcome.

It can feel like there’s a threshold that we can’t seem to cross, no matter how hard we try. We struggle to improve whatever it is, but it’s as though there’s something working against us, like a gravitational pull that keeps drawing us back within a certain range.

When this happens, what we may be experiencing is the effect of a rotten belief.

As children, we absorb an incredible amount of information and understanding from our environment – parents, teachers, the culture of our neighborhood, our town, the events of the world. This includes certain beliefs. Unlike the beliefs we consciously explore, evaluate, and adopt as adults, we often don’t question these earlier beliefs – we aren’t able to, we’re absorbing them through a child’s mind.

So they remain active unless we can bring them into our adult consciousness and re-evaluate them. As adults, not only are they often out of our conscious awareness, on some level they’re part of our self-concept; they’re part of who we are.

Hopefully many of the beliefs we absorb are good and useful, helping us to flourish and grow into a healthy and happy life. But it’s also likely that we take in some beliefs that limit us, keeping us from excelling in certain ways.

Let’s get more specific. Financially, one common belief is that money is somehow bad, or having money – or too much money – is what bad people do. Sometimes it’s as strong as the idea that money is the root of all evil.

Imagine having such a belief as part of our internal sense of who we are. Then when we, in the course of earning a living, start to go beyond a certain income, the part of us holding that old belief might feel something like: “Well, I don’t want to be evil; I don’t even want to be moderately bad… in fact, I want to be a good person.”

So that part of us – often a very young part of us, outside of our conscious awareness – works to make sure we don’t make too much money.

Yet, we need to make money to live – and usually more money than we used to think. So, while we’re consciously working like crazy to try to make more money, another part of us is holding us back. Not because some dark, mysterious force is “sabotaging” us, but because there’s a part of us that’s genuinely, benevolently, trying to help us, wanting us to avoid doing what it learned was evil or bad – a long, long time ago.

We can have a negative belief about love relationships that undermines our success as well. A belief that all men or all women are a certain way; that apologizing means we lose; that, like the title of the old Pat Benetar song, “Love is a Battlefield,” making our love our adversary; or that after a certain amount of time romance always fades. These can limit the joy and longevity with the one we love.

We can have a negative belief about our own abilities at work or elsewhere. Leveling beliefs are common in some cultures, but we can also pick them up seeing or experiencing hurtful jealousy toward those who excel: “Don’t outshine others.” And then when we try to excel at work, it seems like something makes our steps heavier, and our goals more elusive.

What’s needed here isn’t to somehow get rid of a “bad” part of ourselves. What’s needed is curiosity.

The key here is to see the pattern of the struggle, and then wonder about the kind of belief that could be fueling it. This is something to be done in a spirit of exploration and compassion, suspending any judgment or self-criticism about what’s wrong with us – or impatience about getting on with things – and simply observing what we do.

Once we’re able to bring the belief into consciousness, the next step is to consider if it’s a belief we agree with and want to hold onto – or not. The question to ask is: is this belief congruent with my deepest, consciously held values?

If not, then remember that we’re dealing with a young part of ourselves doing what they think is good. So, with kindness and gratitude, thank that part of you that’s been holding to that belief all these years for trying to help; but let it know that we’re looking at this issue another way now.

This is where we re-negotiate that old belief.

For example, with the money belief, let that part know that working to earn and grow money is not evil, or even bad – unless we’re making it in some horrible way. Money itself isn’t good or bad, but people can obtain money in ways that are good or bad. So, let’s do this: Let’s earn more money, but do it in a way that works with our consciously held values; so we’re earning plenty of money, but doing it in a good way.

The spirit of benevolence and compassion toward ourselves is essential here. We don’t want to get into an internal fight between different parts of ourselves; that only creates a dynamic of shame, and it weakens us. When we have internal conflicts or contradictions, it’s generally a matter of needing to bring consciousness to these, and updating the beliefs that we rely on to function in our lives.

Sometimes an old belief like this becomes immediately obvious, and it’s pretty easy to metabolize it into a more functional one. Sometimes it can be more challenging or hidden, and then it can make a big difference to have some help with it (which is part of what my coaching and therapy practice is about).

But either way, understanding how powerful our beliefs are, for better or worse, can help to make sense of both our struggles and our triumphs.

PS: I’m currently expanding my life coaching practice. Go to my website to sign up for a free 30-minute initial conversation.