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What is a limiting belief?

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Perhaps they started as a way to protect yourself, but now are holding you back; limiting beliefs can have a big impact on our life choices. Our expert columnist Andy Gill explores both the benefits and problems with limiting beliefs, as well as how we can rewrite the narrative…

The dictionary defines a belief as “something that is accepted to be true”. When we consider what a ‘limiting belief’ is, it probably comes as little surprise then that it is something you believe to be true that is restricting you in some kind of way.

Often, we can assume that limiting beliefs are bad things, but they generally serve our best interests, and those of the society we function in. For instance, believing that I should not steal another person’s property is useful to society and myself; it prevents me from committing an unlawful and socially unacceptable act.

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Limiting beliefs are created with good intention, to keep us safe and protect us. Our parents are naturally concerned for our welfare, and can pass on their anxiety and fear in the form of a limiting belief. Equally, a bad experience where we were embarrassed, shamed, or threatened might lead us to create a limiting belief that keeps us from having to go through experience again.

However, the time when this moves from being useful or protective, to a problem, is when our limiting beliefs get in the way of us living the lives we want to live, or inhibiting our personal growth and pursuing our life goals.

For example: Henry is really excited by a new job opportunity at work. He really wants to go for a new role, but this role would require him to speak in public. Henry believes that if he has to speak publicly he will fail, which will result in the embarrassment and shame of failure (and the loss of his new job). It stops him from applying for the role, thus sparing him the pain and suffering that he believes will inevitably come if he takes the job.

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A bad experience at school led Henry to this belief. He had to recite a poem in front of class, stumbled, lost his words, and, in his eyes, failed. His teacher gave him a bad grade, and his classmates made fun of him. He created a limiting belief to protect him from experiencing the same pain in the future.


Working with our limiting stories

Does this story serve me?

For Henry, his fear of public speaking stems from a narrative that may no longer be helpful or relevant to his life now. Clients approach me to work on their limiting beliefs when they have reached a point in their lives where they are no longer willing to suffer the consequences of holding on to them.

Is this story still true for me?

Henry was much younger when he wrote his story about public speaking. He now has a wealth of knowledge and life experience that he didn’t have as a child, so surely the story would have a different ending now? I encourage clients to carry out experiments to test their stories; the outcomes rarely match the disasters that we fear. For Henry, I would work with him to create public speaking experiments that he could start in a low-risk environment with friends, to test the reality of his story.

Write a new story

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You will need a new narrative to replace the old one. If Henry chooses to believe that public speaking is something he can do, then he will become motivated to learn the skills to master it. He can grow into a new, more empowering story, and he can apply for that new job!


Working with (and overcoming) limiting beliefs requires us to confront and challenge something that has become ‘true’ for us. When we accept a limiting belief as ‘true’ it is very hard to dispute, challenge, or change it.

As a coach, I work with my clients to loosen the hold of these ‘truths’. I get them to think of limiting beliefs as personal stories, because a story is a narrative that may not be true. What if it is made up, what if it isn’t true? If my clients can hold the possibility that their limiting beliefs are instead ‘limiting stories’, then it becomes easier to question and challenge them, and rewrite the stories to help them grow and thrive!

Can you hold the possibility that you can learn to (re)write your own life story? How powerful might that be in transforming your life?


Andy Gill is a multi-modal therapist who uses coaching, hypnotherapy, and yoga to meet his clients’ needs. Find out more by visiting lifecoach-directory.org.uk

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