What are limiting beliefs? (Episode 60)

What is a limiting belief, anyway, and why does it matter to every human being? It’s especially important to understand if you want to make a change in your life, but then you feel terrible every time you think about changing anything. In this episode, host Kay Coughlin explains what a limiting belief is, how to see them showing up in your life, and how to process them so you can decide what you want instead.

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Transcript: What are limiting beliefs? (episode 60)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers who want to get some rest and set some boundaries. I’m not only the CEO of my own business, but I’m also a wife, a mother to two teenage young men. And I’m the primary caregiver for my own mother. I figured out how to navigate all of these responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can prioritize me. That’s what I help my clients do too. And if we can do it, I know you can do it too. That’s what this podcast is all about.

Well, hello. I am recording this episode in my basement office, which is the same as always. This is, this is where I always work, where I always record, but today there could be some weird noises going on in the background and I could get pulled away. So I have one son quarantining at home because of COVID exposure and the other son is getting ready for a new semester at college next week.

I don’t usually record when anybody else is in the house, but I just decided to go for it anyway. I think this work is too important to let a little noise get in the way. And anyway, my brilliant podcast producer, Chris, can probably fix most of this later. So here we go.

In the last episode, I gave you 10 new thoughts that you can believe if you are a family caregiver, or a sandwich family caregiver, especially ones who have a job like me. And if what you’re always hearing are stories about what you can’t do. These stories crowd your mind.

So I gave you 10 new thoughts to take the place of those old limiting stories over time. And that’s episode 59, if you want to go back and listen to it.

What happens though, when I give someone new ideas, new thoughts to think, is that our brains can go to what we call limiting beliefs. So I want to talk here today about what exactly a limiting belief is. It’s a phrase that comes up a lot in the kind of places I hang out, like coach training. And when I talk to other coaches and in self-awareness circles and also in mental and emotional health spaces, especially ones where mental health practitioners like me tend to be. So I realize this might not come up in the everyday world for most people.

So what is a limiting belief? There’s two parts to this. The first one is this word belief. And what I want you to know is that a belief is just a very specific kind of thought. It is a thought that you think. Now when they become beliefs, that happens because we tend to think they are extremely important. And so we just give it this label, which is to label them a belief.

And then the second part of this, of course it’s a limiting belief. These limiting beliefs that we have are things that we really hold in our minds, that tend to make it so that we live smaller lives so that we don’t take risks. And we don’t take chances. I’ll get to that in a minute, why that is.

But a limiting belief then is a belief that we have that limits us to a very narrow set of circumstances that we probably already think is possible, or that we probably already believe the people around us approve. Or that somebody has already shown us that we can do in our life.

There are general limiting beliefs and these are beliefs like, uh, what’s okay for people of different genders to do and what they shouldn’t do. So that’s a general limiting belief.

And then there are ones that are specific to you personally. And I want to give you one from my own life. Here’s what it is. If I ask for help, people will judge me because I should be able to do this on my own. Now, when I read that out loud here, when I say that out loud, I can recognize that there are actually at least three limiting beliefs in there.

The first one is, I can’t ask for help. The second limiting belief in there is, people will judge me. So I have this belief that people are going to judge me. And apparently I believe that it’s going to be painful. And then the third one is that I’m somehow not enough on my own, because I should be able to do this, whatever this is by myself, on my own with no help.

So you can see there’s three limiting beliefs in there that are really keeping me right in place or they would keep me stuck, right where I am, if I didn’t understand what a limiting belief is and how to process it. And before we’re done here today, I am going to tell you how to process that, or at least one way to process a limiting belief so that it doesn’t have to limit you anymore.

Now here’s a limiting belief and this is an example that I have seen in a lot of chat rooms for family caregivers. I hang out in a lot of these rooms. They’re primarily, uh, you know, on the major social media networks, because they really give me a window into what family caregivers are actually thinking right now.

This particular limiting belief basically is saying, I can’t rest. Now as family caregivers, we say this a lot of different ways, but the basic limiting belief is, I can’t rest. What’s interesting about this is a lot of us will think it’s a fact, but it’s not a fact. I mean, unless you have some rare sleep disorder. It’s a thought, it’s a specific kind of thought. That’s a belief and it’s a limiting belief and therefore it’s limiting your life to whatever circumstances or situations you can make fit into this very narrow picture of, this is my life and I can’t rest.

Why do we have these limiting thoughts if they keep us so small, and if they keep us from making progress and if they keep us from making changes? All right, I’m going to talk about our brains here for just a second.

All human brains are the same in the way that they evolved. There’s this certain part of our brain that actually doesn’t like us to change because it thinks that change means that we’re in danger. We’ve come to know this part of our brain as the primitive brain or the lizard brain. And this is the part of the brain that, as far as we can tell, it evolved first to keep us safe and to keep us alive.

Now, this was really, really useful back when we lived in the jungles or maybe out on the tundra. And back then we also relied on living in communities, small close-knit communities. And every person had to conform to community standards or the community norms. And if they didn’t, there was a real risk that they were going to get tossed out and they probably wouldn’t survive.

Okay. So this primitive brain evolved with only three goals in mind, because if it could force us to pay attention primarily to these three goals, there was a much higher likelihood that we were going to survive another day. I mean, who knows how long we would survive after that, but at least another day.

We call these three goals, the “brain triad.” Here’s what they are. Seek pleasure, that’s number one. Avoid pain is number two. And minimize calories expended is number three.

Here’s why this matters for us now: because our primitive brain is still the one that reacts in situations a lot faster than our evolved brain. That’s a whole other discussion.  But because it reacts so quickly, when you try to change a habit or a pattern, or really anything at all, by reacting a different way than you have in the past, it [the lizard brain] actually thinks that you are in danger. Because you’re going to have to burn more calories, to think a new thought and change a habit, but you also risk making people mad and that would be painful. And it wants you to avoid pain and seek pleasure.

So it really does want you to keep the people around you happy because there’s also a greater likelihood that you’re not going to get kicked out of the community and that you’re going to survive another day.

So then can you see how this is a circular process? So these limiting beliefs are actually very useful to your primitive brain. They communicate to us what our cultural norms are, what the standards are that we are supposed to adhere to. And your primitive brain interprets that, probably rightly so, as something that’s going to keep you safe and alive.

Now, your primitive brain does not care if you’re happy or fulfilled or reaching your goals. Or if you have dreams? That if you could get there that you would be, uh, a happier person, it doesn’t care at all about that. It only cares about keeping you safe. So these limiting beliefs are very important to the primitive brain.

The question then becomes, now that we understand a little bit more about why limiting beliefs stick around and why they’re so important to us, even if they don’t make us happy, now we look at this and we think, okay, so I’ve noticed a limiting belief, a limiting thought. And in this case, the one that we’re working on that I’ve picked is, “I can’t rest.” I can’t rest. That’s just so important, and so relevant to family caregivers. How do we take that and start to turn it into an unlimiting thought?

What do we have to do to get that thought out of the way so that we actually have a chance to expand our horizons and see our possibilities and gosh, learn to prioritize ourselves?

Well, I have this three step process that I use with all of my clients. Now I’ve talked about it a lot in this podcast before, and I also give a very detailed explanation of it in my book. And my book is called “Overcoming Your Emotional Grind.” And there’s actually a link to that over in my Boundaries Community. And there’s a link to it on my website.

Step one in this three step process is seeing what’s actually going on in your mind, or noticing it, without judging it. I know that’s hard to do, but that’s true.

Step two then is processing whatever you see there.

And step three is deciding what you want instead.

Now I recommend doing step one, and that’s noticing your thoughts, using a process that I call a Thought Download, and you can get that over in the Library section of my Boundaries Community. That’s free. If you want to find out more about it, you can go over there and find out more. So I’m just not going to talk a whole lot about it right now.

But I do want to talk a little bit about step two, which is processing what you noticed. There are a lot of ways to process what you see in your head. You might also call this sitting with what you see in your head. You know, you could work with a therapist, you could work with a life coach like me. You could go to a support group, you could pick up a self-help book. There’s a lot of ways to do that.

But one thing that you can do and that’s actually pretty easy and it’s kind of like a beginner version of doing step two by yourself. And what I mean by beginner is when you’re not used to this work of looking into your own mind and sorting out the thoughts and the feelings and deciding what you want to do about what you see in there. So one way to do this is when you see a limiting thought or a belief that you have, you can tell that it’s limiting you, it’s keeping you smaller. You can turn it into a question.
Now using this example of, I can’t rest, I would turn that into this particular question. I would say, “What are all the things keeping me from getting rest?” So can you see what I did there? And can you see the difference? I started with I can’t rest, which is a very specific limiting belief and I turned it into this question, gosh, I wonder what’s keeping me from getting rest.

By turning it into a question it’s less painful. I can look at it from a place of more curiosity and most importantly, it has a little less power over me now. So I take it from being a statement to being a question. I opened my mind just a little bit to looking at it as a piece of information or a piece of data, instead of a fact. And I allow myself to explore what could happen if I dig into what could be a very painful thought. So I turn it into a curious question.

Going back then to episode 59, where I gave you those 10 new thoughts. You might want to go back and listen to that episode again, or you can actually get a list of those 10 thoughts over in the Boundaries Community. That’s where you can find everything, you can go over there and get that in the Library area.

Here’s what’s fascinating when you listen to that again, or when you look at that list, if you find yourself being terribly uncomfortable with any of those thoughts? You might find that there’s a limiting belief that’s at the root of whatever discomfort you were feeling.

Let me reassure you that if this happens to you, you are normal. Welcome to being a human, you are just as human as me. And I am just as human as you. And every person on this earth was born into some sort of culture where we have these limiting beliefs. What’s great about understanding limiting beliefs is that when you know to look for it, you can do something about it.

So I really hope that by sharing this kind of explainer episode with you today, the next time you see limiting belief in writing, or maybe you hear someone talk about it, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of why knowing what this phrase really means and how to change a limiting belief into an unlimited thought, why it’s so critical to people like you and me who want to change our lives.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my free community to talk about boundaries. It’s a safe space for us to do the work of making decisions about what’s okay and not okay, and communicating those decisions to the people around us. It’s not easy, but we can support each other while we do it.

You’ll find the link to it in the show notes. Or you could just go there now. You’ll find it at Facilitator On Fire dot net slash boundaries. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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