Beliefs that hold you back

Aug 29 2006 by Patricia Soldati Print This Article

Have you noticed that people who believe that they can do something tend to succeed, and those who believe they can't, tend to fail?

Throughout history, wise people the world over have recognized that our beliefs are so powerful they create our reality. The Upanishads, Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ford and Napolean Hill are just a few of the well-known proponents of "what you think is what you get".

And when you are trying to buck the tide and change your career, this is critically important stuff.

Whether you realize it consciously or not, you hold many beliefs about your working life. Some of them have served you well – they've allowed you to learn new skills, assume greater responsibility or take on new career challenges; other beliefs have held you back.

To illustrate this, meet two former clients, Doreen and Jack (not their real names). Doreen, a senior level HR director, told me she had no doubt she would eventually be successful changing careers. "It might take a little while, but I'll do it," she said. When I asked how she knew that, she responded "because I'm a change agent in my bones. I make things happen."

This belief gave Doreen a sense of certainty that she would succeed – and within 14 months, she did just that.

Jack, on the other hand, had struggled for almost two years with re-inventing his career. He had a strong sense of community, had terrific relationship skills and solid business know-how. His dream of owning a small café seemed quite doable, but it wasn't happening. One day, Jack joked "I'm one of the unlucky ones – just meant for hard work".

A joke? Hardly. It revealed that, for Jack, work was supposed to be hard, almost punitive – not something that was fun, or which fulfilled one's dreams.

But once this belief was out in the open, Jack was able to re-frame it and realize that "hard work" and "fulfilling work" were not mutually exclusive realities. This understanding freed him from the nasty bit of self-sabotage, and thereafter, he was able to make quick progress toward his goal.

So what Is A belief? Think of it as a thought reinforced by emotion. An event occurred. We drew a conclusion about it and we absorbed this emotionally.

Each of us has our own rich personal histories of events – from parents, educators, our culture, gender, etc. – and, as a result, we've developed our own unique perspectives on ourselves and the world. It doesn't take long before we're on auto pilot, with these now-subconscious beliefs guiding our actions and outcomes in life.

When it comes to our careers, here are the most common limiting beliefs.

  1. I am not skilled enough.
  2. Hard work is noble.
  3. Fulfilling work is for others, not me.
  4. Fulfillment comes from my personal life, not my work life.
  5. I'm too old to make a major life change.
  6. My family and friends will think I'm crazy.
  7. I'm a fraud – my success is a result of the corporate structure, or my tenure.
  8. The unknown isn't safe.
  9. I'm not sure that I can trust my decisions or choices.
  10. I'm afraid of failing in a new role.

Beliefs stay with us for three primary reasons:

First, we label them. ("I'm no good at math. My Mom (or Dad) wasn't either.") Labeling beliefs and focusing on where they come from helps us rationalize and make them okay.

Then we engage in selective data gathering. We seek out evidence to support our beliefs and ignore evidence that would support the opposite belief.

Finally, we disguise them – sugar-coat them – to make them more palatable. They become an ego advantage. For example, "I'm not as smart as…" can become "I work harder" – an empowering belief which could aid your career. (Just think of what could happen when you let go of the limiting belief – it makes positive even stronger: you are smart AND you work hard!).

But beliefs can be changed. While a belief feels very real to the believer, they are not absolute – they are a learned frame of reference. When you have a genuine willingness to replace a belief with something new and empowering, it is entirely possible to do so.

Some beliefs can change simply as a result of identifying it and then taking in new information about it - as Jack did in our earlier example. Other beliefs are more deeply networked into our psyches and have more "staying power".

So here are 5 steps that can help you re-frame your limiting beliefs.

1. Clearly identify your limiting belief and confirm that you have a genuine desire to change it.

2. Create a new, empowering belief that supports the results you want. And make sure it adheres to these five "power checks":

  • Is stated in the present tense (I am, I know, I express, I respect…)
  • Is spoken as certainty (No cans, maybes, possibilities, iffi-ness, comparisons)
  • Is loving and respectful (Does it honor your inner greatness?)
  • Includes the notion of abundance (No limits, caps)
  • Strikes an emotional chord with you

For example, let's take "I'm not skilled enough". Here are two possible empowering statements:

"I have an exceptional skill set -- and this is just one expression of my inner greatness."


"My resourcefulness is a gift I use to build strong community around me."

3. Repeat your affirmation daily for at least 40 days. Vividly imagine this new belief in action in your life; engage your emotions around it. Recall an experience from your past that is evidence of your new belief.

4. Acknowledge old emotions and behaviors when they come up. Without reprimand, simply choose to shift your energy and focus on the new belief.

5. Add a daily action step to re-enforce your new belief. During this brief action step, completely be the person who holds your new belief.

Be gentle with yourself as you adopt this new belief. Eventually, it will become automatic - and your new reality.

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About The Author

Patricia Soldati
Patricia Soldati

Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1998. As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives – both within the organization – and by leaving it behind.