limiting beliefs

How to Stop Limiting Beliefs

Most of us have limiting beliefs: ideas and thoughts in our mind that convince us that we’re “not good enough” to accomplish our goals. Why is it so tough to get rid of limiting beliefs?

Do you attack limiting beliefs though things like positive self-talk (“I know I can do it!”) and imaging (imagining ourselves being successful)?  I feel those often don’t work.  The problem is they only address the symptom (convincing yourself not to feel bad) rather than the cause of your limiting belief (why you feel bad in the first place). 

When you’re sick, would you rather just have your fever go away, or do you want the disease to be cured?  The same concept applies with removing limiting beliefs.

Understanding why you have limiting beliefs helps you attack the cause and get rid of them for good.

And the reason we have limiting beliefs is, in large part, because of our subconscious disposition to think in a certain way.  Our cognitive foundation causes us to think about our problems and other complex issues—and form conclusions about them—in a distinct and specific way, which in turn causes us to draw certain types of conclusions.

That concept is called reflective judgment.  It doesn’t apply exclusively to limiting beliefs, but I think it explains them pretty well.

The reflective judgment theory categorizes the way we think into three levels*.   As we grow, we go up in levels, although most people stay stuck in lower levels.

Reflective judgment theory shows that our limiting beliefs are actually a result of how “developed” or sophisticated the way we think about things is.  So it stands to reason, by becoming a more “developed” thinker, we can reduce limiting beliefs.  Understanding where you are now helps you make the transition (click on the links by the Levels for a more detailed description of each).

1st Level: Rigid thinking.  You believe what authority figures tell you. 

Type of limiting belief: other people tell you that you can’t do it, so that’s enough to convince you.

Example: “Society says only special people can be great actors, so I guess that means I can’t do it”.

2nd Level: Ambiguous thinking.  You believe things are “true” or “real” for different people.

Type of limiting belief: uncertainty and fear; you can’t really figure out “how” to be successful because there’s no certain way.  You think that those who are successful are “just different than me”; or thinking you can’t do something simply “because I just could never do that”.

Example: “Famous actors are just different than me.  They’re rich, pretty, and have special advantages that I don’t.  I could never be as good as they are.”  “This is too complicated to figure out.”

3rd Level: Evidence-based thinking.  Knowledge that there is a certain, right way to do something, and by acting in the right way, you too can be successful.

Type of limiting belief: There is no room for limiting beliefs, because defining success is the result of a logical and analytical inquisition rather than unfounded assumptions and emotional capriciousness.

Example: “My ability to be a successful actor depends upon how skillful I am—which can increase with practice—and my network of people—which I can develop over time.  So I can be a successful actor if I am able and willing to put in the time and effort, and I understand the difficulties in doing so.”

3rd Level thinking is empowering because it means trying to figure out how something can work, rather than using unfounded assumptions that say it can’t work.   

Becoming a 3rd Level Thinker

  1. Challenge the assumptions at the foundation of your life, especially those that you hold most dear, and make you most uncomfortable to think might be wrong.

Often our most dearly-held assumptions are chains that hold us back and cause us worry.  They’re the types that 1st and 2nd Level Thinking revel in.

Is it really true that “the best job is a secure job” or that you have to live in a $300,000 house to be happy?  If you think you “can’t” start a business:  did you actually try to look into it, or do you just think it won’t work?  If you’re not worried about old assumptions like these, you can consider changing yourself and your views to fit in with your goals.

  1. Don’t have an emotional attachment to a point of view.

We usually want to be right, or think what our parents and society tells us is right, but what really matters is what actually is right.  If it doesn’t bother you to find out your current views are wrong, you would gladly change them to something better.  Having a disinterested perspective means a willingness to learn and assess new viewpoints.  This increased understanding makes it harder to hold limiting beliefs.

  1. Believe and do what seems most reasonable.

What you ultimately do believe will be based on reason and evidence.  So instead of thinking “it’s impossible for a guy like me to start a business!”, you’ll think “if I want to start a business, I need to do these things in order to be successful”.  When you know what those things are, you’ll know if you’re willing to put the effort into it.  So the only thing that will “limit” you is your decision to pursue the goal or not, rather than your emotions.

So try to think at a 3rd Stage Thinker.  By appealing to reasoning over emotion, you leave no room for emotional limiting beliefs to hold you back.

For a more in-depth look into reflective judgment, I recommend these articles:

* Classical reflective judgment contains seven stages that belong to three levels.  The levels—rather than the stages—are discussed here for simplicity.

R.C. Thornton believes that understanding personal development through intellectual analysis is the best way to challenge bad habits and become better people.  He writes extensively on his blog,

Photo credit: ‘Achieve Your Goals‘ by Big Stock

16 Responses to How to Stop Limiting Beliefs

  1. Ali Davies says:

    This is a great reminder that dealing with source rather than symptom delivers far more effective results.

    I know from personal experience that tackling limiting beliefs has been totally life changing in both my personal life and my business.   But important to remember that awareness is the first step in creating change so we need to be willing to step into the discomfort of creating awareness of where we are, unintentionally, getting in our own way. But the rewards are high for those willing to do this.

  2. rcthornton says:

    You’re absolutely right!  Awareness is key, and dealing with the symptom is paramount!

    Thanks for reading my article!


  3. Rababelashmoney says:


  4. ofwnurse says:

    when we are young, we are full of dreams and aspirations.  It is as if we can achieve everything that we desire.  But as we grow older, failures and disappointments  imposed self- limiting beliefs in ourselves which prevents us form being successful… For this reason, It is paramount to know our life inner values and honor it.

  5. rcthornton says:

    Absolutely correct.  It’s important to see failures for what they are–a bump in the road–and not become discouraged.  I hope my writing can help people better understand how do to do!


  6. rcthornton says:


  7. Freedomforjoy says:

    Don’t you think that most of the people who has this kind of mental challenges are the ones who come from family backgrounds were success, happiness & prosperity are not present? I think people  struggle more because they grew up in families were the low self-esteem, insecurities, loneliness, lack of love, prosperity complexes & mental road blocks of parents, siblings and closest people  to the family had a lot influence in their childhood & teen years… I feel the final struggle ends when you detach yourself from the misleading family pattern…
    Anyone else feels the same?

  8. rcthornton says:

    First, I wouldn’t say that reflective judgment relates to mental challenges, for the reason that advancing through the reflective judgment levels is a healthy and natural process.  Many psychologists believe that most people do not surpass the second level.

    I think what you’re getting at is accurate, though: environment and other externalities–such as family, prosperity, etc.–are a driver of cognitive development.  People who are constantly forced to learn new things and given the opportunity to explore and think will likely ascend to higher levels.  I’m sure the opportunity to do these things correlates strongly with family background.

  9. Freedomforjoy says:

    I like the summary you did: 

    “People who are constantly forced to learn new things and given the opportunity to explore and think will likely ascend to higher levels.”

    And that enforcement usually comes from an environment were the individual & its relatives had experienced the benefits of freedom, higher thinking & prosperity.

  10. Freedomforjoy says:

    Oh. You are the author.
    Thanks for your reply.
    Very Honor.
    & Thanks for sharing this article.

  11. rcthornton says:

    Haha.  I am.  Thanks for reading!  I’m grateful to get as much feedback as possible on my articles.

  12. Jlefkovenj says:

    I’ve been trying to change my thought process for 12 years now.I made a lifestyle change that didn’t work out.Since then, I had felt like I lost my
    Sense of self.I am constantly struggling to get along with my wife because of this problem.At the moment,I’m trying to be less sensitive and more independent,and self sufficient.These articles help me to try and get back on track,but sometimes I feel like I’m a hamster in a wheel or walking up a down escalator.Thank you for listening and I hope one day,one or all of these articles will help me before it is too late.(Losing my family)

  13. This is a really useful and practical way of recognising and tackling limiting beliefs. It takes a great deal of courage to ask yourself those nagging questions you know need answering. It’s a liberating experience and one which takes a little practice, but the benefits are immeasurable. Thank you.

  14. Pingback: Jaka jest prawda o pozytywnym myśleniu? « Sawfa's Blog

  15. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumb up for the
    great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for
    more soon.

  16. Pingback: Do not Limit Yourself | Goal Setting Workshop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *