Limiting beliefs: weeding out those negative thoughts

By Marianne Renner, Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

Over the years, I have spent countless, yet rewarding hours in my yard planting and maintaining more than 2,000 square feet of perennials. I love my yard with its gorgeous sprays of color and scents that last from April into November.

But I didn’t start with a blank canvas. Before I could plant, I had to clear the space of dense weeds and other unwanted and deep-rooted intruders. And even today with my beautiful roses, hibiscus and daylilies, I still have to get into those gardens every couple of weeks during the growing season and pull thistles, clover, dandelions and other creeping invaders.

I often tell my clients that the mind is like a garden. If you let it go, it doesn’t just sit still. Unwanted visitors will grow – namely negative thoughts.

Recently, I’ve had some conversations with clients and others about the power that thoughts and beliefs have in our lives.When we’re not intentional about our thinking, negative thoughts sprout up. Some of the messages I hear again and again from people I talk with include, “I can’t because….

I’m too old, I’m too young, I don’t have time, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I don’t have the right education or degree, I don’t have the right resume, the economy is holding me back, my boss is holding me back, I don’t have the right title…”

You get the picture.

The problem is that these thoughts, repeated over and over become beliefs, and those beliefs grow like deep-rooted weeds resulting in negative outcomes in our lives.

As Henry Ford said, “if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

If you have a goal, a desire or a dream, you first have to believe that you can achieve it. Before 1954, people believed that it was impossible to run a mile in under four minutes. But that year, Roger Banister did just that. He ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec.

His record lasted only 46 days. Within a year, dozens of others ran a mile in under 4 minutes. Why was it that no one in the history of the Olympics could do this until Bannister achieved the feat?

No one believed it could be done. Their beliefs were limited. But after seeing Bannister do it, their beliefs changed with the new evidence.

Limiting beliefs come from habitual negative thinking that can be changed. How difficult the change depends on how strong the habit and how deep the belief. I have little tufts of clover in my garden that I can pluck out with a firm grasp of two fingers  because it hasn’t been growing very long.

Then every once in a while, I come across something that has been around a while that takes a bit more work to remove. I have to get the shovel and dig deep to get that doggone root. Those weeds with deep roots are like the thoughts that have been watered, fed day after day, year after year.

So when I work with clients on changing their limiting beliefs, we focus on creating new, empowering beliefs.

Here are a few steps to take:

First, identify and write out the limiting belief.

Next identify the evidence or reason for your belief. For example, perhaps you think you are too old to get a new job. The evidence is that you see people of a certain age having difficulty finding new jobs or you are having limited success with finding a new job.

Next to the limiting belief, write a new, empowering belief, and write new evidence to support that belief. Remember, people believed they could run a 4-minute mile only after seeing the evidence from Roger Bannister. So it’s important to identify and document evidence.

For example, if your new belief is that you will get a new job, your evidence can be a list of successful projects you’ve completed that demonstrate your value to an organization.

You can document a lifetime of experiences and knowledge you’ve gained. Practice reading and repeating your new beliefs to create new habitual thought patterns. After I planted my gardens, I had to continually tend to them – treat them with fertilizer, weed them, prune the plants, water them, and keep them protected in the winter.

Replacing any old habit with a new one takes time, attention and repetition.

This may sound like a lot of work. And truthfully, it is. But ask yourself this: what do I really want for my life, and is the work worth the reward? I would bet it is.

Download my free worksheet to create empowering beliefs that will result in tremendous success.

10 replies
  1. Lisa Baker
    Lisa Baker says:

    Love this, Marianne. I catch my own limiting beliefs sometimes now. And when I have one of those “I can’t” thoughts, I’ll stop and ask myself, “are you sure?” I spot them in other people a mile away. 🙂

    • Marianne Renner
      Marianne Renner says:

      That is so fantastic Lisa! “Are you sure?” That’s a powerful way to reframe those limiting beliefs! Way to go!

  2. Jo Jenkins
    Jo Jenkins says:

    Thanks, Marianne!

    And, Lisa Baker, I really like the “Are you sure?” question and now working on adopting that habit to replace my limiting beliefs.

  3. Ashley Logsdon
    Ashley Logsdon says:

    Love this post, and I definitely grew up with that Henry Ford quote being stated in our home! I love the analogy of gardening as well, because it’s that reminder that, just like weeds will continue to crop up, we’re not trying to eliminate nature entirely – it’s something you need to maintain and be aware of on a regular basis. We’re human, and we think ALL kinds of thoughts! It’s when we shift our focus on the positive and what we WANT that keeps us from spiraling downward. Re-sets are so much easier than starting from scratch, so recognizing your beautiful garden of life you’re creating, just being aware of the “weeds” as they crop up will keep them from taking over!

  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    Marianne, I know this is a previous post, but wanted to see if I could leave a reply. I love this! The limiting belief has been there all the time, but asking yourself the question and realizing exactly what that limiting belief is turns out to be half the battle. Just realizing it, makes you think, “why have I let that hold me back from what I know is the right thing for me?” My 23 year old daughter was just telling me she didn’t think one can control their thoughts. I know what she means but I explained you can ask yourself the right questions to change your thoughts, like; “what is an empowering belief I can adopt for this and what is the evidence to support it?” Your brain then naturally follows through on this to move you in the right direction.


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