Breaking Through Limiting Beliefs

The beliefs we have about our capabilities aren’t actually facts, and they can often hold us back from change and new possibilities for ourselves. In this episode, we discuss our own limiting beliefs and how to replace a fixed mindset with a growth mindset. 

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After Episode 15, Choosing Optimism, our listener Monica wrote:

“Your hard work is hard at work! I was in a training today for a new curriculum that our local Junior College is looking to implement in some of the courses I design. The discussion among participants turned to how/when a lot of our students lose their motivation, throw their hands up, decide it’s not worth the work anymore, etc.

Having recently listened to your enlightening episode on optimism, I shared the resources you discussed from Seligman. It was wonderful to be able to share (my limited knowledge) on learned helplessness, to provide a resource to help other educators (and their students) understand how/why students get to that low point. More importantly, I was able to share the more recent resource on learned optimism as a potential tool to help them pull out of that place. Who knows if it will go any further than this training room, but the message has been shared!”

Thank you for sharing this, Monica! It makes us so happy to hear how you’re using these strategies out in the real world.

Breaking Through Limiting Beliefs

Most of us have beliefs about our capabilities that we’ve repeated so often that we now see them as facts. They might be, “I’m not good at math,” “I’m tech challenged,” or “I’m not creative.” When it comes to learning a new skill, like cooking or snowboarding or accounting, you might assume, “I could never learn how to do that,” or “I’m not smart or talented enough to do it.”

But these beliefs are not facts. They are often not true and based on insecurities or misconceptions. It’s common for us to form these beliefs as children and reinforce them throughout our lives through confirmation bias, paying attention to the experiences that confirm them.

If we don’t question these limiting beliefs, they can hold us back, blocking us from trying new things or going after our goals. When we have limiting beliefs, we create barriers that aren’t actually there. It’s only our mindset that is standing in our way of growth and learning.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

The researcher who shaped the way we think about mindset is psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, who spent years studying people’s attitudes and behaviors related to failure – and coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.”

A fixed mindset believes that traits and abilities are relatively fixed. You’re born with a set amount of intelligence or talent or creativity, and there’s not much you can do to change it.

A growth mindset believes that traits and abilities can be developed through effort. Your natural gifts are just a starting point, and you can work to learn, change and grow.

For example – a fixed mindset would be, “I’m a good athlete.” A growth mindset would be, “I’m improving my baseball swing by practicing every day.”

Dweck and her colleagues studied thousands of schoolkids and how they reacted to failure. They noticed that some students rebounded easily from setbacks, while others were devastated by even small obstacles.

They wanted to know how our mindsets affect our behavior, and if we are capable of changing them – and they found that we can! When the students believed they could put in more time and effort to get smarter and stronger, their motivation and achievement increased.

And feedback kids receive can have a big impact on mindset. Studies show that telling children they are smart fosters a fixed mindset. But praising hard work and effort encourages a growth mindset and learning from mistakes.

Our Limiting Beliefs

We expect that a lot of our listeners were praised as kids for being smart, and that was our experience as well. It came from a place of love and felt great at the time, but it also contributed to a fixed mindset.

Some of Melia’s current limiting beliefs:

  • I’m always going to struggle with anxiety.
  • I’m not good with money and probably won’t ever have that much of it.
  • I’m not a Pinterest Mom.

Some of Gill’s current limiting beliefs:

  • I am an impatient person.
  • I have to be productive all the time.
  • Money is something annoying or stressful I have to deal with.

Strategies to Adopt a Growth Mindset

Realize that you can change.

The nerve cells, or neurons, in our brain can form new connections throughout our lives; it’s called neuroplasticity. Our old cells die and are replaced by new ones all the time.

So Melia’s belief that she’ll always struggle with anxiety may not be true; she can open up the possibility that she won’t. FYI: the words “always” and “never” are red flags for limiting beliefs!

Start noticing your limiting beliefs and fixed mindset. Question and reframe them instead of treating them as facts.

Michael Hyatt says that if you find yourself stuck in some area (whether in a moment or in your life), you can ask yourself, “What beliefs do I have about this that are limiting my ability to move forward? Are they really true? Can I reframe the way I’m interpreting this?”

Also ask yourself if there’s a “should” baked into this limiting belief. There are “shoulds” hiding in both Melia’s “I’m not a Pinterest mom” and Gill’s “I have to be productive all the time.”

Tap into the “power of yet.”

In Carol Dweck’s TED talk, “The power of believing you can improve,” she talks about a Chicago high school where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate. And if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.”

She said, “And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet”, you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”

We love this and wish all report cards would be Pass / Not Yet, with written feedback from the teacher! “The Power of Yet” is also a song we absolutely love that Janelle Monae sings on “Sesame Street.” It is delightful and catchy and captures this message perfectly.

Adopting a growth mindset is all about the power of yet. The research shows that just the words “yet” or “not yet” give kids greater confidence and a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we adults can absolutely use this strategy, as well!

Praise effort and progress toward the outcome, not intelligence or talent.

Dweck is very clear about not praising these fixed qualities: “That has failed. Don’t do that anymore.”

She frames this as a strategy for parents or educators raising or teaching children – but it is also applicable for us to use with ourselves as adults! Praise the process and the work you put into a task – your effort, focus and perseverance that you used to make small improvements. Encourage yourself to keep putting in the work to get closer to your goal, telling yourself, “You stuck to this and now you really understand it.”

Melia is doing this with her son Evan, who is learning to read. She makes a point of saying things like, “You kept trying and you read that long word!” or “You’re learning so much! I can tell you’ve been practicing,” instead of “You’re really good at reading – you’re so smart!”

Try multiple strategies to get the outcome you want.

Embrace the idea that that there are many different ways to approach a problem or a task. If one doesn’t work out, what else can you try?

Stanford researchers found that showing students that there are multiple strategies for working out an answer in math class helped students develop growth mindset. Researchers discovered that if students learned just one way to work out a problem, and they didn’t get the right answer that way, they could take that as a sign that they’re not good at math. But students who learned multiple strategies were more likely to persist if the first strategy didn’t work out.

If you want extra support in identifying and reframing your limiting beliefs, try cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. It focuses on changing the way people think and shape their beliefs, which in turn shapes the way you feel and act. It’s helped Melia a lot.

Listener Takeaways

Here’s a recap of the strategies for cultivating a growth mindset:

  1. Realize that you can change. Our brains and bodies are changing all the time and are not fixed.
  2. Notice your limiting beliefs and fixed mindset, and question them instead of treating them as facts.
  3. Tap into the “power of yet.” Intentionally use the words “yet” and “not yet” when working toward an outcome.
  4. Praise effort and progress toward the outcome you want, not intelligence or talent.
  5. Try multiple strategies to get that outcome.

Get It Together / Got It Together

We each share something that’s going well for us at the moment, and something else that we’d like to work on.

Melia Get It Together: Immediate negative reactions to frustrating things that happen (low frustration tolerance)

Melia Got It Together: Mindfulness and meditation practice

Gill’s Get It Together: Procrastination

Gill’s Got It Together: Spending time with friends and fam

Get In Touch

What are your own limiting beliefs? If you try these strategies, which ones work for you? Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com, or send us a voice memo. You can also leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram.

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