How To Find and Transform Limiting Beliefs About Ourselves & The World

How belief systems about ourselves & the world impact our lives?

How to find and transform the unhelpful beliefs we have established about ourselves?


This is the third part of the series “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.

In the first part, we established the key foundations of dealing with others, be it through coaching or in other kinds of relationship or setting that involves communication.

In the second part, we focused on understanding ourselves as well as others better through developing self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

In this third part, we focus on core beliefs. We will realise that beliefs exist in the form of empowering beliefs, but also in the form of limiting beliefs, which are hampering our development and hold us back.

How do beliefs arise? How can I become aware of them? And how can I replace limiting beliefs with empowering ones?

These questions and more will be answered in this article. Let’s get it started!

Beliefs and Trust

Beliefs form part of the invisible foundation of human personality and can either strengthen us or tear us down.

In Sigmund Freud’s analogy of the iceberg, the tip of the iceberg is the small facade we present to the world. The largest part of the iceberg, however, lies underneath and is at first hidden to the world.

To this part belong our impulses, our drives, our values and also our beliefs.

What are beliefs?

Beliefs are the best conclusions about the world we could come up with when taking into consideration the information we had at that time.

Therefore beliefs are massively influenced by parental upbringing, our environment and the society we live in.

It is essential to realize that some beliefs can help us, while others are not at all useful.

Some beliefs are held because it makes you part of a larger community and gives a sense of belonging and security. Other beliefs seem to be adopted randomly.

Most of the time, debating beliefs is useless. But in any deep interaction with another person, it is helpful to understand why that person came to believe what she believes.

How to distinguish beliefs from thoughts and opinions?

Opinions are the stance we take towards a situation or an event. This opinion is determined by the feelings we have towards that event, while our feelings stem from the thoughts we have about it.

Beliefs are like a filter which our thoughts go through and are therefore fundamentally underpinning the whole process.

To truly understand ourselves, we need to navigate through this complex web of opinions, feelings, thoughts and beliefs and establish what is true for us.

This means getting to your “Why?”, to your motives, to understand why you do the things that you do.

You’re never going to be the expert of anyone’s life other than your own. Therefore, understand yourself first and then you can help others in understanding themselves.

For coaching, this means to ask relevant questions to understand what fundamentally drives people and to get to their core motives.

What do they want? What do they believe? And why do they do the things that they do?

Through this understanding, you “win the heart” of a person, establish trust and get access to her mind for effective collaboration.

Establishing this foundation of truth is what ultimately leads to freedom.

Freedom from limiting beliefs, from inconsistent thoughts that pop in and out of our mind, from the feelings of the emotional roller coaster with its ups and downs and freedom from subjective, irrelevant opinions.

The Development Of Beliefs

When we are born, we don’t have any beliefs or values yet. They are only developed and forged as we grow up.

Sociologist Morris Massey distinguishes three stages of belief development, which form a rough timeline of when we adopt which belief throughout our lives.

0–7 years: Imprint Period

During this early period in our life, we absorb new information like a sponge and accept most of it as true without questioning it, especially what we learn from our parents.

This is the stage where a first understanding of good or bad starts to come up, but also the stage where experiences of rejection, abandonment and the blind adoption of false beliefs about one’s personality can lead to trauma and the formation of a negative self-image.

7–14 years: Modeling Period

During this period, we start to model the behavior of other people. These are mostly our parents but also any other people we admire or look up to.

As opposed to blindly accepting everything, at this stage we try different behaviors, often influenced by childhood heroes, which in turn influence our beliefs about the world.

14–21 years: Socialization Period

During this period, the biggest influence is exerted by our peer group. This is the phase where we try to develop our identity while surrounding ourselves with people that are like us.

Also influenced by the media, we develop ideals, what should or should not be done and define ourselves in relation to other people and as part of a sociological group.

21 years +: The Journey…

At this stage, we have developed most of our beliefs as well as relationship and social values. These values are less likely to change unless there is a significant event in our life or effective coaching taking place.

Belief Formation Through Conditioning

There is an interesting story about how circus elephants are tamed that will allow us to understand how our own beliefs are formed.

Circuses get new elephants when they are still babies. In order to tame them, they put a noose around their neck and attach it to a peg. While the young elephant wants to run around and roam, he is not yet strong enough to break free from the peg.

He will try to break free until he starts to realize and believe that he is not strong enough and will stop trying.

Later in the circus when the elephant has grown older and is strong enough, the tamers will simply put a noose around the elephant’s neck which reinforces the elephant’s belief and will make it behave and stand still.

In the same way, we humans are conditioned by our experiences in the past and start to have certain beliefs about ourselves, which influence our self-image and self-esteem.

These limiting beliefs can stem from experiencing rejection, loneliness, lack of recognition, attention and love and thus the feeling of not being good enough.

That’s for example why people are stuck in jobs or situations they despise because of the limiting belief that they are not good enough for a different job or partner and cannot find anything else.

They expect the future to play out the same way as they’ve experienced the past, carrying the limiting beliefs forward, just as in the example of the elephant.

Therefore, a set of action-steps to achieve some goal you set for yourself will never be enough. You have to get to the core of the problem which is very often self-esteem issues and limiting beliefs.

For coaching, this means to help others by first unconditionally accepting them as a person without any judgment.

Then, help them to find the limiting beliefs that really hold them back.

The Limiting Beliefs

Limiting beliefs are the cause of negative self-talk and anxiety.

Most of the time, these beliefs are incorrect and completely useless.

Very often we don’t realize that we have these beliefs, because they form the foundation of our behavior, we simply accept these beliefs as the truth.

Examples of Limiting Beliefs

  • “Life is a constant struggle.”
  • “I am nothing unless other people love and approve of me.”
  • “I am not important. My feelings and needs are not important.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I don’t have enough time.”
  • “I don’t have enough talent.”

At a deeper level, these beliefs stem from the belief that “I don’t deserve to have the things I truly want.”

These beliefs show that we derive our self-worth from external factors, such as possessions, status or approval.

To feel totally secure, self-worth has to be realized independently from external factors. It must come from within, through the realization that you are and always have been good enough, which is the realization of abundance.

To have this realization, it is important to discover how our limiting beliefs came about and therefore be able to distance ourselves from these limiting beliefs and replace them with empowering ones.

Questions To Uncover Limiting Beliefs

To break the tendency to assume that our experiences from the past can be used to forecast the future and therefore carry our limiting beliefs forward, we need to see the situation or problem from a different perspective.

The following questions serve as a step-by-step guide to go from the symptoms of a current problem deeper into yourself and find limiting beliefs which present the root cause of the problem.

These questions can be used for yourself but also in a coaching setting, when trying to help someone to uncover her limiting beliefs.

In this coaching situation, focus on establishing what’s true for the other person. Allow the other person to relax and consider each question for a bit. Answering in some words or a short phrase will be enough.

The focus is on the client getting insight. Therefore, be present and reflect the answers back as you go through the questions:

  1. What is a problem or limitation that has held you back for a while?
  2. What is it you would like to do/have, except something is stopping you from getting it/doing it?
  3. What is it that is REALLY stopping you from getting what you want?
  4. This is a problem because?
  5. And this means? (Repeat as many times as necessary)
  6. What must you believe that makes this problem even exist?
  7. What is it you believe about YOURSELF that has made this a problem?
  8. What do you believe about the WORLD that has made this a problem?
  9. What is this problem an example of?
  10. …and what is THIS an example of?
  11. When did you decide that your problem was a problem (roughly)?
  12. At what point in your life did you by into this concept?
  13. What decision did you make that caused this problem to be born?
  14. What does this problem mean to you?
  15. What will life be like when you don’t have this problem?

Using Reason To Eradicate Limiting Beliefs

When having discovered your limiting beliefs you will realize that they are either are not at all founded in objective reality or at least only represent one side of the coin.

Therefore, use the following questions to rationally question the beliefs you have and remove their foundation:

  1. What is the evidence that supports this belief? If I look objectively at all of my life experiences, what is the evidence that this belief is true?
  2. Is this belief always true for me?
  3. Does this belief consider the whole picture? Does it take into consideration both the positive and negative ramifications?
  4. Does this belief encourage my own peace of mind and well-being?
  5. Did I choose this belief or has it developed from the influence of my family/friends as I was growing up?

Even if these beliefs seem to have offered some value to you in the past, remember that they are no longer serving you, but rather hold you back from getting what you want.

Develop Empowering Beliefs With Affirmations

After having removed the undesired foundation of these beliefs, we can replace them with new beliefs.


Old limiting belief: “If I take a risk, I will fail. If I fail, other people will reject me.”

New empowering belief: It’s alright for me to take risks and it doesn't matter if I fail – I can learn from every mistake I make. Failing shows that I’m learning and getting better.”

Write down a list of new empowering beliefs and read these affirmations out loud every day.

Develop a vision of how you are going to behave and feel once you have adopted these new beliefs. Visualize and tune into that feeling right now while reading the affirmations.

This is the essence of changing your beliefs and self-image.

The Core Identity Model

Discovering our beliefs will eventually lead to pondering our belief about who we are.

Who are we at the core? What defines us?

Is there a way to strip away the beliefs we have about our identity and instead uncover the truth of who we really are at our core?

Very often we use what we do and how we do it to define who we are.

What: I’m a banker, a CEO, a member of a political party or a football fan.

How: I’m pretty laid back, I’m willing to take a risk, I’m very detail-oriented, I prefer conservative decisions or I’m very diligent.

The problem is that building our identity on external factors or situations, is not sustainable since these factors and situations can change and can strip us of our identity.

The key is to realize that you are not what you do.

For that purpose, Kain Ramsay introduces his “Core Identity Model”.

This model consists of three separate circles, containing the following words.

What? What do I do in life? What is my profession, hobby, community contribution etc.?

How? How do I do these things? My attitudes, behaviors, preferences and styles.

Who? Who am I really at the core? Which are my core traits that are not defined by what I do and how I do it?

While trying to answer these questions separately you might see that there is some overlap between the circles.

The key, however, is to remove your identification from external factors of what you do and how you do it by focusing on each circle on its own.

By starting with what you do in life and how you do it, you start to separate your titles, labels and achievements from who you are.

So who am I at the core?

Try to look at your core character traits.

Do you think you can agree that you are the following things?

Creative, passionate, honest, loving, caring, sincere, loyal, growing, mature.

You are very likely not perfect in all of these things, there is certainly room for improvement and you aren’t like that all of the time.

But still, these traits are somehow in you and you might resonate with them.

These traits are not performance-based, but a constant, when you realize that they exist in potential which can be realized any time through your responsible and conscious choice.

Envision a person who is like that. Everyone would like to be around such a person.

So be that person. Even more, discover that you already are that person at your core. That is what freedom is about, to be free from conventions and express who you are.

To remain grounded and become secure in who you are, build your identity on these and other desirable core traits, which exist in you as an inherent potential that can be realized any time. Therefore use it as a compelling vision to live up to.

This is what gives meaning, direction and a heightened sense of purpose in every area of life.

For coaching, we can only try to help other people to start the journey of self-discovery by providing tools to gain the desired insight. The journey itself and its discoveries have to be undertaken on our own.

The Core Realization

There is one main limiting belief that causes insecurity, self-doubt and prevents you from pursuing your dreams and passions.

The belief of not being good enough.

Ask yourself compared to who are you not good enough?

Then realize that you can never be as good as others because you are not them. They have their individuality which can not be replaced.

You have your own individuality as well and you are a runner in your own race.

Focus on your own core traits.

You are not perfect, but good enough, because you have the freedom and potential to realize and live according to all the traits that are already part of you.

This is the foundation and core realization that makes you secure and grounded in who you are.

This concludes the third part of the series “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.

Now check out the fourth part, covers the topics of Core Values & Understanding Human Behavior in more detail.

Until next time,


PS: Have you discovered some of your own limiting beliefs? How did you do it?

 Let me know below, I'd love to connect with you!

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