How to Overcome Self-Limiting Beliefs

Our beliefs are assumed truths. They are our inner statements about ourselves in which we are emotionally invested. They have shaped us and probably unbeknown to many of us they have been with us since childhood.
Picked up almost by osmosis from those who have had greatest influence upon us in our formative years. Our beliefs are like a hidden undercurrent that has influenced much of who we are today.

“Our beliefs may not exist in our minds as explicit propositions. They may be so implicit in our thinking that we are hardly aware of them at all; yet they clearly lie behind our actions.”

Self-limiting beliefs are the ones which have the greatest potential for impacting negatively upon you achieving your full potential. We develop limiting beliefs to protect us from future pain.
Usually they develop [in our formative years] in response to painful experiences. From these experiences we create our own, often skewed generalisation about life.
These generalisations become deeply imbedded in our subconscious and then manifest as limiting beliefs that influence much of what we think, say and do…

Example of Limiting BeliefsLimiting Behaviours resulting from belief
I am powerlessNot standing up for your self
Nothing I say is worth being listened toNot speaking up
Everything I do has to be perfectBecoming risk averse
I am worthlessAct defensively
I can’t handle conflictGiving into others

When we allow our lives to be shaped by these limiting beliefs, the behaviours that we adopt reinforce our own beliefs and so we become expert in creating our own self-fulfilling prophecies.

Self-Limiting beliefs in action

Observe any ‘challenging’ child in your school and you will see exactly how a self-limiting belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If that child has an underlying limiting belief that he is worthless, he will adopt negative behaviours that cause him to be chastised by others.
The responses that he receives from others serve only to fuel his belief that he is worthless and so in his mind, the belief is proved right and he continues perpetuating the vicious cycle of negative thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. If left unchallenged, these beliefs can then continue to influence the child (consciously or unconsciously) for the rest of his life.
Whilst many of our beliefs about ourselves are formed as we grow up, we can reinforce these old self-limiting beliefs or develop new ones throughout our lives that hold us back in our lives and in our roles.
However, the good news is that conversely, it is also possible to let go of these old beliefs, and develop new, more supportive ways of thinking and behaving that can, in turn, help to create a more positive narrative for ourselves.
But how? Well I believe there are 6 steps to doing just this…

1. Identify any self-limiting beliefs and what behaviours they have resulted in

Consider the table above, are there any beliefs like this that you know of that might be holding you back? Choose one or two beliefs to focus on and try to reflect on the detrimental impact that these beliefs may have had on your behaviour, the way you lead your school and interact with others. Do they make you avoid doing certain things? Do they make you feel or act defensively?
By recognising how these beliefs manifest themselves in us, we build up a self-awareness that allows us more easily spot behaviours when they re-occur in our daily life. When we can spot and name these behaviours and beliefs, we have taken the first step to creating a new narrative with new behaviours for ourselves.

2. Consider where these beliefs might have come from

Reflect on what the source(s) of these beliefs could be. In some cases, it can even be as simple as interactions you have had with another individual or an event in the past that have helped to forge these beliefs.
Nonetheless, by looking into the root causes of our beliefs and questioning them – we can realise that the evidence we have previously used to justify these beliefs is flawed, limited or circumstantial and in turn, we can begin to crack the foundations of these beliefs.

3. Reflect on instances where these beliefs have shown to be incorrect

If our self-limiting beliefs are deeply entrenched into how we perceive ourselves, we can find that we begin to interpret current or other past events as further “proof” that we are in some way deficient.
For example, if you have self-limiting belief that you can’t effectively handle team conflicts, you may fixate on any instances where your attempts to resolve a conflict has gone wrong and by doing so, allow these beliefs to become more deeply rooted.
In the process, we can ignore examples that would actually act as evidence against our self-limiting beliefs, e.g. all those times when we have managed conflicts well.
So an important next step when tackling self-limiting beliefs is to consider all the times that these beliefs have been proven to be incorrect.
By re-evaluating the “evidence”, we can begin to redress this balance and perhaps realise that we haven’t actually been fair to ourselves.

4. Explore what beliefs could better support you as a Leader and as a person

Once we have cracked the foundations of these self-limiting beliefs, to properly undo them and make real meaningful changes, we must then lay the foundations for new affirming beliefs about ourselves, which can be reinforced with new experiences.
To do so, it’s best to ask yourself what sort of behaviours you want to exemplify as a leader (and as a person) and then work backwards to what beliefs could best serve you in doing this. This direction will be vital in keeping you focussed as you try to create new beliefs and develop new behaviours.

5. Challenge your thoughts

As you seek to develop new behaviours, it’s important that you work hard to respond to the old behaviours and thoughts when they re-appear (which they will). This means watching both your behaviour and your thought-processes closely, and consciously trying to respond to and modify these.
This can be the hardest bit as it is likely that these behaviours will be fairly entrenched and so are bound to show up whether you want them to or not.
The easiest thing to do early on, is to simply say “stop” when you feel these self-limiting voices in your head or find yourself exemplifying old behaviours, and refuse to let these take hold.
The next step is to begin to make small gradual changes/modifications to these behaviours or thoughts. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I am so disorganised”, remind yourself that this is a manifestation of these self-limiting beliefs that are not necessarily based in truth.
Then, where possible, consciously look to modify or challenge this with a more affirming statement such as “I can be organised”. Alternatively, if this feels a bit too much, at least modify this statement to one that recognises that you are in a process of growth and development, such as “In past, I have been so disorganised but I’m going to improve.”

6. Developing new behaviours – Practice and Reinforcement

The final step is to undertake actions that are aligned to the new behaviours you wish to develop. If you wish to develop ways of being more organised, seek out techniques and tools that can help you to do so.
If you find yourself worrying that everything you do must be perfect, try doing a few tasks to a level that is “good enough” (even if you feel it’s not perfect) and consciously encourage yourself to move on.
By practicing these behaviours and making small changes, over time this can lead to rather big changes to your thought processes, your narrative and in turn, your behaviour and leadership. It is important as we do this that we recognise that (like our pupils), we too need time, patience and understanding as we are undertaking this learning and development.
Finally, to complete this learning process, constant practice and reinforcement is necessary to properly embed these behaviours and ways of thinking into our lives and work.
To reinforce these new, more affirming beliefs, ensure that you focus on your new actions and the positive outcomes (which come from them) and use both these as evidence that your old beliefs were either incorrect, or have now become outdated.


Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

If you’d like to find out more about the community, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more



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