For years, I believed that I was not enough. I believed that I wasn’t smart enough. Tall enough. Good-looking enough. Talented enough. Dedicated enough. Strong enough. Persistent enough. Whatever “it” was, I wasn’t “it” enough. 1
One of the horrible things about limiting beliefs is that they interact with confirmation bias2 in a vicious cycle. When we have a belief, it’s easy to look for things that would confirm that our belief is true, and ignore things that would invalidate that belief. Although this bias is unfortunate, it’s a normal part of human cognition; everyone’s got it to some degree.
But, with limiting beliefs, the effects of confirmation bias are particularly nasty. As I look for information that would confirm those beliefs, I strengthen them. And, as I strengthen my limiting beliefs, I make it harder to have any kind of success. And, as success gets harder, the kind of events that would confirm those limiting beliefs get more frequent, which makes it easier for my confirmation bias to find the evidence that the beliefs are correct. Ugh. It’s a nasty self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophecy.
Because of that, it’s hard to have any kind of success carrying around that belief. And, maybe more to the point, it’s hard to have any kind of satisfaction or fulfillment while carrying around that belief. If I’m always looking for the ways in which I’m not successful enough, I’m constantly reminding myself of my shortcomings, or of the times when I fell short. In addition to strengthening the limiting belief, this just doesn’t feel good.
Now, limiting beliefs are almost always installed in childhood. For some people, they come from things our parents tell us about ourselves or about the world. But, that’s not the case for me. I can never remember my parents telling me anything of the sort, or anything that would lead me to think I wasn’t enough. And it’s not the kind of thing that I could ever imagine them saying, no matter how angry or frustrated they were. It’s just not them. So, where did the beliefs come from?
Unfortunately, the source of this particular limiting belief was probably myself. Sometimes our own attempts to make sense of the world result in us coming up with these limiting beliefs all on our own. I was always a small kid for my age, and didn’t get particularly coordinated until my late teens, so sports were really hard for me. And, I was always a shy kid, so making friends was also hard for me. Growing up in a time and place where sports and friends were highly valued, I think I just concluded that things were hard for me because I wasn’t tall/strong/coordinated/outgoing/likable/whatever enough. The bummer is that once that belief is installed, confirmation bias (among other things) makes it hard to break.
So, now what? I don’t suffer from the belief of “I’m not enough” anymore, and haven’t in a very long time. How did I get here from there? In my experience, there are at least a couple of ways to break that vicious cycle with limiting beliefs. The best is to install new beliefs. However, since there’s still no one simple trick, this is really simple to say but not all that simple to do.
One of the best ways I’ve found to install new beliefs about myself is through mirror affirmations. I won’t recap the entire story here, but the basic idea is that mirror affirmations provide a way for me to learn how to be compassionate and supportive to myself, to feel that compassion and support, and to learn how to talk to myself about myself as a friend. That sort of self-talk is crucial in developing and maintaining non-limiting beliefs about myself.
Another great way to break the vicious cycle is to confront the limiting beliefs. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to get in the habit of asking myself “How do I know?” Again, I won’t recap the whole story here, but most of the time, when I make a conclusion based on my limiting beliefs, there’s really no evidence for that conclusion at all. It’s just shit that I made up, and I’m not required to believe it. As I repeatedly challenge that belief with evidence, it gets easier to not get sucked in, and easier to challenge it the next time.
If you can identify with the limiting belief of “I’m not enough,” or any other belief about yourself or your place in the world that makes it hard for you to get where you want to go, know that you’re not alone, and there is a way out. If you’ve tried the exercises and they don’t work for you on your own, consider finding a guide who’s been there before who can help you through the process; anyone can get there, but sometimes we need some help.