It’s a very scary thing when someone openly disproves your limiting beliefs. If you have empowering beliefs, being disproven is a triumph rather than an attack, because you’ve been given the easy opportunity to fine-tune your belief system, which can only lead to improving your self and your model of the world. But if your mind is holding you back, you’re highly afraid of breaking the chains. The three major reasons for this are:
1. If you’re disproven now, whose to say that you won’t be disproven again? If you switch from Catholicism to Protestantism, couldn’t what you really want be Unitarianism? If you disconnect yourself from your heart and intuition, you have no reason to ever change or grow. Depending on where you are in life, that could be much more comfortable than change.
2. Changing your beliefs invalidates your past. If you spend all your life buying groceries at the normal price, and then a spendthrift tips you off that you could easily pay half the price with judicious acquisition and use of coupons, what does that say about all the groceries you’ve already bought? If you accept your new couponing beliefs fully, you’re acknowledging that your previous shopping beliefs cost you thousands upon thousands of dollars. It could be much more comforting to simply block coupons from your reality.
3. Changing beliefs may conflict with your actions. If you don’t want to do what you’re doing, then you must either stop doing it, develop the want, or be a coward by doing what you don’t want. If you’re a lawyer now, and you find you can’t win a case without dishonesty, but you want to be honest, then you have to be a hypocrite, an unsuccessful lawyer, or an unemployed person. But if you continue believing dishonesty is okay, you don’t have to change at all. Only a change in your beliefs requires a change in your actions.
Defending a limiting belief
You can always pick out a person who has caged himself with limiting beliefs, because he reacts defensively when your actions or successes contradict his model of reality. If you’re an astronaut, and you tell a member of the Flat Earth Society that our planet is round, what can he do?
1. Ignore you. Pretend you don’t exist.
2. Call you a liar. You saw that the Earth is flat, but you just like to deceive others.
3. React defensively. The “are you calling me a liar?” response. Or maybe “this is none of your business; I don’t have to tell you anything!” Anyone who says this is subconsciously limiting himself. Accepting that hurts.
4. Accept your belief, but attribute it to confusion, misunderstanding or confirmation bias. You want to believe the Earth is ball-shaped. Subconsciously, you bend the truth to fit this desire.
5. Call you a lunatic. This is a more extreme version of the above. The Earth is flat, but you had a hallucination and saw it as round. Maybe you were on drugs?
6. Become a hypocrite. Acknowledge the photos of the round Earth, but continue to attend Flat Earth Society meetings and give out booklets. Believe in both a flat Earth and a round Earth, but flip between the two as convenient.
7. Extend the system to accommodate the new belief while supporting the old belief, even though they are inherently incompatible. “Backward compatibility,” if you will. The old belief is true in every instance except ____. Same as: the laws of physics apply to everyone except the Apollo crew.
Obviously, all of these are sub-optimal solutions. Fortunately, they give a clear indication of limiting beliefs. You can use this model to identify weak points in yourself and others.
For example, no one can tell me I’m not serious about photography or personal development, or that I don’t enjoy either of them. If someone says “you don’t look like you want to do this,” I’d have a good laugh about it, because it doesn’t shake my belief system at all. But if I really wasn’t enjoying photography, yet I was stuck in a college education + career of it, I might do something different. Instead of coming to terms with not being where I want, I’d deny it. If I did this, I’d probably respond with the “this is none of your business” tirade.
Really, there’s no reason to say “this is none of your business.” There’s no reason to prove the other person wrong either. Unlike a cinder block, words can only hurt you if you let them hurt you. Once you believe your emotions are the domain of others, you give up sovereignty over your life. You become a drone and a slave all at once.
Another example: “bad stuff is happening, so I should be upset” is quite a limiting belief. You’re only upset because you want to be upset. No matter what happens to you, you could remain happy if you consciously chose to, rather than being ruled by your subordinate subconscious.
Once you decouple your emotions from your circumstances, your mind becomes much clearer. While your environment continues to toss you about like the waves of the sea, you’re now floating smoothly above the water, like Jesus. Rather than changing your focus every day as friends and advertisers recommend, you may stay focused on the same project for weeks or months. You won’t multitask at all, and you’ll work much more efficiently because of it. I did this when I was coding the software for my public library, and although my focus has shifted to writing more articles like this rather than opening a public library, it’s only because I’ve identified this as more important. Nobody else can or should do that for me.
Once you separate your mind from your environment, you’ll gain determination like no other. Your friends will be envious. To help you, they’ll try to get you back on the track of limiting beliefs. They’ll tell you that you’re “obsessed.” Perhaps you even have ADD or ADHD. You should just be “normal.” It isn’t normal to start your own business, or to spend hours writing / composing / photography, or to not want a normal job, or to not see the value of college. Perhaps some Ritalin will help you?
I’d prefer determination any day.
Identifying limiting beliefs
“Trying is the first step towards failing.”
- Homer Simpson
If “limiting belief” isn’t solid enough for you, reword it as “policy of defeatism.” The dictionary tells me that defeatism is the “acceptance of defeat without struggle.” That’s exactly what a limiting belief is. It makes you give up before you start.
Theoretically, this would be beneficial. If you try something and fail completely, wouldn’t it have been better to not have tried at all?
The problems with this are twofold: you can’t know if you’ll fail until you try, and you gain lots of experience from failure. Failure is good. I failed dozens of times in successfully labeling my photographic prints en masse, before I came up with the current laser printing method. I failed three times in naming this site while encountering logistical difficulties in fulfilling my dream. It was richardxthripp.com, then richardxthripp.richardxthripp.com, then richardxthripp.com/richardxthripp, and now richardxthripp.thripp.com, and rxthripp.com in print. When I started out, Thripp.com wasn’t even available because someone else had taken it. For a long time I thought I’d be at richardxthripp.richardxthripp.com forever, so after developing my laser printing method for labeling my 4×6 prints, I etched that address on the back of thousands of photos. I still haven’t finished giving them all out.
It took me years to conquer library science by coming up with a solid, consistent, effort-free way to assign file names to my photos. The way I do it is inconsistent with everything else I’ve read, because it completely defies logic to name your computer files arbitrarily, rather than with the subjects or people in them. So instead of flowers-and-sunshine-09-20-2008-0022.jpg, I have 20080920-132509rxt.jpg. It works better because I automate it, saving me lots of time. The only way to learn this was from repeated failures with logical taxonomy. What I really needed was illogical taxonomy, but I couldn’t have known that sans failure. I gave up time zones and Western date formatting in the process, two beliefs which seem very rational at first, but are in fact insanely limiting.
What is a limiting belief? Anything that includes “can’t” or “never” is suspect. Absolutes are always to be suspected. If you say that climbing a wall is absolutely impossible, that just means you’ve given up on climbing over it. You can still tunnel under it, walk around it, or buy an airplane and fly over it.
Before you can successfully identify limiting beliefs, you have to do two things: stop envisioning beliefs as fixed points, and stop believing that your beliefs define you. When you disconnect your ego from your beliefs, you can stop defining your persona in worldly terms, and start defining it in universal terms, such as service to humanity, justice, truth, love, etc.
I hear this one a lot: “I can’t do ____ because I don’t have the time.” I used to use it myself. The thing is, you have plenty of time. You have so much time you don’t know what to do with it all. I found plenty of time to write this article, even though I ‘should’ be studying or doing something ‘real.’ If you don’t have the time to do something, that means that thing isn’t important to you. We all have a list of priorities in our head built around a 60-hour day, and the stuff that gets done is (hopefully) at the top of the list. Only the stuff that can all fit in 24 hours. If you start at the bottom of the list, you’ll never get to the important stuff. Do the important stuff first, and you’ll find you have plenty of time—but no time for frivolous action. If you’ve fully optimized your time to the limit, you can move mountains in minutes. I’m nowhere near that, but the optimization process is more fun than the goal.
Limiting vs. empowering beliefs
This is a huge limiting belief millions of investors have:
“If you’re losing money in the stock market, don’t pull out. Your stocks will eventually go back up. If you pull out now, you’ll take a loss, but if you stick with it, you haven’t actually lost anything.”
Isn’t this absurd? It’s a hugely limiting belief. A loss is a loss; there are not two ways about it. If you’re personally developed, your losses become opportunities because you learn (and thus gain) from them, but that doesn’t change the fact that loss was the seed. Don’t gamblers have the same belief?
“I’ve lost my car and $8000 at the casino, but that’s alright. This means my luck is about to turn around and I’ll soon gain everything back.”
Of course, it doesn’t happen. If it does, the gambler thinks he’s on a “winning streak.” He continues gambling, soon losing it all again and far more. Once he starts on his chain of losses, he refuses to believe that he’s lost anything, until he has nothing left to gamble. He’s left with a rude awakening, thousands of lost dollars, and possibly a mountain of debt.
On the surface, “my luck is about to turn around” seems like an empowering belief, not a limiting one. Any belief rooted in success seems empowering, but in fact it has to be real, too. Saying “Tomorrow, I will succeed in writing fifty articles as in-depth and helpful as this one” could motivate me, but it would be short-lived because it’s impossible at my current skill level. It might not even be humanly possible (but be careful with that one). Believing I’ll write one good piece tomorrow is much more enabling.
The downfall of gamblers and investors stems from a shared limiting belief: “what goes down must come up.” Anything or anyone can go down and stay down. When you drop a brick from a tall building, it goes down, but it will never come back up on it’s own accord. When you burn down a man’s house and steal his car, he can return to material prosperity, but that doesn’t mean he “must.” A more true belief is “what goes up must come down.” That’s not a limiting belief, because it does nothing to limit you. The problem is that it is easily interpreted as the false, limiting belief, “any success will eventually be met with equal loss or failure.” You could justify this limiting belief as in “we all die,” but just because you die doesn’t mean you failed at life. If you believe that, change it to the belief that you’ve succeeded and that everyone else who dies has succeeded with you. As long as they loved living, it’s true, even if they didn’t aspire to benefit all humanity.
The profit police and the zero-sum game
Five years ago I had an aversion to advertising and profit in general. Money is evil, making money is tacky, look how annoying advertising is, etc. We get annoying telemarketing calls all the time. Wouldn’t it be better if the government banned all forms of advertising and self-promotion? Then the world would be fair.
I was stuck in the zero-sum mindset, which means that every gain must result in an equal and opposite loss. When you gain possessions, other people lose possessions. When you eat dinner, you’re making other people starve. Talk about a hugely limiting belief!
Teenagers and twenty-somethings are moochers in general. They love Karl Marx and communism, because they haven’t contributed anything to the world, they don’t own property, and they’d like to keep mooching. Communism represents the best system to them, because it gives them wealth where they deserve nothing. Doesn’t something for nothing sound nice?
The problem is that these young folks justify averting personal success. They say that if they succeed, others fail. That’s bogus. When you make money, you’re contributing more to the world than you could even contribute by not making money. Non-profit is B.S., and the motives of any “non-profit” corporation should be questioned. It’s hard for me to even trust a website that doesn’t have advertising or a donations page. How is the owner supporting himself? Is he a thief? He subsidizes his website with thievery, right? How could I spend the time to do all this work to help others, but not expect to make lots of money from it? The only way to help others is to make money.
When any person or organization claims to be “non-profit” and has no visible means of life support, be suspicious. Be very suspicious. The owners are probably laundering drug money.
The profit police are against your success. If you hold disdain for the success of others, in any form, consciously or unconsciously, you’re part of the scoundrels known as the profit police. Kill this limiting belief today. The success of others represents the success of you, because it is the success of humanity in general.
Communism now hides under the guise of environmentalism. We’re killing mother Earth by living here. We don’t deserve this planet. The world would be better off if were were all dead.
Have you noticed that nature is more fertile and magnificent than ever? The air, water, and land is cleaner than it has ever been in history. My Grandma grew up around the steel mills in Pittsburgh. She’d have a layer of soot on her face just from walking to school. Not so anymore. Steel mills have been greatly refined. They put out much less smoke. All the “problems” we’re causing are actually non-problems, because they don’t exist. But even if they were problems, we could use technology and our human ingenuity to solve them.
Global warming is also a myth, designed to take away your cars and freedom. There’s so much oil on this planet, we could go 10,000 more years without exhausting it. We have tonnes of it in Alaska and the mid-west, which our government refuses to use. I remember the Florida summers all the way back to 1995. They were just as hot as 2008. Our carbon emissions are 2% of what Earth’s volcanoes put out. Are we really pompous enough to believe that we can kill the environment? How dare we disrespect nature by openly denying her resilience?
Economic and philosophic capitalism, unbridled by any more than a base-level concern for the environment or the welfare of others, is the most perfect and empowering belief system in the world. If just the United States alone would return to capitalism, we would experience prosperity greater than the rest of the world combined. Can you imagine a country with no empire, no government schools, libraries, hospitals, welfare, no illegal drugs, no income (slave) taxes? We’d still have (privately contracted) public roads and police to keep the peace, but taxes would only need to be 1%. Large businesses could not trample their employees, because small businesses would flourish with the removal of crippling regulation. Private charities could provide social welfare to every person in the world if they so chose. Money would be backed by gold, controlled by Congress and Congress alone. In court, a free-minded jury of 12 of your neighbors and peers would unanimously decide not your guilt, but whether you deserve punishment. They would also unanimously decide your punishment. If they could not reach a unanimous decision, then obviously removing you from the streets is not a priority for them, so you would go free.
Before you can start the revolution in our government, you have to start the revolution in your life. Let go of these limiting beliefs about mankind, the environment, and success in general. Stop profit policing. Embrace the success and profits of others as your own, and encourage them in all their worthy self-promotion. Read my article from 2008 March, The Profit Police and How They Kill Everyone, for further analysis.
The major belief systems
I’m going to categorize every mind in the world into four categories:
1. Rational positivity.
These people make sense. Think John Locke. They believe in the natural goodness of man and the world. When bad things happen, they know they’ll be able to turn things around, and when they’re enjoying unbounded health, they know they’ll get sick eventually. It doesn’t matter that bad things may happen in the future, because the future isn’t now.
2. Rational negativity.
This people still make sense, but they are pessimists. Think Thomas Hobbes. They believe in the natural badness of man and the world. If a rational negativist left his wallet at the post office, he wouldn’t even go back to look for it because he’d assume the first person who found it would take it for himself. Then, he’d attribute the loss of his wallet to the greed inherent in mankind.
3. Irrational positivity.
These people are on crack. They’re overly happy for no apparent reason. This is good occasionally, but not all the time. You can’t spend all your time in state 3; you have to go back to 2 and 1, and possibly even 4 occasionally.
4. Irrational negativity.
These people were on crack. Now they quit and their brains are messed up. The constantly suicidal fit in this group. People who have really been holding themselves back with limiting beliefs fit in this group. The amount of negativity is equal to the magnitude of the limiting beliefs multiplied by the amount of time they’ve been subjecting themselves to them.
People don’t fit neatly into one of these four categories, but most people are not equally split between them either. You can change your category from day to day or minute to minute. But when you do this, your life feels muddled and unfocused. It’s best to stick with one, regardless of choice. Thieves might stick with #2 and then rationalize it with stuff like “it’s alright, because the people I steal from are free to steal from others too.” I prefer rational positivity, because it’s the most human.
The greatest limiting belief of all
The biggest limiting belief ever, alongside profit policing, is:
“Comfort requires permanence.”
We’ve been told by others to not like change. Don’t bother with relationships that won’t last, find a job that you can never be fired from. A lot of religious folks take this to the highest extreme, by completely squandering this life in the name of the eternal afterlife. They don’t actually do anything good for anyone here, because they’re too busy living in the future.
“How can you enjoy living on Earth when everything is going to die and fade away,” Christians ask. The truth is, that’s the only reason to enjoy living here. There would be no opportunity for personal growth if everything is permanent, just as there will be no opportunity for personal growth in heaven if it is as described in the Bible. The Bible explains heaven and the hierarchy of angels / Jesus / God in too human terms. If it’s going to work, it’s going to be totally different from what we know, and there will be no need for a pecking order.
In life, the only thing you can be sure of is change. Instead of suppressing your dislike of change, actively replace it with a love for uncertainty. You don’t have to be “best friends forever” to enjoy a friendship. In fact, 90% of the people I know now, I won’t have any connection with in ten years. My current friends and contacts will move away or change careers, and it will be time for us to form and recognize new relationships. When I graduate from Daytona State College next spring, I’m going to be around college students a lot less because I won’t be in college. I’ll still be taking courses online at Florida State University. Rather than mourning the end of the first phase of college, I’m happily anticipating starting on my Bachelor’s degree with math and computer-related courses. My Dad won’t have to drive me to school every day. Perhaps I’ll even be able to afford a vehicle of my own by then.
When I was fired from my job at the local library, I lost a lot of friends. I haven’t been in touch with my cohorts in a couple months, and I’ve been bumping into friends and patrons less often. It’s no loss for me, because they’re still all my friends. There exists an underlying connectedness between us that transcends the boundaries of spacetime. In fact, meeting up with these people several years down the road will be far more interesting, because we’ll have a ton of growth and new experiences to share all at once. You can never really get a birds-eye view of someone if you’re around him all the time.
Change is good. Uncertainty is good, because it pushes you to progress efficiently. You don’t know how much ground you must cover, so you do as much as you can rather than the minimum required. If you could know that you’ll live forever, you probably wouldn’t make progress in personal growth, because you’d put it off indefinitely.
Reframing limitless beliefs
“I can always be happy” sounds enabling, but it’s actually limiting. All limitless beliefs in the physical realm are limiting, because the physical world is always bounded by limits. It’s inescapable.
Your mind can go anywhere, but your body cannot. But do not despair. The difference between your potential and your present state is so great that you could spend your whole life working yet never reach the limits of your potential. I’ve never fully exhausted my mind, strength, or even my bank account. And if I did, I could always take a break and recover for a while.
Most limitless beliefs are rooted in permanence, which doesn’t exist. Don’t believe that you’ll be dedicated to any particular trade, cause, or lover forever. Don’t believe that you can live without experiencing pain, or sadness, or suffering. If you’re not suffering now, then you’re not suffering, period. Don’t live in the future.
Replacing limiting beliefs
Replacing a limiting belief normally requires a substantial change in action, in addition to a new mindset. Whenever you change your actions, family and friends will discourage you. Family members often discourage you more, because they’re quite attached to your current behavior. They don’t want to see you change, even if it’s for the better. Your improvements remind them that they can be improving, and if they’ve forsaken personal growth, then that is a scary realization.
While you can evaluate beliefs without trying them, it doesn’t work effectively. You can only effectively evaluate a belief by fully committing to it, for a time. In the same manner, you can’t be sure you’ve picked the right career until you are past the point of no return. Then you’ll find that the “point of no return” doesn’t actually exist. You can always return. It just costs you a lot of time and effort. That’s better than sticking with the wrong choice for life, just as it is better to change beliefs rather than to limit yourself forever, even if the initial change is very costly.
I used to believe that writing and photography were unrealistic careers. The best thing for me would be to find a ‘stable’ job I enjoyed moderately, while doing what I really love on the side, after 5 P.M. My passions would become “hobbies.” That’s why I was planning a career in librarianship. It seemed like something that wasn’t going away, and other people would think I was normal.
I started to feel out of sync with this belief around the fall of last year, but I didn’t let it bother me at first. I started researching the history of libraries and library software, and I found there was a lot of interesting concepts from computer science that cross over into library science (taxonomy, schemas, sorting, search algorithms, tries, etc.). That should be enough to keep me interested in the subject, I thought. Of course it wasn’t, because if it was I wouldn’t have to rationalize my choice anyway. I’d know it intuitively.
I didn’t actually change until my environment changed; I was fired. The problem with librarianship isn’t the details of the field, so much as the concept of working for others. Soulless non-innovators can get by fine, because everyone in the chain of command is a non-innovator, by choice or by force. Soulful innovators like myself don’t do well, because we reject the confines of mediocrity, which is frightening. You can’t have people like me bringing high awareness to my coworkers. We might revolt.
By letting go of limiting beliefs about work and purpose in general, I’ve gone much further in three months than I did in three years before. Writing stuff like this is a lot more important than doing stuff like that. Even if this remained an entry in my private journal, it would still be worth it because I’ve learned so much just from writing it.
My family and friends were shocked when I gave up librarianship, especially because at the time, I’d formulated no alternatives. People were also shocked when I started my own website, and when I transitioned away from piano and music toward photography in 2005-2007. When I started exploring personal development three months ago, many people wanted me to just stick with photography, because that’s what they were comfortable with. I could take all these social cues literally by not changing, but in reality, when people are against you changing, you should plow ahead. Any social resistance is a cue to push forward. You may think you’re pleasing others by doing what they say, but they don’t want you to do what they say anyway, because if they did, you wouldn’t be interesting or human.
No one can tell you what you can’t do. Only you can.