Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Question, Choose, Act as If

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Goals!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you believe that you don’t have what it takes to achieve great things? Where do you think these self-limiting beliefs stem from?

We all have self-limiting beliefs that prevent us from setting ambitious goals. We believe we don’t have what it takes. According to Brian Tracy, the author of Goals!, these beliefs are true—not because you don’t have what it takes to excel and achieve great things—but precisely because this attitude will prevent you from even trying.

Keep reading to get Brian Tracy’s advice for overcoming limiting beliefs.

Reject Self-Limiting Beliefs

A self-limiting belief is any belief that hinders you from achieving your goals. Tracy writes that you might hesitate to set big goals because you believe that you don’t have the skills to achieve them. However, he argues that this very belief will keep you from succeeding because whatever you strongly believe in comes true. 

(Shortform note: Strongly believing in something until it comes true is an ancient concept, but it’s still relevant today: Social media is rife with tips for “manifesting” and “scripting, ” methods meant to “attract” things to your life. However, psychologists warn against overestimating the power of this method as it can have detrimental effects such as increasing your anxiety or making you more complacent.)

Furthermore, Tracy says that your beliefs about yourself often aren’t based on fact; instead, they were shaped by your childhood, the people around you, your education, and your experiences. For example, your belief that you aren’t smart may have started in school, where only verbal and mathematical intelligence were measured. You can be excellent in other areas (entrepreneurial, interpersonal, and so on) without knowing it because you simply never tapped into them at school. (Shortform note: Like Tracy, author Maxwell Maltz writes that your thoughts about yourself are shaped by your past and are thus subjective and possibly untrue. Accepting this self-image as truth may reinforce negative patterns of behavior that keep you from setting or achieving goals.)

Tracy gives three tips for overcoming limiting beliefs about yourself:

1) Question your beliefs: Assess the areas where you believe your abilities are limited and ask those close to you to point out blind spots. Then, reflect on your findings to determine if they’re true. (Shortform note: Another way to challenge your self-limiting beliefs is to write down evidence to the contrary. This might reveal that you’re more capable than you think.)

2) Choose only beliefs that will help you. Start by believing that you’ll be successful—if you believe that success is inevitable, then you won’t let anything stand in your way. Tracy advises that once you’ve chosen your positive beliefs, you make sure that what you say and do are consistent with them. (Shortform note: If you find it hard to replace your negative beliefs with beliefs that help you, another method you can try is putting a positive spin on those negative beliefs. For example, instead of saying, “I always fall for the wrong person,” you can say, “My experience has taught me what qualities to look for in a partner.”)

3) Act “as if.” Think of the person you want to become, then act as if you’re already that person with the skills that you want to have. Tracy recommends looking for role models and dressing like them, adopting their work ethic, and asking them for advice. (Shortform note: Tracy writes that dressing for success can help you believe in yourself more, but some experts argue that this tactic can, counterproductively, lead you to think more about your shortcomings. Instead of using superficial ways to feel more successful, try a healthier way of acting “as if”: Identify self-limiting behavior and then act as if you’ve already overcome it.)  

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Question, Choose, Act as If

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  • Brian Tracy's steps to setting and reaching your goals
  • How to approach your goals with the right mentality
  • Why persistence is more important than courage

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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