Stop Holding Yourself Back With Self-Limiting Beliefs

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Girl, Stop Apologizing" by Rachel Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often tell yourself that your dreams are too big and that you’ll never reach them? Why must you be willing to be bad at something?

When you tell yourself that you’re not capable of something, you’re actually making your statement come true. Self-limiting beliefs hold you back from accomplishing your goals because if you convince yourself that you will fail, then you will fail. The truth is that nobody is great at something when they just start—you just have to be willing to work to get better.

Here is Rachel Hollis’s advice for overcoming self-limiting beliefs from Girl, Stop Apologizing.

Stop Saying “I’m Not Capable

Once you decide that you’re worthy of having your own dreams and goals, Hollis says the next excuse you’re likely to tell yourself is that your dream is too lofty, and you’re not good enough at (fill in the blank) to accomplish it.

For example, your dream might be to hike to the top of Mount Shasta, but you get winded climbing one flight of stairs. Your inner dialogue might go something like this: “I’m not even capable of walking up two flights of stairs. There’s no way I could make it to the top of a mountain!” You convince yourself that you’re destined to fail.

Hollis tells us that everybody holds certain self-limiting beliefs—these are insecurities specific to you that will hold you back. She says it’s important to remember that these insecurities are merely opinions you have about yourself that can be combated with positive truths.

Self-Esteem Versus Self-Efficacy

While they are different, self-esteem and self-efficacy both fuel self-limiting beliefs. If you are holding yourself back, start by identifying whether you’re doubting yourself as a person or if it’s your capability that you’re questioning.

Self-esteem is the opinion you have about yourself as a person; about who you are. If you have high self-esteem, you believe that you’re a good person. 

Self-efficacy is the opinion you have about your abilities; about what you’re capable of doing.

It is common to have high self-esteem and low self-efficacy, or vice versa. The two aren’t tied together. For example, you may believe you’re a smart person but not capable of passing a certain test. In that case, you would have high self-esteem but low self-efficacy. Or, if you believe that you’re a bad person but know that you’re a great lawyer, that is low self-esteem and high self-efficacy.

The Truth: Everyone Sucks in the Beginning

Hollis says that believing you’re not capable is an excuse because the truth is, everybody struggles at the start of something new and challenging. 

Hollis believes that to become successful in any new venture, it’s not important to be naturally good at whatever you’re doing. Rather, you must have the willingness to be bad at it for a long time. She stresses that expecting instant or rapid improvement is a mistake and will sabotage genuine progress.

(Shortform note: Instant gratification and fulfillment rarely coexist. Fulfillment comes from achieving something that is deeply and truly important to you. Instant gratification satisfies the pleasure center in your brain, which isn’t your deeper level of desire. For example, you don’t deeply care about pizza, but when you eat it you receive instant gratification. The same can be said for goals. When you work slowly and steadily toward your dream, the importance becomes deeper to you and achieving it provides greater fulfillment.)

Hollis gives a couple of reasons why not being capable “yet” doesn’t matter. First, she points out that this is true with every new skill you attempt. For example, babies aren’t born knowing how to crawl, walk, or talk. Imagine if they quit before starting, or shortly after starting. It’s silly when you think of it that way, isn’t it? 

Second, she says not being capable “yet” has no bearing on what you can accomplish in the future. Continuing with the first example, just because a baby isn’t crawling yet does not mean she will never walk. 

(Shortform note: When you embark on a new goal, it may be helpful to research what the typical learning curve is. For example, how long does it take most people to train for a marathon if their starting point is zero? How long does it take most people to complete prerequisites for medical school? This isn’t to say that you should compare yourself to others if your learning curve is steeper or slower; rather, having this information ahead of time likely will ease your worry if you’re worried about your starting point.)

Hollis makes a clear distinction between making mistakes and failing. She stresses that you will make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable and will help you develop best practices. She contrasts this with the idea of failure, which is avoidable. Hollis defines failure as letting mistakes scare you into not learning and continuing

(Shortform note: Mistakes can be a powerful tool for self-improvement—that is, if you treat them as such. Start by taking responsibility for the mistake. Then reflect on why you made the mistake (don’t dwell; this part should be quick), and make a plan for next time. It is also helpful to write a list of reasons why you don’t want to make the same mistake again.)

Hollis warns her readers to avoid the trap of unhealthy comparison. She says that if you’re comparing yourself to others, it should be for the purpose of learning and not to gauge your capability for success. 

(Shortform note: Comparing your journey to others’ can easily turn into an unhealthy habit, particularly if you use social media posts to do it. For example, it is rare to find an Etsy crafter who posts pictures of her shoddy first creations. On the rare occasion that you do see this, it is usually only one photo; in reality, the first 20 or more that she made are probably not very good. Keep in mind that social media posts are curated and lead the viewer to believe what the poster wants them to believe.)

The Fix: Combat Your Self-Limiting Beliefs With Supportive Truths

Hollis asserts that the best way to defeat self-limiting beliefs (opinions) is to remind yourself of factual evidence to the contrary. Put another way, for every negative thought you have about your capabilities, refute it with indisputable facts.

For example, if you’re inclined to tell yourself that you’re not smart enough to get a college degree, remind yourself of a time when something was intellectually difficult but you made it through. Or, if you feel you’re not fit enough to climb that mountain, remind yourself of a time when your body accomplished something amazing.

Self-Limiting Belief: I Am Not Smart

Hollis’s most challenging self-limiting belief was that she wasn’t “smart enough” to run a big business, mostly because she never went to college. It was such a strong belief that it almost kept her from growing her business past a small one-person blog into the large multimedia corporation it is now. 

In his book Limitless, author Jim Kwik says this self-limiting belief is common. He helps his readers combat the belief by teaching them how to recognize their type of intelligence and how they can use it to their advantage. For example, someone might believe that they aren’t intelligent because they did poorly in school, but in reality, they have what is called “practical intelligence,” also known as street smarts. This type of intelligence is no less valuable than the other types, and it can be powerful once embraced. 
Stop Holding Yourself Back With Self-Limiting Beliefs

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Here's what you'll find in our full Girl, Stop Apologizing summary :

  • Rachel Hollis's lessons she learned while building a multimillion-dollar company
  • Why "having it all" isn't something you should aspire to
  • Why women need to stop trying to fit society's idea of a "good woman"

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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