Are Your Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?

Several years ago, we had an English Setter named Nelson. He was gentle and patient. He let our grandchildren pull his tail and climb all over him. He only had one real fault.

My Dog Nelson

My Dog Nelson

Whenever the door would open, he would bolt like a convict, drunk with his new-found freedom. It would often take twenty or minutes or more to retrieve him. On more than one occasion, he narrowly escaped being hit by an oncoming car.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a fenced in yard. There was no real way to restrain him—at least in the conventional sense. Just as we were about to decide to find him a new home, we discovered Invisible Fence.

Invisible Barriers

This was the breakthrough we needed. Our local Invisible Fence dealer installed an underground wire that ran the parameter of our yard. He then put a computerized collar on Nelson. It delivered a warning tone and, if needed, a very gentle but effective static correction whenever the dog approached the barrier.

With the dealer’s guidance, we used positive reinforcement to train Nelson. He quickly learned where the boundary was and avoided it. He no longer ran when we opened the door. In fact, we could let him out into the yard without any fear he would run away.

Several months later, we discovered we no longer needed to put the collar on Nelson. Even if we stood on the other side of the barrier and called, he wouldn’t come. If the kids tried to entice him with a treat, he wouldn’t budge. The barrier had moved from the external world of an electronic device, to the internal world of Nelson’s head.

Limiting Beliefs

As I was thinking about this, I wondered, How many of my own beliefs are like this? In other words, they only exist in my mind, but I treat them as though they were “out there”—part of the real world.

I immediately thought of three kinds of limiting beliefs.

  1. Beliefs about myself. I have often been stuck in my life, not because I didn’t have the money, time, or contacts to make progress, but because of some deep-seated assumption.

    For example, early in my career, I thought I was too young to succeed. I sabotaged myself in subtle ways. Now I routinely meet people who think they are too old to succeed.

    But what is the truth? The truth is that age has very little to do with our success. It’s often a story we use—whether we are young or old—to stay stuck.

    Here are some other examples of limiting beliefs we might have about ourselves:

    • “I’m just not technologically-inclined.”
    • “I can’t help it, I’m just big-boned.”
    • “I’ve never been very good with money.”
    • “I guess I’m just not that creative.”
    • “I’m a quitter. I never finish what I start.”
  2. Beliefs about others. It’s not just the beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us stuck, sometimes it’s a belief we have about others.

    I once worked for a man whom I thought was arrogant. Though he was brilliant, he kept his office door shut most of the time. When he did venture out, he barely spoke to anyone. If he passed you in the hallway, he would look away.

    As I got to know him, I discovered that he wasn’t arrogant at all. He just suffered from low self-esteem and, as a result, was extremely shy. As I got to know him he warmed up and became a mentor.

    The truth about him was exactly the opposite of what I initially thought. My limiting belief almost cost me an important relationship.

    Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about others:

    • “There’s no use asking. He’s too busy to meet with me.”
    • “He’s just a bean counter. What does he know?”
    • “Someone like her would never go out with a guy like me.”
    • “She’s too introverted to be a good leader.”
    • “He hasn’t responded. I guess he’s upset with me.”
  3. Beliefs about the world. Sometimes the beliefs that keep us stuck are global. I saw this recently when I was talking to one of my friends in the book publishing industry.

    I asked him how it was going. “It’s tough,” he admitted. “With the economic downturn, stores are continuing to close and book sales are down.”

    I don’t doubt things are tough for him. However, I do question whether the economy is as bad as he thinks. He may be suffering from selection bias.

    Because I speak for organizations in a variety of industries, I see different perspectives on the economy. For some, the economy is booming. For others, we’re still in the Great Recession.

    Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about the world:

    • “You know how women are. They are so emotional.”
    • “Everyone knows politicians will say anything to get elected.”
    • “I don’t trust management. They’re always trying to screw us.”
    • “Rich people don’t care about anyone but themselves.”
    • “You can’t be successful without compromising your integrity.”

Convenient Excuses

Beliefs are not the culprit. They can be a good thing when they are rooted in reality. But we have to learn to distinguish between reality and excuses.

For example, I used to think of myself as an introvert. It was the reason I didn’t mingle with people at parties or even introduce myself to audience members before I spoke in public.

But it suddenly dawned on me one day that this was a limiting belief. It was keeping me from having the impact I really wanted. It wasn’t the way things were; it was an excuse that was keeping me from growing.

So I changed my belief. I decided that introversion was more of a preference rather than something innate. I could chose which behavior to exhibit—introversion or extroversion—based on what I wanted to achieve.

If you find yourself stuck in some area, ask yourself, “What beliefs do I have about this that are limiting my ability to move forward? Is this really true? Is there something else I need to believe that is more rooted in reality?”

Question: What is a limiting belief you struggle with? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Justin Phillips

    Great word Michael! Many of us are raised with limited belief in ourselves and our God given ability. We must reprogram our mind by following our dreams. Two things will determine where we all will be five years from now…. The books we read and the people we hang with!

    God bless,
    Justin Phillips

  • Kent Julian

    For me, it’s not necessarily my beliefs that get me stuck as much as it’s focusing on the wrong thing. For instance, I might be focusing on the behavior of one my children rather than the cause of the behavior. Sometime the “in your face” grabs my attention more than the “subtle, but more substantial” reality. This is a bigger sticking point than beliefs, at least for me.

  • steveborgman

    My limiting belief that I most need to change is that I don’t have enough to offer to charge what I need to be successful with my platform. The shift from being a hobbyist to being a pro is the one I need to make in my mind and gut first. And I also need to act my way into that belief daily through my actions toward my goals.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the post Michael…another home run in my book! Yeah I totally agree. It occurred to me a few years ago that one person I constantly talk to all day was filled with nothing but negative thoughts…me. The conversation I have with myself all day about what I thought about, struggles, problems, etc really weighed me down. For example, on the way to work (5:30am) i always say out loud “Dang I’m tired”. I caught myself saying that one morning and said out loud “wait a minute, I’m not tired I went to bed early last night and slept about 8 hours, I feel fine”. Talk about speaking something into existence. I still do it sometimes but always correct myself. We definitely have to be mindful of that ongoing conversation with ourselves.

  • Michael D.

    Not following your logic in #3. If your friend is working in the publishing industry and it’s struggling what does that have to do with selection bias? If you asked him how is the world going instead of how it’s going with him – I may see your point…

  • kimanzi constable

    For years I told myself that all I could do was manual labor. I told myself there was no way I could self-publish a book and be a success. Once I got over those beliefs the results were life-changing. I’m writing this from my home in Maui, Hawaii :)

  • John Patrick Weiss

    I love fountain pens, moleskine notebooks, and simplicity. Computers and technology were uncomfortable for me. They were my invisible fence. But I started learning about building Platforms and eventually dove in with a WordPress blog. I joined Platform University and found I can indeed use technology. So, I still enjoy my fountain pens and journals, but also my MacBook Pro, iPad and blog! Your post was a great reminder to work past our self limiting thoughts! Thanks!

  • Christianna Hellwig

    Thank you for that post! I confess I often struggled with the thought that nobody liked me and that I had always best to keep my conversations as short as possible so as not to cause them any inconvenience. In fact, I was so paranoid about causing people inconveniences and so sure that they didn’t like me that I avoided people in general and found out afterwards that I had hurt them because they thought I didn’t like them! What a mistake! I still struggle with these feelings, but by God’s grace I shall and am beginning to, overcome them! It is so good to hear you say this! Thank you.


    I don’t feel limited by labeling myself as an Introvert. I used to feel limited before coming to realize I am introverted and not understanding why I would feel so drained at the end of a day filled with meetings and people. After reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, I now know under what conditions I work best and I structure my day accordingly. I agree with you that most of us introverts can choose to behave in an extroverted manner. When I’m delivering a presentation, no one would guess I’m an introvert.

  • Ray Edwards

    It’s embarrassing to admit, but for many years a belief that limited me was: “I’m the only one who cares.” This usually came up at work, where I felt like no one cared about the end product of what we were doing than I. This resulted in my believing, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”

    Not only was this a disempowering belief, it was false. I eventually did figure that out. Other people cared just as much as I did, or even more. When I began to release them to demonstrate that stewardship in a way that was meaningful to them, our radio stations began to achieve some remarkable things.

    In my experience, one of the amazing things about limiting beliefs is how ridiculous they appear in retrospect. Thanks for a great post Michael.

    • Kathleen Thompson

      I had that belief as well, Ray. And isn’t it such a trap?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ray. I’ve had those beliefs, too.

      Amazingly, in discussing this post with Gail today on the way to the airport, we uncovered a coupe of more limiting beliefs. I’m just going to keep peeling the onion!

  • Alex Flores

    Great article Michael. I think the biggest limiting belief for me is mostly concerning others. Whenever I release content, the first thing I think is that no one will be interested or in any way consider me a credible source since I’m young and don’t portray a typical guitarist’s image. This mode of thinking seems to follow me around even when the content is well-received and “successful.” It’s not something I have ever really articulated prior to reading this article and I’m very much challenged to think and pray through this. Thanks!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Awesome, Alex. I love hearing that.

  • prestonshaw

    Michael, this is huge for me as a fundraiser. I see it in my own life and the fundraisers I work with on my blog. The biggest limiting belief I struggle with is believing people don’t want to donate their had earned money. I’m continually reminded this is false by the generosity of people! Thanks for the great post!

  • Kathleen Thompson

    So often our limiting beliefs are subconscious, and it is difficult to identify them. There are those on the surface, and then those that are buried deep. I have found that writing first thing in the morning (before my thinking brain has a chance to take completely over) surfaces these unconscious beliefs, thus allowing me to take action. While I am writing, I often decide on my actions so that I am more likely to actually do them.
    Thank you for raising this important issue, Michael. Negative beliefs can do more than limit our growth and success. They can also create stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and disease. Helpful beliefs can bring peace, rest, and healing.

  • Tara

    Wow, thank you. I struggle with #1. The example you use with introversion and extroversion, and not mingling or introducing myself, “She’s too introverted to be a leader”, etc… me “to a T”. The way you’ve put this, #1 and the Convenient Excuses portion if this email are most helpful and have definitely given me something to meditate on. Deep down inside I know that I am smart, capable, was born to do something great; bit these beliefs, I’ve let them get the best of me. I am 34 years into my life and not happy or proud of where I am in my life ( personal or career)… this read encourages me to challenge myself to change my current beliefs about myself… it’s not too late.

  • kcr

    I totally agree with your points. Thank you for the examples they really make it clear. My example is quite different than the ones you listed, but I guess many people has/ had such an experience. I worked under the same manager for many many years and we became real friends and cared for each other. He trained me very well, share all kinds of information. actually he became my mentor more than a manager. then he left the company and started his own business. but before leaving he made me believe that i would not be able to get my benefits or any other rights from the new management. so i left with him and joined him in his company, knowing he would protect my rights and we would have great business as he has very well connections and support from the market. so i was in a dream… just 2-3 months ago I realised he did not have big plans for both of us as promised. he had his plans and i could just hang around. actually business wise he was not any better than me, just he had more experience and capital. all these years I believed I needed to be with him to survive and have safe income and have solid future plans. Now I know I am totally capable of having my own business or at least have a high income job until i come up with my own business idea.
    I still care for him and respect him for all the things he taught me till now, but I lost so much time by sticking under his shadow. it is time to move on as an individual. I don’t need a protector or initiator.

  • Sharon

    My limiting belief? I can’t do this. But I’m better trained, have more experience than most people that do. Thanks for sharing…I’ve had a bout of doubt lately.

  • FrStephen Lourie

    I have had a belief about myself for years that humility was the same as self-rejection. Put no confidence in the flesh, renounce yourself. But I came to realize that being created in the image of God means that somehow I reflect God, the way a fogged up mirror in the bathroom reflects my image. That is not me, but an image of me (icon=image). God loves me as I am. Not the person I might become or wish I was.
    I realized in other words that I was an iconoclast. (Icon breaker) I was denegrating God’s work. We are taught to love our enemies, to love our neighbor as our self. So how can I hate myself? I must love all people, including myself, without excusing my own fallen-ness or my own sin.
    Since that time I am convinced that many people struggle with self-hatred but disguise it with smiles, confidence, continual glad talk and other cover ups. We like Adam and Ever are still running into the bushes and trying to cover ourselves. Time to come out of the bushes and run to God.

  • Tasha Cole McKinlay

    Being able to choose your interactions, behaviors, or responses is dead on. For me, it took outside intervention to realize that I ~could~ make that choice, rather than to simply respond in a knee-jerk fashion to stimuli around me. Up until that point, I was operating on learned negative behaviors, picked up from others in my life. Once the ability to choose was realized, I was able to selectively build a new “me”, keeping the behaviors I liked, tossing those that I didn’t, and picking up new, more positive, behaviors from those whom I admired. I’m much happier with who I am now, and I continue to learn, improve on Self, and grow.

  • Dr. Christy Demetriades

    Again, another insightful post that wisely directs the reader to look at issues of the heart in a kind and honest manner. It’s so true – as a man thinketh, so is he. Thank you for this excellent reminder!

  • Heather Kinzie

    Excellent post…when are we going to start telling ourselves that we can and should as opposed to we shouldn’t and can’t?

  • Astraport

    Hi Michael,
    Please, try my new app for self-improvement – visualife.newmobapp + com

  • Ken Davis

    I miss Nelson. Great post Michael!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ken. I miss him, too. But we should Charlie, our new dog, next month. I can’t wait!

  • Dale Callahan

    Constant battle! Part of what helps me is when I realize EVERYONE has them – some just push through. I have to talk myself through them looking to others who have done the same for inspiration.

  • Matthew Casteel

    I JUST had a wonderful experience moving past a limiting belief. I heard about an incredible opportunity to serve a high profile leader in a virtual assistant capacity. I saw the “posting” come in and was initially excited thinking I should “go for it” then immediately said, “no way, they’d never hire me. There are others who know more, do more… Who am I to think…”
    But I decided to push past the doubt, put my resume together (thanks Dan Miller), and make the initial contact. And.. I landed an interview today. It was great. It boosted my confidence and was such a rewarding experience. I’ll find out more next Tuesday, but even if I don’t get the position, I’ve already won the battle of limiting beliefs today! Thanks for your encouragement and teachings Michael Hyatt and others.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Awesome, Matthew. That is terrific!

      • Matthew Casteel

        Thanks. I’ll reply Tuesday for “…the rest of the story” :)

  • Nadia McDonald

    I absolutely love this article Michael! It helped me introspect my belief system. There are so many beliefs conveyed in society. For example; one can’t be successful without a college education. Another one is that all blacks live below the poverty line and are not equal with whites. So many theories are out there and people live by them.

  • Greg Hickman

    Great post Michael! I used to tell myself I’m bad with money and that if I made a lot in a product launch I’d spend it like an idiot. So I got an accountant and am always aware of the incoming revenue. things are just fine! :)

  • Gemma Fisher

    As a dog trainer I’m sad to read the way that you dealt with Nelson’s problem, and wish I could have helped with a more positive solution. He looks like a very sweet boy from the photograph – do I take it he’s no longer with you?

    The points you make from this story are as usual excellent, but if anyone were to be struggling with a similar problem I would love them to seek advice from my website where I will be writing a blog on an alternative way of dealing with such a problem.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, sadly he died a few years ago.

      • Gemma Fisher

        I’m so sorry to hear that, he obviously left a big impression on your family. I see from a later comment that you’re looking forward to welcoming a puppy soon – exciting time! If you’d be interested in any help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch :)

        • Michael Hyatt

          Thanks, Gemma. That puppy is with an amazing trainer now that my daughter used with her dog.

          • Gemma Fisher

            That’s great to hear, and I if I caused any offence with my initial post I’m very sorry. I’m reminded of one of your podcasts that I listened to recently about re-reading a message before checking send – I hope I didn’t come across as rude or patronising. I’m a big fan of all of the work that you do, it’s really helping me become a better leader for my team :)

          • Michael Hyatt

            No problem at all. I wasn’t offended, and I didn’t think your message was rude. Great conversation!

          • Gemma Fisher

            I’m glad :) Hope you have a great weekend with your family planned, and your new puppy! Can’t wait to see pictures at some stage :)

  • Sally Ferguson

    It’s easy to know in my head that I should value my worth, but those limiting beliefs keep showing up everywhere I turn!

  • Reid

    Michael, thank you for writing this article to help us recognize our limiting beliefs. Once we are aware of the beliefs we have, of which do not serve us, what should we do to change those beliefs?

  • Lindsay Kaplan

    What an interesting connection to draw between Nelson’s behavior and our own ways of tricking and training ourselves — limiting ourselves. Ironically, the innate inability for us to let things go and shake off our hangups can limit us most. In the professional world, it’s important to approach even the most contentious relationships with a fresh look each day, because relationships can’t improve if you hold back and holding back can’t propel you forward!

  • Darlene Pawlik

    For many years, I believed I was product of rape and not worthy of value, an object to be used and abused. In my twenties, I began a young mother’s Bible study and began to change my thinking to the thoughts God had for me. I provided home education for my five children and helped a few others graduate high school. Four of my five have owned their own businesses. My youngest, at 17 is the youngest Shock-Knife instructor. He will own his self defense business. My husband and I have rentals and volunteer our time and energy helping others. My life matters. My life is not worth less than others because of the way I was conceived. Thank God our brains are neoplastic. If I can do it, you can too. Thank you for the post, Michael.

  • Alberto Rubín Martín

    Of course, our beliefs limit us. When we are really aware of that (which it is not easy), we can start to build or life and have a happy and good life

  • Dave Cornell

    Michael, I can relate to your post so well. I am actually working to build my platform around this very topic. The process really seems to be a one step forward two steps back as I find my thoughts hindering my progress. I speak specifically about being courageous in your journey and find it fascinating to have it play out in my everyday life as I build. In one of your previous posts or podcasts you talked about writing from the perspective of the struggler and that is definitely me! Thank you for your words of encouragement!

  • Archie Manley

    Exceptional Article! What we believe holds our destiny. Whether we believe life sucks, or life is wonderful both determine our

  • Archie Manley

    Exception Article Micheal! What we believe holds our destiny. Whether we
    believe life sucks, or life is wonderful both determine our

  • King Tubbo

    Wow! Just came across this article and this windy Sunday (Mother’s Day) and feel as if I have been handed a key. I have been wondering and analyzing and praying and reflecting on why I cannot seem to make the changes that I want to make in my life, and your article struck home. Certain beliefs are holding me back, but the reason that I never realized this before is because I did not treat them as beliefs but rather as reality! Thank you for this article, it truly has opened a door for me (a door with some long dormant desires waiting patiently on the other side).
    Incidentally, while undergoing the Ignatian Exercises (layman’s version — one hour per night for several months), I began to give thanks to the Lord every single night for something good or great or just helpful that happened to me that day. Lately, I have been tripping across articles or having discussions or even just overhearing conversations that have helped me gain clarity about difficulties in my life and how to overcome them. This article is definitely one of them, so you get thanks for writing it and the big guy gets thanks for helping me find it.

  • Dale Church

    This article brings to mind a quote from a friend of mine. “I’m not who I think I am, I’m not who you think I am, I’m who I think you think I am.” ~ John Crowe jr.

  • Kevin Scott

    Love the stuff Michael! Been following your work since I was 17, you are one of the people who inspired me to go out and create my own impact in this world. Cheers to you. I hope to meet you some day.

  • Chris Hargreaves

    Great observations here Michael about the way in which our own beliefs can limit us far more than reality does.