Note: I feel like this could be a sensitive subject. Please know that this lesson is not meant to offend anyone or imply any biases. And you may wonder why such a lesson is included in a “healthy eating” program anyway … The truth is, limiting beliefs can be the root cause of an eating problem, or even an eating pattern that is not a “problem”, but is not as healthy as it could be. Also, limiting beliefs apply to any aspect of life, and if you have one, your whole life could open up if you realize that you have the limiting belief, and are able to dispel it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “self-sabotage”? It means that someone will do things to prevent themselves from being successful, without realizing it.
It’s when someone makes a goal, but when they start taking steps towards the goal, their mind comes up with reasons why it won’t work. They talk themselves out of it.
Or they share the goal with their most pessimistic friend, subconsciously knowing that their friend will tell them it’s stupid. They could have shared the goal with their most optimistic friend instead, who may have encouraged them to go for it.
Or they begin working on their goal, and suddenly they’re struck by the irresistible urge to organize their closet or clean the house.
Or they allocate a few hours to work on their goal, and somehow those hours get chewed up by web surfing, or planning for the goal, or making to-do lists.
They’ve consciously decided that the goal is important to them, but they can observe the pattern that their mind isn’t fully cooperating with them. It keeps nudging them towards distractions when they need to get some real work done.
Actions are driven by Beliefs. Here is a very simple example:
Before you take the action of brushing your teeth, you have the belief that brushing your teeth is beneficial to your health. If, instead, you thought that dental science was a scam, you would not be motivated to brush your teeth.
Your actions and thoughts around food are also driven by beliefs – beliefs about food, and beliefs about yourself.
Self-sabotaging behavior is caused by thoughts and beliefs that you don’t even realize that you have.
The culprit in self-sabotage situations like these is quite often limiting beliefs.
What are Limiting Beliefs
Note: Limiting Beliefs are different than limiting factors. Limiting factors would be: you don’t like your job, have unsupportive friends, or live in a place unsuitable to your goals. These would be classified in the Four Corners of Weight Loss and Healthy Living as “Surroundings”. These factors are external to you.
Limiting Beliefs are simply beliefs that do not serve you. We all have beliefs that have been formed in our minds through observation and experience. They form strong neural pathways, and are there whether we realize it or not.
Limiting beliefs will rarely express themselves openly. Usually they’ll show up by influencing thinking and behaviors in ways that tear you away from your goal, effectively starving it of attention. They operate below the level of awareness most of the time. Beliefs are somewhere in the back of the brain, asserting their power. They are typically noticed by their side effects first.
Because limiting beliefs are sneaky and are usually subconscious, in order to reach a goal, people need to be willing to change their beliefs and self-image to align with their goal instead of letting their past mental patterns get in the way.
A significant part of this shift in thinking involves letting go of beliefs such as:
- I’m not good enough.
- I can’t make permanent changes in the way I eat.
- I don’t deserve to be healthy.
- It’s easier being overweight.
- I can’t do it.
- People don’t pay attention to me because I am overweight, and that’s a good thing because I’m shy.
- Everyone in my family struggles with their weight, so there’s nothing I can do about it.
- I guess I just don’t have any willpower.
- I’m never successful
How do Beliefs get there?
A lot of beliefs are installed in early childhood, and they serve a purpose. They act as mental shortcuts to keep us safe. The downside is that our brains overgeneralize in some cases, installing patterns that overlook subtle nuances. Hence these patterns are often inaccurate. But to manage our survival, they don’t need to be perfectly accurate. They just need to be good enough, especially when you are a child and still figuring out the world.
Sometimes a belief gets installed that does not serve any purpose and was inaccurate to begin with. This belief was installed just like the others – by observing our world, and it probably seemed at the time like it was very important and might be something we needed to do to keep us safe. So it is created with the others and tucked away.
Remember the Lesson on 2 Brains: Conscious & Subconscious? These beliefs we learned in childhood are buried very, very deep in the subconscious.
On a day to day basis, these beliefs play out in our actions, and our actions support our beliefs. To help illustrate this cycle, our thought cycle can be broken down into seven steps.
- I believe that smiling at people makes them like me.
- I take action, I smile at people
- I observe what happens.
- Because there is so much that happens in any situation, my brain can only “see” about 10% of what is going on. The 10% that I “see” adheres to my beliefs because it is human nature to only “see” what you already believe.
- I add meaning to what I “see”. From my perspective and experience, when someone smiles at me, it means they are happy to see me.
- My brain wants to make assumptions based on this meaning. I make the assumption that the person who smiled likes me.
- From this, the natural conclusion is that smiling at people makes them like me. This strengthens the belief I already had.
Let’s look at this scenario a different way. (a) The person I smiled at didn’t even see me and was smiling at someone who was standing behind me. I didn’t “see” this because it does not fit my world-view or belief. (b) Or maybe they were smiling at me because I had jam smeared on my face and they thought it was funny. But my mind raced through seeing, adding meaning, and making assumptions without considering either of these alternate scenarios.
In addition, I will subconsciously smile at people who I know like me in order to keep that belief intact.
Here’s an unhappy example:
- Mary’s dad was an alcoholic who yelled at her mother when she was a kid. She concluded, as a child, that men are mean alcoholics. Now, as an adult, Mary can only find mean alcoholic men.
- Mary wants a boyfriend so she takes the action of going to a bar.
- She observes what is going on around her, but …
- … only “sees” the men who are sloppy drunk.
- From her perspective and experience, she adds the meaning that these guys must be jerks.
- She assumes that she should treat them like mean jerks, so she is rude to them. They react by being rude in return.
- She, once again, concludes that men are mean alcoholics.
In this scenario, Mary does not even see the nice, polite men sitting near her. They don’t fit her belief, so she doesn’t see them. Likewise, if Mary had yelled NICE things to the drunk men instead of mean things, they probably would have been nice to her in return.
In this example, do you think Mary has any clue that her belief is wrong? She has so much evidence to support it! Do you think that this belief is limiting Mary’s dating experiences? Does this look like self-sabotage?
The Subconscious Brain Won’t Let You Do It
You have made health goals, and steps are laid out for you to reach your goals. But will your Subconscious brain cooperate with your plans? Maybe. Maybe not.
Your health goal could trigger a belief that makes you avoid actions that would go against that belief, because the belief is there to protect you, or because it is important (or so you thought as a child). As this belief bubbles up to your Conscious brain, you’re forced to generate all manner of excuses (without realizing it) that will result in inability to take action towards your goal.
The thing with beliefs is that our subconscious brain makes sure that we adhere to the belief. You don’t know this is happening, by the way. Like Mary yelling mean things to the drunk men – this was a subconscious action on her part, but her subconscious brain knew that it would result in actions that would support the belief. With a belief like “It’s easier being overweight”, your brain will find ways to prove that belief, time and time again.
Choose to live with them … or not
In order to live the richest life possible, any limiting beliefs hidden in the Subconscious brain need to be tackled. There are a few options.
1. The first option is to ignore them. Let these mental subroutines continue to run as they have been. Same old-same old. The problem with this option is that it is unlikely that the full potential as a conscious human being will be reached because the subconscious is exerting its control. This is essentially the same as accepting that past programming is the real you.* (your past programming is NOT the real you)
2. The second option is to try to overpower limiting beliefs, use the force of will to resist them by pushing to take action again and again. But remember the difference between Will-power and Motivation? Will-power doesn’t last.
Put systems in place to force yourself to get moving and keep moving, make lists and meal plans… But the effects will likely be short-lived, and it can be mentally exhausting to keep it up. This strategy essentially means that one part of your brain is fighting the other.
3. The third option is to get un-stuck, dissolve your limiting beliefs. Instead of resisting them, release them! By dissolving a limiting belief, you can remove it permanently so that it no longer subconsciously affects your thinking! Essentially this means that you’re deleting the old subroutines that got installed in early childhood since, as an adult, you no longer need them. You can use your fully developed Conscious brain to make more intelligent decisions. You can base your decisions on your knowledge, life experience, skills, and outcome predictions.
In place of the old beliefs, you can either install new ones, or leave the slate blank and allow your brain’s own logical thinking to fill in the gap.
It would be terrific if our brains automatically cleared out old beliefs when we no longer needed them. To some extent they do. We tend to become less emotional as we age, which can reduce the effects of childhood conditioning. But we can speed this process along by doing some manual garbage collection to clear out the clutter of limiting beliefs that we no longer need.
It’s time to take back your power from limiting beliefs!! “I am in charge of my choices!”