The Invisible Walls Inside of Us: Limiting Beliefs that Block Human Potential
I wish I had known about limiting beliefs when I was a high school teacher. I’m not quite sure why they were not a part of my training to become an educator in the first place. Knowledge of limiting beliefs, how they impact our lives, and how to clear them needs to be a prerequisite to not only teaching but should be directly taught to students for personal development.
As a part of my Bachelor’s of Education, I learned countless strategies for teaching science and math as well as classroom management tools. The idea was that with the right amount of tools, strategies and experience, I could become an effective teacher with the ability to reach the most students possible. However, even the best teacher can fail a student who is plagued by limiting beliefs.
A student who inherently believes that they are bad at math will incidentally reinforce this in their lives.
I learned about Limiting Beliefs when I was 33 as a by-product of healing from psychological abuse, nine years into my teaching career. Because of my late initiation into this critical aspect of human psychology, I didn’t see the root behind my students’ grades. I just made the common misconception that students achieved high grades based on work ethic or talent. And the students who received poor grades would do better with stronger work habits. This isn’t entirely incorrect, however, the real question is, what is the source of students’ motivation in certain subjects, or lack thereof?
The more I learned about limiting beliefs, the more I realized how ineffective I was as a teacher. I tried hard to get my students to study and complete their homework, so they could do well on assessments. If only they did the work, they could get a higher grade and see what was possible for them. The loophole to this was some students did work incredibly hard and still repeatedly received mediocre grades.
I was looking at the psychology of learning from the wrong direction. A person doesn’t achieve something and then believes they are good at it, like my ‘A’ math students. Rather, these top students first believed they could do it, then achieved the corresponding high grades.
If someone believes they can do something, they will take positive actions to match that belief. Trusting that the effort they put into the work will pay off and yield the desired results. The opposite is also true, if a person believes they are not good at something, it is unclear if their efforts will pay off. Humans are ultimately rewards based. A student who believes, at their core, that they are bad at math might think, “what’s the point of studying? I’m just going to fail anyways.” And take actions towards something more rewarding.
There is a more unsettling problem to limiting beliefs than the link to motivation and taking action. That is: this thought process is likely not occurring consciously. When this student gets home from school and looks at their backpack, the thought of “what’s the point of studying? I’m just going to fail anyways” could not be happening in their conscious awareness. It is hard to hold someone fully accountable for not doing their homework, when they don’t even realize they are making a choice not to do it!
If this belief has been operating in their life for a long time this process is likely happening subconsciously. We are often unaware of what is lurking in our subconscious because of how it works with conscious mind. Daily brain processing works on efficiency. The conscious mind can only handle so many active thoughts and directives at once, so the subconscious alleviates a lot of this work by programming itself with beliefs to quickly work from. In this way, the subconscious mind is the powerful operations system that runs our life. Unless a person has done work to clear and reprogram their subconscious, it will be working on programs mostly adopted in early childhood, which is beyond active memory and recollection. It also runs on programs and belief systems passed down through generational lines and past lives. (If you believe in those!)
We receive a large amount of stimulus, all the time. If the conscious mind received it all, it would not be capable of fast decision making. So 99% of this stimulus goes to the subconscious where it is instantaneously judged as good or bad for us based on the previous programs stored there. These past ‘programs’ are the belief system we have about ourselves and the world.
A belief is the acceptance of something which is true. It is much easier for the subconscious to work from these ‘truths’ than to constantly assess each new situation in our lives. These truths shape our perspectives about our environment and determine which actions we take, often unconsciously, throughout the day.
School can be a good discovery ground for students’ talents and positive beliefs, but in equal measure, it can inadvertently reinforce these limiting beliefs. It’s easy for an adult or a high-school student to develop a limiting program in their subconscious from childhood. They may not have had a lot of exposure to certain subjects in elementary school, or they could have had a bad experience with a teacher. The source of the limiting belief could have even started before the first day of school, at home with their caregivers. Young children do not have the skills to process and unpack negative experiences. If a teacher had a bad day and it was projected towards the students, instead of looking at the situation logically, a child will take it personally. The adults negative behavior will be stored in memory with a simple truth like, “I’m not good enough” or “I do things wrong” or “It happened because I was bad”
This early processing created a truth from these negative experiences in certain subjects and areas of life. The program stored in the subconscious will determine these stimuli as a source of pain and that it should be avoided. This avoidance is a protective mechanism against negative and shameful emotions, but later in life can be detrimental to success.
As a child gets older, the original source of the negative experience is forgotten. However, if a student is running on a belief in the subconscious that says, “I’m bad at math,” it will act like a slave to it. It will produce a result in the students’ life that confirms it for them. This creates even more evidence in their life, so the belief, “I’m not good at math,” is taken as a truth for their life. They will assume it’s just the way things are.
No matter how good or motivating a teacher tries to be, they are fighting an uphill battle: they could be working against a student’s subconscious mind, which is ruling their perceptions, feelings and actions.
One year during my teaching career, I managed to convince most of my grade 8 students to do their homework everyday. Out of 60 students, almost 90% would do their work! The grades did improve slightly on their tests and quizzes. However, I noticed that even though students were doing their homework regularly, many of their grades stayed in the same range. A ‘C’ student got a slightly higher percentage, but was still a C student. They still took detrimental actions, undermining their success. Like not checking their answers or marking their work. Or relying on the calculator for everything. Again, this is a failure to see how powerful hidden limiting beliefs are.
Even if the student commits the action of doing their homework, the subconscious will undermine any possible success, if there is a negative stored program towards it. It will make sure they process the math incorrectly, talk during a lesson, stay up late before a test day and get more questions wrong than they get right. The subconscious can also trick the conscious mind into answering a math problem wrong. So even if a student knows consciously that 8×8 = 64, on a test or quiz, they will “accidentally” write down that 8×8 = 16. Except it’s not an accident, it’s a deeply embedded program running in the background of their subconscious mind.
Yes, that’s correct, but let’s say it again for effect: Your mind will dutifully carry out what you believe to be true, consciously or unconsciously. Even if a person tries to take positive actions towards something they are trying to improve, the subconscious has the power to undermine the desired result. This is why it’s so important to know how to clear and rewrite subconscious programs, so that both the conscious and subconscious mind are going in the same direction.
Even though I thought I was being an effective teacher by getting most of my students to do their math homework, without knowledge of limiting beliefs and how to clear them, I was perpetually failing my students by reinforcing that if they just worked more, they could get better grades. However, it’s not the amount of work we do in life that counts, it’s the belief we have about it that produces the desired results.
In my last year of teaching high school, I explained the impact of limiting beliefs (and where they came from) to students. I was pleasantly surprised at how they received the information. They were wowed by the new awareness that the way they are wasn’t how they have to be forever. That they have the power to change any part of their life that makes them unhappy. Nobody likes receiving poor grades on tests and looking inadequate in front of other people and their teacher. I had a couple students approach me after explaining limiting beliefs and tell me personally how much of an impact I had on their lives. They thought they were dumb and doomed to a life of low achievement. I rocked their world by telling them it’s just a programming they have been running on since they were very young. And they have the power to change that program and produce different actions with elevated results.
However, I work with adults now, giving a similar limiting beliefs workshop I gave to high school students. I thought that perhaps adults, with increased consciousness, would jump at the opportunity to heal their limiting beliefs. It’s not working in the way I hoped. With low attendance to my workshops, the same eagerness I saw in teenagers doesn’t seem to be there.
Perhaps the ‘truths’ and evidence get more solidified in our life as we get older? Much of our life stems from how we did in school. In my own life, I was good at science and math, so I took science and math in University. And avoided anything to do with the language arts with a vengeance! And so my first career was a science and math teacher. I did get asked to teach personal development classes in my first teaching position, which was the first time I got exposed to my passion of fostering human potential.
If adults create a comfortable life based on their early beliefs and programs, it’s possible that the consistency of their reality overrides any amount of convincing I do on the benefits of clearing and rewriting limiting beliefs.
If a youth doesn’t consciously realize the power their subconscious has on their daily actions, could we expect an adult to realize this as well? Afterall, the programs have been running longer and have had a greater chance to ‘set in’ with behavior patterns. As well, it’s not like adults are sitting in a diverse class full of peers with different achievement levels. After graduating, adults tend to choose social circles with similar values and lifestyles. As adults, we become the average of our five closest connections. Our social circle solidifies the identity we associate with even more.
I still can’t believe I was 33 when I first learned about limiting beliefs, and 36 when I really understood how to clear them properly after taking a Limiting Beliefs Practitioner Course. I now expect most people to be in the dark about subconscious processing and limiting beliefs, much like I was for most of my life. But that’s something I hope to change!
I’ve wondered about how best to approach adults about clearing their limiting beliefs. But humans are funny, if I try to tell people that clearing limiting beliefs is the most revolutionary thing that can happen in their lives, it’s still not motivating enough. An already established comfort zone rejects the idea that they could be any different than the way they function in life already. It’s usually when life situations have become dire, desperate and extreme that people seek to change.
In my own life, my extreme limiting beliefs after psychological abuse drove me into a breakdown that included addiction, psychosis, and a spinal cord accident where I lost the ability to walk. It was only during my month-long stay in the hospital and the humility of having to ask for help to go use the bathroom, that I realized my previous programs channeled the path to destroying my mind, body and spirit. Although most people’s limiting beliefs are not this extreme, they still could be jeopardizing the possibility of a life full of real joy and motivation. Adults could be settling for relationships, careers and incomes that match their limiting beliefs, instead of their true potential, which lies underneath them.
On the other side of their limiting beliefs are benefits like improved mood, better health, confidence, opportunities, and undiscovered talents. I know this because reprogramming my subconscious has created more happiness and empowerment than I ever thought possible. And a career that includes all my passions: art and helping other people tap into their potential as I have learned to.
Is it possible for you to remember any past negative experiences that created self doubt and feelings of not being enough? Have you ever had the idea to do something different, but it never quite happened? Do you have areas of your life that consistently inspire negative feelings?
These are all signs of limiting beliefs being stored in your subconscious, which are knowingly or unknowingly playing out in your life.
And my last question, aren’t you at all curious to see who you would be without the negative experiences from your past? We can never change what has happened to us, but we can change the belief we stored about the experience. Which became a truth for yourself and your life.
And it’s this belief that creates your feelings and actions you take; which changes: Everything.