Updated: Apr 8, 2020
In a previous article I highlighted the importance of identifying and having clarity on your top 6-8 personal values. After working through the suggested process and spending some time to reflect on what your personal values are, you can then start to consciously apply and live these values on a daily basis and use them for guidance on all your decisions.
One problem I pointed out is that there are usually hidden thoughts or “false beliefs” in your subconscious mind that might sabotage living your values. These negative thoughts hold you back from living a purposeful live and prevent or slow down your personal growth to become the best version of yourself.
It appears to me that too many people are caught up in these limiting thoughts. Just imagine if only 1% of humanity would realize this and put their focus on identifying their limiting thoughts or false beliefs and gradually reprogramming them. This would lead to an enormous growth of global consciousness on this planet.
For that reason I created the “Change One Billion Thoughts” #changeonebillionthoughts challenge. The process I describe below will provide you with tools to uncover limiting thoughts which reside in you and confront them. I then encourage you to contribute to the challenge by replacing one false belief or thought you had with a positive one and spread the word about the challenge to others, so that they can do the same.
For example, if you believe a thought like “it is safer to stay at home” you may have trouble fulfilling the value of “adventure”. Opportunities may arise (e.g. a friend may invite you for a weekend of skydiving) but you will find excuses and decline such an invitation. Just by believing a thought that is not true! If you would have consciously inquired that thought and validated whether it is really true, you would have come to the conclusion that it is indeed not true. If that realization and confrontation takes place, the false thought will gradually lose its power and you can replace it with a new, more helpful thought like “life outside your home is an adventure, take advantage of it.”
Therefore I suggest the following three steps to systematically “reprogram your bio computer” (aka your brain):
First identify false beliefs or limiting thoughts, and write them down for clarity as a list of „thought candidates“ for inquiry.
Then by looking at your list, those thoughts become tangible to your conscious mind. Review and inquire them one by one to determine whether they are really true and you can be absolutely and 100% sure about it.
If not, realize this thought is not true and no longer serves you well. By making a thought visible to your conscious mind, and realising it is no longer true, it gradually starts to fade and have an impact in your daily life.
You can also decide to replace it with a more helpful thought that is aligned with your personal values.
Identifying your limiting thoughts and beliefs is actually the harder part, and this is the focus of this article. Many of those hidden thoughts live deep in our subconscious mind and bringing them to the surface is a tedious and diligent process. In addition, your ego may try to trick you or prevent you from looking at the truth deep down inside of you.
First, you have to be very honest to yourself. In many cases the “root” of the underlying thought is buried below another more surface level thought.
For example, a surface level thought might be “I need to be perfect”. However, if you ask the deeper question of why you have to be perfect, you may discover a thought such as “I’m not good enough, therefore I need to show how good I am and what I can do on a daily basis is perfection”.
There are several ways I suggest to gradually uncover these limiting thoughts:
Through a process of self reflection
Looking at what irritates you in other people
Through external feedback from friends, families, co-workers, or a personal / life coach
By observing and reviewing your current thoughts the moment they appear in your consciousness
All of these methods work fine and can be combined as needed. The last one- observing your thoughts- is already more advanced and requires a trained mind. I suggest therefore to start with the first three methods.
1. Discover limiting thoughts using self reflection.
Take a pen and paper and start writing down thoughts that come to your mind, which you would like to review and inquire about whether they are really true. It is important to do this in written form.
If you prefer your smartphone then use your favorite Notes app and start typing away. This is a brainstorming phase. Simply write down thoughts that come to mind and that you believe are true. The goal would be to have an initial list of 10-20 to get started with. Later on you can make this a weekly or daily process and keep adding more thoughts on an ongoing basis.
Here are a few examples of limiting thought patterns to get you started (I will show you more below so that you can quickly identify the most popular but also devastating thoughts):
“I’m not good at … “
“Before I can be happy I have to (or I need) …”
“I need to do … before I can … “
“I’m too (old, young, poor, rich, heavy, slim, …) to do … “
“I don’t have enough (time, money, intelligence, …) to do … “
“I’m waiting for … to happen before I can … “
I’ll teach you a straightforward and simple process to validate whether each thought is true in the next article. After that, you can mark it as completed on your list or cross it out. If there are no more thoughts that are false then you’re done (which is unlikely to happen over night)!
Another good source of thought candidates that you could add to your thought candidate list are related to cultural and behavioral concepts that you unconsciously adopted during your lifetime, particularly when you grew up.
In general think about ideas that you inherited and accepted as absolute truth related to any man-made concepts (i.e. religion, laws, money) and rules related to those. Vishen Lakhiani explores this category of limiting thoughts in his book “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” in more detail and refers to those as the “Culturescape” (you can also obtain a trial chapter of his book there), the world of the relative truth. Basically look for thoughts that start with “I should …” and write them down. These are usually good candidates to inquire further.
However, knowing from my own experience there is always another thought that you can review and inquire, so it is a never ending process. You however will notice that upon beginning there are many thoughts to sift through and your thought candidate list is getting smaller. That‘s a sign of progress!
The problem with self reflection is that it requires honesty, and your ego may trick you or may prevent some thoughts to appear on your list.
To outsmart your ego I suggest to switch to the second approach on identifying limiting thoughts or false beliefs:
2. Look at other people and notice what irritates you
Another good place to look for clues is thinking about other people you know and what character traits irritate you. Think about your partner, family members, close friends or coworkers and identify things that you “can’t stand” or that make you upset every time you see them. People are like a mirror in that they reflect your own limiting thoughts. Therefore they are a great source of inspiration and can act as a valuable teacher when you are looking to identify your limiting thoughts. Basically take thoughts you have about other people and that irritate you and turn them around. These are the candidates that go onto your brainstorming list.
For example, let’s say you got upset because your partner is not organized enough in your opinion. Your thought here is “He should be more organized.” Now turn it around to “I should be more organized.” Now you have a good candidate to add to your candidate list for a potentially limiting thought that you can inquire on.
Another thought you may have about your daughter “She is not working hard enough in school.” Turn it around to “I need to work harder to …” Obviously you are not in school, so that part you don’t have to turn around. The core part is the “working harder” part, which you can note down. Be creative when you turn things around. There is no right or wrong here. Usually you intuitively know when you have a good candidate thought to work with.
Another example “She only thinks about herself, and should care more about others.” can be turned around into “I only think about myself, and should care more about others.”
3. Using external Feedback to discover limiting thoughts
Making it a habit to listen to external feedback (or better pro-actively seeking out feedback) from your partner, family, friends, family, or co-workers can be very eye-opening and helpful in identifying limiting thoughts that would otherwise go undetected through reflection. In some cases we are simply not honest enough with ourselves, but someone else may remind us about it.
It is also very helpful to hire a personal, business or life coach who is specialised in this topic, and gives your an extra "pair of eyes" as a neutral observer to bring these sticky and hidden limiting thoughts to the surface.
Either way, look primarily for feedback on your behavior and associated with concrete circumstances in form of observations. If you ask proactively for this type of feedback, write it also down on a worksheet and collect it.
Try to collect feedback from many different people you interact with over time. Thank them for their time and honesty to give you this valuable feedback, and don‘t get upset with them. This is their observation, and any attempt to not like it is a defensive strategy of your ego on how to cope with feedback that makes it smaller or less powerful. The ego likes to appear strong, and feedback will weaken it. Therefore it may not like it. Simply acknowledge that this is the case and move on by knowing that this feedback will be an important stepping stone of uncovering the truth. And as you know „The truth will set you free.“
A good feedback strategy is to ask people for things they noticed when observing you they would like you keep doing (because you‘re good at it), things they want you to start doing, and things they want you to stop doing. This way you also get feedback on your strengths, which „soothes“ your ego and sometimes works well to accept the other more negative feedback that your ego may not want to hear. But exactly this type of feedback is very valuable and usually has one or more limiting thoughts as a cause.
Also evaluate whether something is “real feedback” about you based on observation or merely a projection of someone‘s wants or needs into you. For example, your parents tell you they would appreciate if you can be more involved in chores around the house. Obviously this is something that would help them, and therefore could be seen as a form of manipulation. A better feedback related to this could be „We had told you twice and you had confirmed that you‘re taking out the trash in the evening. This has unfortunately not happened.“ Notice that this is simply stating an observation and fact, and how you reacted.
You then need to convert this feedback into actionable thoughts that you can review and inquire. In the previous example where your parents stated that you did not take out the garbage after you had committed it, a possible thought could be „I don‘t think that doing chores around the house is worth my time. Someone else will eventually do it“ or „The time I spend on chores will take away time from my day, therefore I don‘t want to do it.“ Basically try to identify the underlying motivating thought that lead to the behavior and resulted in the observation.
Another example, your co-worker told you that you didn’t pay attention in the meeting and ignored her input. An underlying thought could be “I know more than her about X, why should I listen?”
On your path of evolving your consciousness your ego will gradually play a smaller and smaller role, until it eventually disappears completely. But until then be aware of its tricks especially when you ask for honest feedback, and you actually receive it. Watch out and be extra alert for defensive mechanisms of the ego.
When reflecting this external feedback look for common patterns that emerge, and priority those first. You basically take the feedback and start reflecting as described in my previous point. Try to uncover the hidden thoughts behind it, that caused the observed behavior, and write those thoughts on your list.
4. Observing your thoughts in your consciousness as they appear
This is a more advanced method and requires a somewhat trained mind. If you are meditating regularly or have already a higher level of present awareness through your mindfulness practise, this might be easier to do.
Simply over the course of a day stay present and notice in certain situations thoughts that are arising in your consciousness. Don‘t judge or identify with them. Simply observe and decide whether they require further inquiry. If so, add them to the candidate list.
For example, you‘re in a long waiting line at a grocery store at the cashier. All of a sudden you notice a person cutting in front of you. Now observe your thoughts and emotions. Is anger coming up from your stomach area, how does it feel? What is the thought that is causing that anger? Write it down. It could be something „This stupid person feels to be more important than myself. Why else would he be doing this?“ You will later learn that this type of thought is flawed and not true.
Notice when emotions are coming up there are usually thoughts prior to these emotions happening. These are the thoughts you are looking for, as they are the root for your emotions. The thought is always first, followed by the emotion. We‘re looking for limiting thoughts or false beliefs that are triggering emotions. There are also valid thoughts you belief that are true, and which also will trigger emotions. In the case above getting angry because someone cuts in line at the grocery store is a good example of such an emotion based on flawed thoughts, and the underlying thought therefore is usually a good candidate for inquiry.
Know the most common popular limiting Thoughts and Belief
Over the years of studying the type of thoughts that made it to my list of candidates to inquire, but also from hearing feedback from my coaching clients, I think these are the most popular thought patterns, but also the most devastating and destructive, that you should be aware of.
If you know these patterns well, you can spot them quickly when doing inquiry:
"I am not ........ enough". (fill in pretty, good, smart, rich, healthy, .... whatever comes to mind)
"I am not worthy of ... " (insert love, happiness, achieving, ...)
"I do not deserve ... " (lots of things you can insert here)
"I cannot do .... " (put in any challenging topic)
"I cannot handle ..." (put in any challenging emotion or circumstance)
"There is not enough of .... in this world (like money, ideas, creativity, ... - this one is limiting the flow of abundance, on whatever substance you think of. If not detected, it will create a mindset of scarcity)
"I don't have enough ... " (again: money, skills, capabilities, love, ... )
Those you should prioritise and address immediately. They are seriously hindering your personal growth. They surface ever day in form of "weasel" words (weak type of wording).
For example, if someone says "I will try to ... ", the word "try" is such a weasel word, and is triggered by the limiting belief "I cannot do ...". See how damaging these thoughts can be?
There are certainly more - please share your popular limiting thoughts with me and comment below, will add them here as well.
If you have used any or some of these methods you will have as a result a list of thoughts on your candidate list that can be used as input for the next inquiry step. As mentioned- better than a one-time list is a worksheet or diary that can be updated on an ongoing basis, as this process is not a one-time thing but most helpful if done continuously as part of your personal growth.
Please stay tuned for my next article on how to work with your candidate thought list to inquire and review each thought whether they true, and how to replace them with more positive thoughts.
If by reading this article you have identified one thought that is limiting you or a false belief, then we have made progress together on the journey of changing one billion thoughts!
Here is also a German version of this video - "Erkenne deine limitierenden Gedanken":