Limiting Beliefs and the lies we tell ourselves – 7 Strategies to counteract their negative impact

Limiting Beliefs and the lies we tell ourselves
A 6 minute read on how limiting beliefs affect our lives and our ability to progress into higher positions at work, plus 7 strategies to help you find courage and counteract those negative beliefs.

Limiting Beliefs

In my current coaching work, it’s not uncommon for me to see female lawyers holding themselves back – for promotions, judicial applications, applying to be King’s Counsel and the like – largely due to their own self-limiting beliefs.

You’ll have heard the expression “We are the stories we tell ourselves….” And I’m wondering whether the stories you tell yourself are positive, progressive, kind, and successful.

If not, have you considered the potential for harm those negative narratives have?

You may already realise but be at a loss as to how to dial the volume down or change the narrative around them. Later, I’ll be sharing 7 strategies which can help.

Elephants never forget

But before doing so, I’m going to start with an elephant. Bear with me on the animal kingdom analogy for a moment. Because here is where we find the perfect example of how what we tell ourselves becomes reality.

In Thailand and Myanmar, baby elephants are poached, taken from their mothers in the wild and used in the tourist industry and for commercial logging. In order to keep them captive, poachers subject them to a really awful process, known as the “training crush”, which sees them caged, then prodded and beaten, helpless to resist or escape. Eventually, over time, their will is broken.

I use this grim example to illustrate an important point. Once subjugated, the young elephants are released from the cage and kept tethered to the ground using a small chain. As they grow, the size of chain remains the same. A fully grown adult elephant, even tamed, with all the size, weight, strength and power behind it, could easily snap those chains, as if they were garden twine. But instead, because of what that great animal has learnt, it stays locked in captivity.

Can you see similarities with your own negative thoughts. Do they occasionally hold you captive?

A flea in your ear, I mean jar…

To persuade you yet further, let’s continue with the animal analogies and move it one step on.

If you haven’t heard of it already, take a look at this You Tube clip about the flea experiment entitled “The invisible lid”.

Fleas placed in a closed jar over 3 days instinctively attempted to escape, but soon learned they could only jump as high as the lid. After the lid was removed, they continued to do so, despite the jar now being open, having learned that jumping too high would result in a nasty bang on the head. So they remained trapped despite the neck of the vessel being open, and them being, in fact, free to leave.

Although the so-called “experiment” has been greeted with a few raised and sceptical eyebrows of late, it still makes an interesting point: that we can be conditioned to limit our own behaviours and actions even without any physical barriers preventing it.

The most troubling observation to note though was far more wide-reaching. It wasn’t just the fleas that remained trapped, but also their off-spring. The limiting behaviour was passed down the generations. The damaging patterns emulated.

Imagine, if you have children, that having limiting beliefs not only negatively affects you, but also them!!

An apt point to reflect on an important quote about what it takes to change the narrative to more positively influence our outcomes: “Life expands or contracts according to one’s courage.”

Human Stories

Through my animal stories, I hope to encourage thinking beyond the chains of those self-limiting beliefs and consequent negative effects on life experiences.

The human stories are, though, the most persuasive.

According to an internal Hewlett Packard report, quoted in Lean in, the Confidence Code, men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, whilst women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

Likewise, in applications to become silk, or King’s Counsel – the crème de la crème at the Bar – men apply when they are 50% sure they will succeed, women only when they are 90% sure. A simple but important observation from this being that by self-excluding, women put themselves out of the competition, making their elevation to senior leadership positions in law all that more difficult.

So how do we find courage and the requisite self-belief to do so?

Here are 7 strategies to help:

Be more Wonder Woman…

  1. Firstly, start with end in mind. Visualise a confident you. Consider how it looks and feels. What you’d be doing. How you’d be behaving or projecting yourself, whether bodily or by the way you dress. No harm at all in channelling your inner Linda Carter to imagine yourself as Wonder Woman if it helps you confidently nail the occasion.
  2. Then turn inward. Consider how to silence, or overcome, the negative internal narrative or critical friend.
    1. Become aware of, and make strides to silence, negative internal chatter by changing your self-talk. Use affirmations where needs be – like “You’ve got this” – to shift your mindset to start actually believing it.
    2. Another quick and effective way to do so is by separating feelings from facts. Ask yourself, each time you catch yourself adopting an unhelpful internal narrative, “Is that fact or feeling?” Chances are it will be feeling.
    3. Instead focus on the positives – your brilliant skills and strengths – to provide evidence demonstrating the contrary. Note down your top 3 to 5, and remind yourself of them daily.
  1. Don’t forget to do the external work too:
    1. Another animal analogy for you – be more swan! Gracefully giving the appearance of external strength, confidence and control, even if your legs are paddling madly below the water’s surface.
    2. Develop your “game-face”, that professional mask, to wear on the occasions you need to exude confidence, even you’re your inner confidence isn’t quite at that same level, yet. It may take conscious effort, but with practice it will become second nature.
    3. Put yourself out there. You “have to be in it to win it” after all.

Brass Tacks…

The truth of the matter is things are there for the taking. No one else is going to do it for you, nor will success simply drop conveniently into your lap.

At times I have realisations like these, I find affirmations and mantras help, “You got this” being one example.

There are so many. They are best personalised. Also said daily, and repeatedly.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourites: “if it is to be, it’s up to me…”

So go out there and make it happen.

Nikki Alderson Biography

Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister:

  • supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to attract, retain and elevate female talent; and
  • empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.

Nikki specialises in 3 areas:

  • Women’s Leadership;
  • Enhanced Career break returner support; and
  • Workplace resilience/ mindset, confidence and wellness.

She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching , ( nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category & finalist in the 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category. Her Speaker Showreel is available to view here: