“The only thing that’s keeping you from getting what you want is the story you keep telling yourself.”—Tony Robbins

According to the National Science Foundation, our brains can produce as many as 50,000 thoughts per day. Ninety-five percent of these thoughts are repeated daily. You decide how you think and what becomes a can or can’t. Your thoughts become your beliefs which, in turn, become your mindset. Your mindset fuels your actions, which create your reality.

We all have limiting beliefs that stop us from achieving our dreams or our everyday goals. These beliefs often develop as our mind’s way of supposedly saving us from difficult situations, challenges or failures. Limiting beliefs inhibit our progress.

Managers and leaders in every level of their career have limiting beliefs. Although this is common and normal, we need to be mindful of the words we use and the beliefs we accept as truth. The following chain reaction illustrates the effect that your thoughts can have on your life: Words >> Thoughts >> Beliefs >> Mindset >> Actions >> Results.

Some examples of a limiting belief might be:

  • For a job seeker: I’m terrible at interviewing. After one or two interviews that don’t go as well as you had wanted, it’s not rational to conclude that you can’t interview. Reframe and focus on where you can improve and prepare two to three stories that share your strengths and how you best contribute.
  • For an emerging leader: Because I am so young and managing others twice my age, people on my team don’t respect me. Age doesn’t equate to respect. Reframe and realize that you can earn someone’s trust and respect regardless of age and focus on the steps you can take to build respect.
  • For a manager: I’m not good at managing people and having the tough conversations. Having one tough conversation with a challenging team member that didn’t go well doesn’t mean you don’t have good management skills. Reframe and realize that managing is a process and takes time to learn and develop your skills and that you have more work to do with tough conversations.

As we grow as leaders and managers, limiting beliefs can inhibit our growth. Instead of seeing a fork in the road, a limiting belief may force us down only one path, which may or may not be the right one. In order to expand our paths and broaden our opportunities for growth and change, we need to recognize our limiting beliefs and work to shift our mindset.

How do we recognize a limiting belief?

  • Bring awareness to the words we use. Does the belief help us move forward or limit our potential?
  • Be honest.  Is the belief or story we are telling actually true?
  • Stick to the facts. Saying you are a young leader is true but saying you are a young leader so therefore people won’t listen is not accurate. Is there evidence behind it?
  • Take a pause before you finish the sentence with a belief that does not serve you. There is a big difference between telling yourself, “I don’t have experience starting a company” versus “I don’t have experience starting a company so therefore I can’t do it.”

The next time you stop yourself from taking on a new challenge or making a difficult decision, ask yourself—what are you afraid of? Are your own beliefs keeping you small? You may be able to recognize the limitations you place on yourself are unfounded or lack evidence, and you may find a new, positive momentum toward achieving the outcome you desire. Ultimately, we want to get in the practice of recognizing a limiting belief and reframing it to help us take a step forward.


Alissa Finerman WG98 is an executive coach and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. She works with managers, leaders and teams to improve performance and engagement levels. She holds an MBA from the Wharton School and is the author of Living in Your Top 1%.