I listen to managers for a living.

Some are experienced managers—executives responsible for guiding large groups or the entire organization. Others are a bit less seasoned, including wide-eyed first-time managers excited to change the world but still uncertain how to get things done with and through others.

And during this hard work of listening, I seize upon core themes I hear in every manager’s narrative. One of the recurring and dangerous themes I hear from individuals at all levels and stages of their careers are the self-limiting beliefs that hold them hostage to not realizing their potential.

The self-limiting beliefs are the barriers we build in our minds that push us back into a small box where we live uncomfortably, struggling to stretch our creativity and breathe the air of independent thought and action.

Sure, every organization has a hierarchy, and there are limits to even the CEO’s ability to act independently. Step too far afield, and you might find yourself outside looking in and wondering what happened.

However, the self-limiting beliefs are less focused on challenging the rules of organizational governance and more about the mental constructs that people impose upon themselves within the constraints of the organization.

Self-Limiting Statements that Stifle:

  • My boss will never approve this idea. It’s not how we do things here.
  • We can’t hit our numbers with the lack of support from marketing.
  • I don’t know how to get this team behind my new strategy
  • Our strategy is what’s made us successful. No one will agree to change at this point.
  • I can’t…
  • I doubt anyone will agree…
  • I don’t have enough help…
  • Corporate won’t let us…
  • I’m not sure I should take on this new challenge. It’s not what I’m good at.

I hear an endless stream of these limiting statements. They come from people at the top of the organization chart and those just getting started.

8 Key Questions to Help You Unpack Your Self-Limiting Beliefs:

What’s interesting is when I freeze-frame on a self-limiting belief, and we work together to assess the belief, almost universally, the barriers begin to melt. I draw upon highly sophisticated, super-secret questions such as:

  1. “Why do you think that?”
  2. “What are your obstacles here?”
  3. “What have you attempted thus far?”
  4. “Who have you asked for ideas or help?”
  5. “What worked?”
  6. “What didn’t work?
  7. “If your life depended on overcoming this obstacle, what would you do?”
  8. “What can you do starting today that will make this different in 3 months?”

Of all of those useful questions to help people think through how to overcome an obstacle, the most powerful one is the first: “Why do you think that?”

I love this question because it stops people in their tracks and forces them to think through their own self-limiting beliefs. They typically start rattling off a series of reasons they quickly realize just excuses for not doing something because it is hard.

I’ve had people laugh out loud once they recognize the limitations they’ve imposed upon themselves via their thinking.

For every one of those limiting comments identified above, the individuals involved found a way forward for a solution.

The boss approved the idea.

The sales manager found a way to guide her team to hit their numbers.

The team ultimately got behind the strategy.

And so forth.

How to Do This Without A Coach Asking the Annoying Questions:

The great news about the questions identified above and their related cousins is that you don’t need to pay someone to ask them.

You can start by asking yourself the same questions, as long as you recognize you’re the knucklehead with the self-limiting belief.

A better approach is to find someone else to ask you those questions.

I long ago co-opted the concept of Swim Buddy from the Navy Seals. The Swim Buddy is someone who has your back, asks you the tough questions and is comfortable telling you your baby or idea is ugly.

Everyone needs a Swim Buddy!

Cultivate a coworker relationship with someone you trust to not pump sunshine when you need thunder and lightning.

Have this person ask those questions and hold you accountable for answers that aren’t complete b.s.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

One of the secrets to success is getting the hell out of your way. It’s time to put a stake in some of your self-limiting beliefs.

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