Around here, we talk a lot about the stories we tell ourselves. You know, the limiting beliefs and thoughts that constantly dance around in our brains, preventing us from achieving our health goals. “I’m a terrible cook.” “I never have time to exercise.” “I’ll always be heavy.” Or, “I’m too lazy to stick to a plan.”
Why do you create limiting beliefs?
As humans, we’re wired to create narratives that string together the picked-apart aspects of our lives in a way that rings true for us. It might be things we heard our parents say or experiences we had growing up. Or even interpretations of those things and experiences. According to psychologists at Northwestern University, the narratives we create become a form of our identity — an identity that not only reflects who we think we are, but also what we believe we’re capable of achieving.
Just FYI, these are the false narratives and limiting beliefs you tell yourself and anyone else who will listen. As a veteran health coach, I know this drill firsthand.
Limiting Beliefs List: Examples of Common Narratives People Tell Themselves
When you have a goal in mind, it’s natural, almost reflexive to come up with reasons why you can’t achieve it. Here are some of the more common false narratives that I hear in my practice:
I don’t deserve it
I don’t have the willpower to accomplish this
I’m not disciplined enough
My body type is genetic
Any change I make will be minor, and barely noticeable
I have a tendency to fail at things like this
I don’t have the time
This is going to be just like the last time I tried and failed
I’m selfish if I focus on improving myself like this
I’m too old
These are all made up – every last one of them. I get it though. You probably have decades of proof that you’ll never lose weight. Or that everyone in your family has thick thighs or has an awful sweet tooth. But let me ask you this…
What if you could change your beliefs?
Your mind is one of the most powerful resources you have. If you can believe you can do it, you have a better chance of actually doing it. It’s sort of a believing is seeing mentality. And there are loads of studies to back up this phenomenon. Research by psychologist, Alia Crum shows that how you think about your health can influence the outcome. She adds that you can actually change your reality just by changing your thoughts.
Studies on mindset and limiting beliefs
In a 2007 study 1, Crum and her associate Ellen Langer looked at hotel room attendants whose work involved strenuous physical activity. Two-thirds of the participants believed that they weren’t exercising enough because they weren’t doing typical exercises. Once it was pointed out that pushing heavy carts, pushing a vacuum, and lifting mattresses qualified as exercise, they showed improvements in their weight, blood pressure, and body fat over the course of four weeks.
Researchers conducted another study 2 where participants were given a 380-calorie milkshake, but were told that it was either an indulgent 620-calorie shake or a more sensible 140-calorie shake. When participants drank the milkshake they thought was indulgent, they had a steeper decline in the hunger-inducing hormone, ghrelin than when they drank the milkshake they were told was sensible. Basically, their bodies had a physical response based on what they believed.
I see this in my clients too. For one reason or another, they were programmed to believe that walking wasn’t a good form of exercise or they couldn’t go a single day without eating chocolate or that they’re flat out lazy.
They believed these thoughts until I helped them see things differently. And you can too.
You can always work with a health coach, but I think you’ll be surprised at how simple it can be to start to rewrite the limiting beliefs that have been holding you back for maybe, forever.
How to Change your Limiting Beliefs in 4 Steps and Reach any Health Goal
Here’s a snapshot of my 4-step action plan to shift your mindset so you can reach all of your health goals:
Visualize your new identity
Think about what qualities that person has
Describe the specific actions they take
Prove it to yourself with small wins
1. Visualize your new identity (and really feel it)
As I mentioned, your identity is based on your limiting beliefs, so instead of putting all of your effort into the behavior you want to change, focus on the person you want to become.
EXAMPLE: You’re trying to be healthier and your spouse comes in the kitchen with a drive-through burger and fries. Instead of saying, “no thanks, I’m on a diet,” try “no thanks, I don’t eat fast food.”
See the difference? In the first response, you still believe you’re a fast food eater (or soda drinker or whatever) but are trying to act differently. In the second response, you believe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t eat fast food. The more you associate with that person, the more your brain starts to automatically believe it.
ACTION STEP: Describe the type of person you want to be. The more specific, the better.
2. Think about what qualities that person has
What are the qualities you’d associate with someone who is healthy? Really visualize a person in that situation — it could even be someone you know. What traits do they have that make them so successful?
EXAMPLE: You’d probably say that they’re mindful and patient. They might also be excellent planners, respect themselves and have a good sense of self-esteem.
Remember, you’re not listing out your own traits, you’re imagining yourself as a person who is mindful, patient, and a good planner. You’re laying the groundwork for becoming the person you want to be so that you can reach the health goal you want to achieve.
ACTION STEP: List out the positive qualities of the person you want to become.
3. Describe the specific actions they take
How does the person you’re becoming act? What’s the first thing they do in the morning when they wake up? What do they do at mealtimes? How do they organize their fridge?
EXAMPLE: A healthy person eats according to their hunger level and recognizes when they have an emotional need (like boredom or fear) versus actual physical hunger. They also fill their kitchen with fresh veggies and good protein sources, making it easy for them to eat healthy.
Your interpretation of what this person does is completely up to you. There’s no right or wrong answer. The key is to visualize the specific actions this person takes, so you can follow suit.
ACTION STEP: Write down the types of things a healthy person does on a daily basis.
4. Prove it to yourself with small wins
Once you’ve visualized your new identity, brainstormed what qualities they have, and figured out the actions they take, your subconscious will start associating with that type of person. Now is the time to take note of all the small wins you’ll be racking up.
EXAMPLE: I’m a healthy eater because I planned out my grocery list for the week. Or, I took 15 minutes to cook a meal of scrambled eggs and bacon instead of grabbing a breakfast sandwich at the nearest drive-through.
Making a grocery list or cooking breakfast one day may not feel like a big deal on its own, but as you see these wins add up, your brain starts to get onboard with your new way of being. And before you know it, you’ll be proving it to yourself with bigger and more consistent wins for the long-term.
ACTION STEP: Keep a record of all the small wins you experience and add to it regularly.
The idea isn’t to become someone else entirely. It’s about reframing your narrative to include all the possibilities you hadn’t yet allowed yourself to believe, then giving yourself the evidence that the life (and awesome health) you want really is available to you.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.