Limiting Beliefs — and why they matter!

We all have limiting beliefs. Beliefs that limit what we do or say — or even think.

Some of them are useful — for example, my limiting belief that I will burn myself if I put my hand in a fire — well, that stops me getting burned!

And my limiting belief that I am not a good enough rider to ride an unknown 4 year old 17 hh horse around a cross country course — well THAT keeps me safe!

Our whole world, our whole reality, everything we choose to do and say and how we do and say it — is all based on the sets of beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. The question is — how USEFUL are the beliefs we hold in helping us live our lives?

As I have already suggested, many of these beliefs are there because they were useful at some stage in our life — and many of them will continue to be useful. My belief that it matters if I am polite to people is very useful as my work involves working with people.

However, there are times when these beliefs can actually end up being the opposite of useful — and can actually get in the way of what we want to do with our lives.

One client I worked with recently held a strong belief: “I can’t jump”. While this belief had done a great job of keeping her safe when riding, she was getting frustrated by it now. She would go out for long rides with friends and when they were “popping over logs” she ran into the belief that she couldn’t jump and was unable to join in. The few times she had tried to join in, she had been so tense the jump had gone badly wrong – confirming her belief that she couldn’t jump!

This is one reason limiting beliefs MATTER: if you hold a limiting belief and try to go against it — you are fighting yourself and end up putting yourself in a physically, emotionally or mentally damaging situation.

If you have a belief that you can’t jump – then point yourself at a jump — your unconscious, whose job is to preserve your “self” — its programmed to protect and preserve your belief structure — will kick into action and can actually make SURE the event goes wrong. You will suddenly tense up, or “forget” to get into the right position — or not keep a leg on — this is your unconscious simply working hard to preserve your belief structure….

In some cases, you might do the jump just fine, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when you have done it — but your unconscious will realise you just went against one of your beliefs, and so the next time you think about jumping, your unconscious will cause you to feel unconfident — keeping you safe….and on the ground.

Try this exericise:

Write down 20 limiting beliefs that affect your life. List them in one of two columns on a large sheet of paper.

Most of us will have beliefs about how good we are, how safe we are, how much we know, how nice we are…..

In the second column, or under each belief, write down what is USEFUL about that belief…

As an example here are some I did some time ago:

Belief: I can’t jump
Usefulness: keeps me safe! I don’t put myself in dangerous situations

Belief: I am not a good rider
Usefulness: This means I avoid riding in front of other people — so they can’t criticise me (emotional safety!)

Belief: I don’t know enough about horses to own one
Usefulness: explains why I don’t have a horse, and then I can always have the DREAM of having a horse without risking the reality!

One thing you will notice as you do this exercise, is that you will start to feel differently about some of these beliefs — some of them you will nod and say “that’s a USEFUL” belief and you will decide to keep those.

Others, you will look at and say to yourself “well, that’s just stupid!” or “that’s a bit weird!” — or “that’s crazy and not at ALL useful!”

These beliefs, you can now take and think about how to replace them with a more USEFUL belief

Let’s look at my beliefs from earlier:

Belief: I can’t jump
Usefulness: keeps me safe! I don’t put myself in dangerous situations

So this belief is pretty useful — keeping me safe is important. But the black and white nature of this belief means I will NEVER be able to jump — and I am not sure that is useful to me as I would like to be jumping out on hacks, and be able to do small showjumping courses too!

Now I ask myself, how can I reword this belief so it still keeps me safe, but is also useful in helping me achieve my goals?

How about if I say ” Right now, I don’t know enough to jump safely — so I need to have some lessons, learn how to jump safely, then I can practice with my horse and jump small jumps safely!”

Do you see how this changes the belief from something that limits me — to something that empowers me?

Belief: I am not a good rider
Usefulness: This means I avoid riding in front of other people — so they can’t criticise me (emotional safety!)

When I looked at this belief some years ago, I realised it was not at all a useful belief for someone planning to teach horsemanship and coach people on hacking with confidence! When I thought about this belief, I also realised that it came from a long time ago — when I actually could say it was true — I was NOT a good rider! Now, I can honestly say that I am not the best rider in the world — in fact there are a LOT of riders better than me out there — but, do I ride well enough to do my teaching?

When I looked at my riding objectively, I decided that in fact, I DID ride well enough — and so this belief changed.

One thing here – I did not change the belief to “I am a good rider” — even just typing that now I hear my unconscious going “yeah, right!” — that belief is not “believable” to me!

What I DID change the belief to was “I am a good enough rider — and am always looking to improve”

When I read that belief out loud, my unconscious voice says “ok, THAT I can believe!” and so now my beliefs are working WITH me rather than against me.

So — what are YOUR limiting beliefs?

How are they USEFUL?

And which ones are you going to reword, refine and edit to cause them to become MORE useful to you in your current life?

yours in confidence,


Feel free to email me on if you would like any support with this exercise — or post a comment or message on this page!

2 thoughts on “Limiting Beliefs — and why they matter!

  1. I like the simple exercise of writing the beliefs down and then what is useful about them – I did it and found myself re-thinking some things that had been going round my head for a while. The very act of putting pen to paper seems to change things in the brain.
    Thanks Cathy

    • Hi Valerie — sometimes just making things visible to our conscious mind gives us more control — and when our unconscious mind feels “heard” it can let go of some of the negative emotions and allow us to move forwards!


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