Limiting Beliefs: Things That Hold us Back

By: Brian Harris

I was recently talking to someone who felt God had let them down badly. Their marriage hadn’t gone well even though they felt they had done everything right.

Of course they had indulged in a few little squabbles and minor bouts of selfishness, but nothing that seemed to justify the marriage ending in such a gut wrenching way – for it was a very messy and painful end. “So how am I ever going to trust God again?” was the plaintive question at the end.

Disappointment with God – feeling let down and that God hasn’t kept the agreed contract (I follow the instructions, you then bless) often limits our ability to trust God. For some it sees belief abandoned: “I tried that, but it didn’t work.”

Limiting Beliefs Make us Doubt Ourselves

Limiting beliefs don’t just intrude into the zone of how much we trust God. They also impact how much we trust ourself. Perhaps we found the courage to give a speech in public and it went badly. Or we enrolled for a course but found the going too tough, and dropped out. Or maybe we reluctantly agreed to be a candidate for an exciting new job (“I’d never be able to do that”), but then interviewed poorly and didn’t get it. “Told you I’d never get it! Never going to put myself through that again.”

Disappointments and past setbacks are amongst the key reasons people live too timidly and hold themselves back from fully aiming for their hopes and dreams. As they get going, past disappointments mutter back, “Just remember. It’s not going to happen. Something always goes wrong.” The half hearted effort that this leads to then fulfils the prophecy. A vicious spiral is soon in place.

You might know that if you tie a baby elephant to a stake too strong for it to budge in its baby years, you can tie it to any flimsy stake later in life and it will stay passively within its confines. Objectively it would be easy for the adult elephant to rip it out the ground, but it doesn’t even have a go. The futile efforts of its baby years flood back and essentially say: “You’ve tried to get out of this situation before. You can’t. Don’t even try.” Perhaps that is why they say elephants never forget! Regardless, past experience becomes a limiting belief and the elephant stays put. It is unable to see that a new day has dawned.

Limiting Contexts

If disappointments and past experience hold us back, so too does a limiting context.

Swopping from elephants to goldfish, do you know that the one and a half inch goldfish in your fish bowl would grow to over a foot long if placed in a large outdoor pond. It has the ability to grow much larger than you’d imagine but the restrictive confines of the bowl means its growth potential will not be realised. It’s not hard to see the relevance of this. It’s why the Bible urges us to think about the company we keep. Surround yourself with people whose view of life is tiny or frightened or cynical, and you will become the one inch version of yourself. Or infect yourself with “know-it-all-ism” and stop being curious or asking questions (why bother, you already know) and the tiny you will become the normal.

I could keep going on with examples of things that hold people back, but rather than pontificate about what hold “people” back, why not ponder what holds you back? Is it a past disappointment? Do you look on failure as final? Have you built a barrier so strong that it holds out the good, even more than the bad? Put differently, have your limiting beliefs reached a use by date? Is it time to spot that a new season has dawned?

Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Lord, give us eyes to see the dawn, and help us to step into it unimpeded by yesterday’s disappointments.

Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a sought-after speaker, teacher, leader, writer and respected theologian who has authored 6 books. After 17 years as principal of Perth’s Vose Seminary, Brian is now founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash 

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