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How Limiting Are Your Decisions?

Play detective, look at your life, and work with your unconscious judgments.

Woman holding magnifying glass

"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours." —Richard Bach

A colleague of mine from Sacramento brought up Spud Webb the other day. He’s the 5’7” point guard who played in the NBA for years and won slam dunk contests. She told me about seeing him play when he was with the Sacramento Kings.

“We had seats just a couple of rows from the floor. From there, you could really see how small he was compared to the other players. And I kept thinking, ‘What could he possibly have told himself as he was growing up to convince himself that he could play in the NBA?’ Can you imagine the pushback he got from the world around him? He had to have some kind of mindset!”

Over the years, I’ve used examples like Spud Webb or Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking to illustrate that limitations only become limitations if you believe them to be. Our minds are that powerful. Our minds overcome seemingly “real” limitations—and they can also create limitations that are absolutely false!

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which I teach and use, we talk a lot about limiting decisions and how to work with them. We call them decisions or beliefs because they are not something we are born with. We “decide” or come to believe them, sometimes consciously and sometimes not.

But however they came to us, these limiting decisions run our lives and they prevent us from becoming who we wish to become, doing what we wish to do and having what we wish to have. In the past couple of decades, numerous studies has shown that what we perceive, how we feel emotionally in any situation, and how we perform is completely tied to what we believe.

Some limiting beliefs are obvious. “I’m not good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough” or, on the flip side, “I’m too fat, too old, too slow” are clearly limiting. Other limiting decisions are more subtle. “It’ll be really tough to find a new job in this economy.” “People don’t like someone who talks too much.” “A man who’s been in prison isn’t trustworthy.” Subtle, but these judgments are still limiting.

The sad part is that when someone has a limiting belief, they don’t even test that limit. A man who thinks he’s not handsome enough to attract a mate may never even ask for a date. A woman who believes she’s too old to start a new career will simply not try. A person who has decided that all politicians are crooks may not even vote or look into the candidates.

The truth is that we all have made a zillion limiting decisions! Many of them don’t really matter. I’ve decided that I’m not big enough to play as a linebacker in the NFL—but since I never wanted to be a linebacker in the NFL, I’m not really concerned. The limiting beliefs that should concern us are those that are preventing us from our goals and desires. For example, if I had held the limiting belief that I was no good as a public speaker and trainer, I’d be toast!

So how do you know what your important limiting beliefs are? Playing detective, the first place to start is simply look at your life. As Tony Robbins says, “You always succeed in producing a result.” By that, he meant that the result you’ve got is exactly the result you’ve produced. It’s not a mistake. Consciously or unconsciously, what you got is based on what you believe.

That’s not meant to be harsh. Actually, knowing that you have created your results can be empowering! And if the results you’ve produced are not what you want, there’s a limiting belief in play.

Say, for example, your financial picture is a mess. You work really hard and make decent money but you haven’t been able to get out of debt. You’ve cut back expenses, tried budgeting, done everything you can think of—but you’re falling further behind.

Or maybe, like me in the past, you’ve struggled to get to a healthy weight. You lose a bunch of weight then let yourself celebrate—only to pack the pounds right back on. In both cases, there are limiting beliefs producing the unwanted result.

So what are the results you’ve produced? Where are your results not in alignment with what you really want to be, do or have? What area of your life have you really tried to improve but, no matter what, things just didn’t get better?

That’s the place to start unearthing your limiting decisions. And next time, we’ll talk about what to do with those limiting decisions once you’ve found them.


Dr. Matt


About the Author: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To find out more about NLP and how to immediately apply it in your life, start by listening to Dr. Matt's free webinar, NLP and Anchoring: Learning the Basics of Emotional Mastery.

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