10 Unusual Questions to Dissolve 10 Common Limiting Beliefs
Sometimes, you just need to ask a different question.
“I want to live by my purpose. But, the moment I start looking for it, I feel lost.” said my coaching client Jackie. She looked somewhat resigned– she didn’t think there was anything to help her. After all, she had tried various jobs and read many books, only to go around in circles. She told me that she was too old to find her purpose anyway.
I worked with Jackie for a few weeks and discovered that she took many actions to figure out her calling. But it never occurred to her to ask different questions and listen in. Jackie spent plenty of time in “doing”, not enough in “being”. Therefore, she never got clarity that she had been yearning for.
Jackie was mirroring so many other clients and people I know, including myself. We value action in our culture, not the spiritual/emotional inquiry.
But, when we don’t stop to tune into our “being”, aka the presence in our emotions, thoughts, and sensations, the actions we take fall short in answering the deepest questions or desires.
We can’t identify the obstacles in between what we want and what are/have now. We fail to recognize that those obstacles are usually mere belief systems repeatedly giving birth to our habitual behaviors.
So, for the following weeks, Jackie and I did some soul searching which helped her get unstuck. This is the first step for any major change. We used several open-ended, unusual questions to shift the paradigm in her mind. She would then “sit with” the questions, meaning contemplating without forcing an outcome, so that new insights could emerge.
In the end, Jackie realized she wanted to become a therapist, but she never gave that idea possibility before because she believed she was too old to do it. I am not sure if she ended up pursuing the vocation or not, but she found what she was desperately looking for: clarity for her purpose.
Since observing this powerful revelation, I have been expanding my list of questions to surface both my own and others’ limiting beliefs. Here are the ten common limiting beliefs and ten questions to shift them:
Belief #1: I have to do <unwanted work>
Most of us believe there are only so many ways to live and make money. Industrial era shaped our belief systems by creating a need, reward, obligation loop –the need for the goods, short-lived endorphins as a result of possessing the good, and the obligation for stable/standard jobs to afford our needs.
At the same time, thanks to the advances in tech, we are tapping into endless creative potential and reinventing the ways we work. We are becoming much more resourceful, creating ways to spend time on what we enjoy. We are acknowledging that enjoying the work produces superior results.
Challenge: What would my life look like if I only did what I like to do?
This question is to help us contemplate a radical way of existence. Reflect on how doing only what you like to do would affect your relationships, health, and other areas of your life. Notice I use “like” instead of “love” — no need to feel pressured by identifying what you love. Just relax your mind, and write down a simple list.
Belief #2: It is too difficult
Let’s say you want to start a business. This belief is likely to jump out easily, and it is perfectly normal. It is because your mind isn’t yet wired to figure out how to start a business. The more we repeat that “it is difficult”, the more you create stress which slows down the capabilities of the brain.
In contrast, if you relaxed and surrendered to the process, it would feel much easier. You would then have more energy to network, meet the right people, spend time with your family, etc.
Challenge: What would a “play” version of this work look like?
“Play” is a mindset. It is how we enjoy ourselves; it is the lightness in our hearts, the laughter ready to burst, the freedom to experiment and nurture our curiosity, and the fun in action. Play does wonders for the mind by decreasing the stress and opening the gates for creativity.
When you are building your company, you can inquire how to make your activities more fun, even with simple tweaks like enjoyable music, coffee, or jokes. The good news is play works for almost anything: when you find something too difficult, dare yourself to make it playful.
Belief #3: I don’t know where to start
When our dreams are seemingly so grandiose, we can easily feel overwhelmed or lost. This either results in being paralyzed or running like a chicken with its head cut off.
Sitting stuck creates hopelessness, whereas taking many actions without clarity may cause us to drift away from our dreams or creates exhaustion.
Challenge: Which questions do I need to ask to clarify my dream/vision?
This question opens up space for identifying steps to make your dream/vision clear. For instance; it can be: Who can I talk to? What resources can I research? What kind of small experiments can I run to validate my direction?
Belief #4: I am too…
Just like Jackie, we all have the “too something” belief: too old/young, qualified/inexperienced/ attractive/unattractive, ordinary/different…
Notice “too” comes from a comparison; looking at other people’s perceptions and judging through our subjective world views.
Challenge: What would I do if “being too…” wasn’t an obstacle?
This belief system blocks the possibilities of success before they can even emerge as a thought. By asking “what if” and silencing the false restrictions, we can introduce a chance for our heart to speak up.
Only by trying and experiencing, can we determine whether a certain limitation is an actual one.
Belief #5 I don’t have the connections I need
Whether we want to meet our life long partner or people who can support our business, if we are in a scarcity mindset, it would be much harder to make helpful connections. The circles we want to be a part of appear too unreachable. But, we forget that relationships take time, and they are built in many ways.
Challenge: Who would be awesome to connect with?
Imagine you want to be a successful writer.
Who would like your mentors to be?
Who would like to exchange ideas or hang out with?
Let yourself wish. Make a list of these people and start figuring out how and why to reach out to them. You would be surprised by people’s generosity if you approach them with clear intent and genuineness.
Belief #6: I don’t have the money.
Eight years ago, I immigrated from Turkey to the US to get my MBA with zero savings and no family to stay with. If I believed I didn’t have the money or support to do it, I would have a completely different life- one that I didn’t quite choose but rather resigned to. I ended up finding scholarships and jobs to help get the education and build a life.
Money can feel like the heftiest need to start something great. It is often not the only resource though. It is our attachment to having it “right now” and in certain amounts to make us feel safe that obstructs our resourceful nature.
Challenge: Which resources can I leverage to make this happen?
“Resource” is a broad definition; it could be in the form of people, time, work, mental or physical energy… For me, I had to leverage my mental and physical energy to work hard and get scholarships. Others may want to take additional jobs, get noticed by doing something extraordinary, get investment, so and so forth.
“Being busy is most often used as a disguise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions”– Tim Ferriss
Belief #7: I don’t have time.
Have you found yourself (proudly) complaining to a friend/colleague about how busy you are? The person on the other end usually answers:” Busy is good.” But, busy is not necessarily good. It may well be you are saying yes to too many things that don’t give you joy. As a result, you may feel time-poor, worse, you make it an excuse to avoid starting to do the things you truly want.
Challenge: What can I say no to, to open space in my life?
What are the things you spent way too much energy on out of obligation or fear? Finding the courage or tenacity to cease the activities that don’t add value to your life can open up so much space. This includes reducing the screen time, being honest about a dinner you don’t want to attend, and leaving a job you know you’re done with.
Belief #8: Somebody else already did/had it, I am too late to the game.
This is a big one for me, as I look at the work of my teachers and the authors who inspire me. I get caught up in what’s already done, forgetting there has always been room for creativity and new expression. For writers, everything that needs to be said is already said a thousand times perhaps. But it isn’t yet said the way you would say it– and that’s why it must be said. For inventors, I don’t even need to mention how much we are discovering and learning every day, so your work is much needed for collective learning.
Challenge: What would my audience miss, if I didn’t do this work?
We all have unique gifts that are meant to be for a certain audience. When you start something only for yourself, it is hard to push through challenges and doubts. In contrast, when we connect with people that we want to offer services to, we do it for them and it gets easier.
Belief #9: I can never be like <someone you admire>
It is common to feel defeated and discouraged when looking at the work of someone we admire instead of feeling inspired. We often don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears going into becoming a master. We only get to see the final, perfected product, not the failures or mediocre outcomes. So, when we compare ourselves with a master, we are being unfair to ourselves.
Challenge: If I improved myself consistently, how would I look/sound/act in 10 years?
This question is to help us dream without feeling pressure to “arrive” immediately. Perhaps, you have no skills or are mediocre at best today. What if you put consistent effort for a prolonged time– who can you become?
Belief #10: People won’t like me/what I create
Similar to “I am too…” belief, this one is about how we perceive ourselves. If our sense of worth isn’t grounded, we tend to care too much about what others think. Some of these perceptions probably don’t even reflect others’ thoughts. They are merely assumptions that stop us from moving forward.
Challenge: What would I do if nobody was looking?
This question allows us to decipher how to be unapologetically ourselves and do what our heart desires- no explanation or validation needed. After answering the question, notice what you are holding back because of the fear of judgment; it can be the very gift you are looking for.
If you didn’t find the belief system that stops you listed here, try this formula:
When you are about to initiate something, notice which negative thoughts emerge. Write them down.
Right next to each negative statement, now come up with a question that can help you examine this belief.
Contemplate on the question, or talk to someone about until you get new insights. You can always use this with any negative pattern. With awareness, curiosity, and space for a shift to emerge, there is nothing you can’t change!