Limiting Beliefs: The Hidden Rails That Guide Our Lives

Art of Accomplishment

April 1, 2022
In this episode, we talk about limiting beliefs and how they run our lives, affecting our capacity to be with ourselves and live the life we want. We discuss how to find them, see through them, and discover what happens when these beliefs are no longer running the show. “It's about being able to integrate new knowledge. And if you can't integrate new knowledge because you think you have the whole story, you're limited. Period.” What We Discuss in Episode 48: 2:51 Defining what limiting beliefs are and how they can impact your life. 12:27 How welcoming or resisting a situation shifts both your interpretation and experience of it. 17:15 The notion that integrating multiple perspectives creates better solutions. 22:14 The three general categories of limiting beliefs. 24:06 How to see through the limiting perspective by discovering it in reverse. 34:30 One of the most common limiting beliefs and questions to ask yourself to determine what relationship you have to it. Follow us on Instagram at @artofaccomplishment to learn more about our guests and share your own experiences.

Episode intro:
It is about being able to integrate new knowledge, and if you can’t integrate new knowledge because you think you have the whole story, then you are limited, period.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I’m Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.

Brett: Good afternoon, Joe. How are you?

Joe: I’m doing pretty good. It has been a week of strange correspondence from the ether. My work used to be so much so that I knew every person in it, and now I don’t know people in it. I’ve been getting all these correspondences recently, and it has been cool to feel the difference between being personally involved in somebody’s life and their transformation and not being personally involved. That’s been cool.

Brett: Fascinating. Tell me what’s an example of that that’s most alive for you right now.

Joe: What happened recently is somebody was on the forum for the connection course, and they had a session with me. I didn’t have a strong memory of them because it was a six-minute session or something like that, and apparently I said something that really challenged them and that got them quite upset for a bit. Later there was this huge epiphany that came with it.

What I said to them apparently and I can be a dick sometimes is I basically said I don’t buy your story. I dismissed what for them was a defining feature of them apparently. I was just like I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy that story. In that world, it would have been a limiting belief. I just didn’t buy the limiting belief. I think it really pissed her off. It is hard to describe. I wasn’t there for her experience of it, but I think she was definitely challenged by it, definitely angry. Then it led to this huge unfolding for her as challenging any limiting belief does.

Brett: It seems like that’s really one of the common things I see when you are doing sessions with people. It is challenging those beliefs. I see people coming to you with “how do I approach this challenge in my life but within my belief system”, and you are like batting them aside. People are like no, no, no.

Joe: That would be a cool topic. Let’s try to discuss it. Let’s discuss limiting beliefs. How does that sound to you?
Brett: Let’s do this. Let’s start by defining it. What are limiting beliefs?

Joe: Simply put, it is an idea that limits your capacity to be yourself or limits your capacity to get what you want. It limits your capacity to be effective, to change your habits, and to be happy. It also affects what you want or your ability to get what you want, and it also affects how big your wants are or if you want things that are good for you. Limiting beliefs affect, I think, everything that we do. Beliefs affect everything we do, and limiting beliefs absolutely do and by definition they limit us.

An example of this would be let’s say you wanted to lose weight. You might have a limiting belief that says it is hard to lose weight or I can’t lose weight. I’ve tried before. Those are two limiting beliefs one might have. If you were bet on two people who were going to lose weight and one of them was like yes, I can do it and the other one was like no, I don’t think I can. I’ve tried before. It doesn’t work. Who would you bet on if that’s the only data you had? That’s what limiting beliefs are.

Brett: It seems like there are many different kinds of them. A lot of them people are aware of. A lot of them people are maybe less aware of individually or even less aware of as a society or large groups of us have bought into them, which makes it harder to see, this water we are swimming in. What are some of the different kinds of limiting beliefs you have come across?

Joe: That’s interesting. You could categorize them the way you do, the personal limiting beliefs and the societal beliefs most people fall into. I haven’t thought about it that way. When I think about limiting beliefs, I think about it all of those being in the same category but then I define them by the way the mind plays a trick on you. The first way the mind plays a trick on you is just believe a false thought. The second way is that your mind misinterprets an experience. It is not particularly false as in the way you can prove something to be false. It is the story you hold about an experience. The third one is thinking you know the whole story, thinking you have the complete truth. Those are the three ways. There are other ways, but those are three main categories I think about when I think about limiting beliefs.
Brett: Let’s start with that first one. Tell me more about the false thoughts.

Joe: A good story on this one is a story about my dad. When he was about my age, maybe a little younger, he was the CEO of a company. He got fired about two years into it. He thought he had failed. He thought he had irreconcilably failed. It was just uh in his system and he started to define himself as a failure. He hated the feeling of it. He avoided it. He started to drink more to avoid it. His life literally started grinding to a halt because he was this person who failed and then he was avoiding that sense of failure. He was the guy who failed at the company and failed to provide for his wife and kids.

I just watched my dad when I was 18 to 20 and his life grind to a half. Some years later I am a venture capitalist, and I am hanging out at those conferences where you can meet companies. There was this company there with a really similar name to my father’s company’s name. The company was Lumen Optics, and it was Lumen Energy, something like that. I went and talked to them. My dad was the CEO of a company, and they were like that’s our company.

They said your dad was the CEO and he was really successful. Over a two-year period of time, he cut the burn rate to almost nothing from hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. He had gotten us more customers. He had refined the product line so there was a focus of the company. He was so successful in fact that the company that owned us shuttered us because we challenged their main product, their main revenue source. This parent company was challenged by our product and so they shut us down. We sued them, and because of what your father had done, we sued them so successfully that we won hundreds of millions of dollars or a hundred million dollars. We rebooted the company for the tech.

I went back to my dad, and I was like dad, you didn’t fail. As a venture capitalist, I can say the results you gave were good. I wouldn’t have fired you, and this is the story. To watch him consider the fact that everything he was was based on a lie, was based on a limiting belief, was based on a concept that was inherently not true and that recognition and what it meant for 15 to 20 years of his existence, that’s what I mean by a false thought.

Brett: There is a lot to unpack there. That’s a fascinating story. In this case, you find out years later he didn’t actually fail in the ways he thought that he did. He didn’t fail the company, but there is still a way that he lost his job and was feeling unable to provide for his family. He didn’t even share in the benefit the company then later had from their lawsuit. In some way, he really did fail from some perspective. In this case, it is mixed. He didn’t fail at the things he thought he failed at, but what if he did? What if that had been what happened, that he drove the company into the ground?

Joe: Let’s say he did fail, and he did drive the company into the ground. One person would believe that’s a failure, and one person would believe that’s a learning experience. One person would believe now I am more equipped to do it, and one person would believe I am not equipped to do it. One believes that there is such a thing as a failure, and one believes there are only learning experiences that you have.

That’s another way that the brain gives us false thoughts. We buy into a thought process, and we don’t see the falseness of the thought process or the other perspective of the thought process. Even if you say it is so clear that he failed, you have to agree on the definition of failure and then you have to think that that’s you. It is not circumstantial. All of those are potentially limiting beliefs. Does that make sense?

Brett: Okay, so you had mentioned in this list of three things, the false thoughts and the misinterpretation of events. How would misinterpreting the events be distinct from false thoughts in this case?

Joe: It is more misinterpreting the experience. It is not the events. It is the experience. Let me give you a story about this one. I am with my cousin and some friends. We are at some boardwalk. I was in my 30s or something. They had this ride, and the ride was so big and so scary and at the time it was a lot of money, like $50 dollars to do this ride. Think of it as a Ferris wheel but only one arm and only four seats, two at the top, two at the bottom. The seats spun around and went at high speeds. It didn’t only go in a big, gigantic circle. The little thing you sat in went in mini circles. Scary as hell, and my cousin was like dude, come on. All right, let’s try this thing out.

I get into the thing, and we go around. I am just frozen. My body is shaking. All tension. I heard somebody on the other car of two people laughing, and I started laughing. All of a sudden it was exhilarating. It was the most fun experience I had had as far as that kind of adrenaline experience. When I got off, I was telling one of my friends about it. I was having this experience, and the experience didn’t change but I went from complete hatred, resistance to this experience to absolute enlivenment, exuberance, joy of this experience.

He said to me it is really fascinating that in your body when you are resisting it, you are releasing chemicals that are carcinogenic and create cancer in your body. When you are exhilarated, your body is creating chemicals that are anti-carcinogenic. You are having less topic neurochemical reactions. That really hit me. The only difference between was this is fun, or this is terrifying. Same person having the same experience, and one was an interpretation of the experience that was terror, and one was an interpretation of the experience that this was exhilarating.

Brett: It sounds like another way to slice those interpretations is that one was an interpretation that this is an experience to be resisted, and the other was an interpretation that this is an experience to be welcome.

Joe: It is interesting because it can both. For instance, you can have it be this is a good experience instead of this is a bad experience, some version of that, but it can also be the opposite. A limiting belief can also be: I will be happy when __________. It is the set up of future happiness instead of the recognition that the happiness is available to you right now. You don’t have to be different. You don’t have to grow. You don’t have to transform. You can do all of those things, and in fact, you will, but you get to love yourself and be happy right now as you are.

Brett: Let’s apply this to some other beliefs and interpretations that people have.

Joe: Exercise is difficult. I won’t be consistent in my exercise. Money comes from hard work. I will be happy once I learn to speak up and tell my truth. All of those are those this idea that I will have a certain experience when X, Y and Z happen or if X, Y and Z is happening, and all of those can be very limiting to your capacity to get things done, to your happiness, to your joy.

Brett: No one wants my anger.

Joe: Yeah, that’s right. So that’s the distinction. I make the distinction, but there are obviously there are similarities between a false thought and this. The distinction is that one is an interpretation of experience, and one is more logical. The misinterpretation of experience is more of an emotional lie you tell yourself.

Brett: Got it. That makes sense.

Joe: One is more of a head lie, and one is more of an emotional lie. That’s why I make the distinction.

Brett: Getting on to that third one, thinking you know the whole story.

Joe: I remember the story that stuck this in my system, so I am just going to use it. There was a guy named Kobe. I think he was a Mormon, self help guy back in the 80s. He had a Franklin planner, all sorts of things. This is the story he told. He is on the subway. There is a dad that has got three kids, and the three kids are acting out. Kobe is getting agitated and pissed. Man, control your kids. You are bothering everybody, and you are a bad parent. All of these ideas.
At some point, the dad looks over and says I’m so sorry. They lost their mom just the other day. Kobe describes this as like instantaneous shift in his attitude as one might imagine. All of a sudden there is deeper understanding. All of a sudden there is more compassion. Same series of events, totally different understanding because he went from thinking he knew what was up to realizing that he did not have the whole story.

The difference is what I know, what I know I don’t know, and what I don’t know I don’t know. This one is very much about just thinking you understand it when you don’t.

Brett: It seems like there would always be some other angle on any story that we have, or any level of understanding that we think we have about any situation.

Joe: That’s right. You’ve got it. For instance, let’s say you are trying to understand the Chrysler building. This is neurological. Neurologically, if you look at some of the neuro research, they ask about how we know what reality is. There are all these ways seeing that we don’t know what reality is. Just as an example, if we listen to tones, and we hear one tone. We can identify it is a C, another tone is a G, and together we can feel the two different tones. They make a chord or three make a chord, but we can distinguish them. If we are looking at color, we can see two different colors but if we blend them together, there is a third. Then we can’t get the distinction between the two colors that made the third. It just tells you that our sense organs can’t see reality the same way even from sound to color.

Similarly, if you are looking at the Chrysler building, and you are an architect, you see it one way. If you are an atomic scientist, you see it one way. If you are taking a picture of it from one angle, you see it one way, and another angle, you see it another way. All that’s happening in society is we keep on seeing things from new angles, different understandings, and it is the integration of those understandings that creates more solutions, better solutions, better iterations, sometimes worse iterations. It is putting that information together that gives us a more coherent thought process.

You could say I’ve made my iPhone 1.0, and I am done. It was good. You could also say now I am going to make an iPhone 2.0 and 3.0, and then you could say which one was right and which one was good. As we see new perspectives, we can iterate, and we can create new things. The old things always have some limits. If we believe that the old things are the way to go, and we are not integrating the new perspectives, then we are limited in our belief systems.
Brett: It seems like maybe a risk that can happen here is that we can fall into the habit of seeing some gratuitous other perspective that also then flies in the face of our own experience. I could walk down the street, and somebody could be being an asshole, and I can tell myself they must have had a really hard day, so I am going to give them a pass. Then we just walk through life giving everybody a free pass, and we lose our boundaries. It seems like this is a similar limiting belief. Rather than having a belief that that dude is a dick to this person must be coming from a lot of trauma, and there is a reason for it. As true as that is, that can also be limiting if it doesn’t integrate other perspectives, including our own needs.

Joe: Correct. Absolutely. That’s right. The limiting belief is stopping yourself because you think you know. The truth is there is always something you don’t understand. There is always a justification to be gentle about it or to be mean about it. All of those are always there. The difference is if you are in awareness of that, if you are making choice around that. There is more freedom to that. There is less limit to that than if you are unaware of it and you think you are right and you think the other people are wrong. Then you are limited. Then you cannot see solutions.

Your solution sets are limited, and more importantly, great solutions come because I have one perspective and you have another perspective. We find a solution that meets both of our perspectives without limiting them. You see this happen all the time in business. One person says it has got to be a technology forward company, and the other person says no, we have to be a marketing forward company. One thinks they are right, and the other one thinks they are right. There is just a locked horn situation instead of there is something I don’t understand. What is it that I don’t understand? I don’t understand the marketing needs X, Y or Z. I don’t understand the tech side of the company needs A, B and C. How do we have a solution that gets them both? Then you get a better solution than a tech forward company or a marketing forward company.

Brett: What I am hearing is to integrate multiple perspectives, which gives you a more nuanced perspective with which to make better decisions, each of the perspectives has to give a little and recognize where it is wrong, where it is incomplete, and where the narrative glossed over some detail. That requires both sides or from what you can control in yourself, you are recognizing that your story is not the whole story. Being open and ready for information that feels like it conflicts with that story.

Joe: Without dodging your truth, meaning if it still doesn’t feel right for you, you don’t go okay, yes, because there is another side. You still have to be in integrity with yourself. You see me do this. You have been in rooms with me where someone is like you are full of shit, and I will be like yeah. I can’t say that what I am saying is the absolute truth. I am not going to say that that’s true. I am going to say that this is a helpful perspective, and it might not be helpful to you. It might only be helpful at a certain time, at a certain place, and for certain people. If the perspective gives you freedom, fantastic, and if it doesn’t fantastic. Otherwise, I would be like this is the right way. I would be right. It is the right way for certain people at a certain time.

It is about being able to integrate new knowledge, and if you can’t integrate new knowledge because you think you have the whole story, then you are limited. Period.

Brett: To summarize what we just went through, there are these three general categories of limiting beliefs. One of them you described as having false thoughts, and that is sort of the cognitive one. Then there is misinterpretation of experience, which can be a lot more somatic, just misinterpreting what your body is telling you about an experience you are in. The other one is thinking that you know the whole story, which basically stops new information from coming in and stops you from receiving, sort of feeding those first two categories.

Now that we have this sort of framework here, how does someone go about transforming their perspective to be less limiting?

Joe: How do you solve the quantum mechanical? How do you solve for the Boson Hicks particle? I am not going to be able to say all of that information in a podcast. A podcast couldn’t fully encompass that. It is a little bit like listening to a podcast to learn how to paint or to learn how to look at paintings if you don’t have the painting to look at and to understand because doing this is not just an intellectual exercise. There is a body emotional component to it. It is better done in pairs. It is better done through experimentation and exercises.
With all that said, I am happy to go into the basics of it. The basics are there are two things. You have to be able to see through the limiting perspective, and you have to be able to find the limiting perspective, in reverse order. You have to be able to say that’s a limiting perspective, and then you have to have the tools to be able to see through it. At some point along the journey, every perspective you can see through. There is a tremendous amount of freedom in that. Sometimes there is a little confusion for a while, too, but when it settles and integrates, there is a huge amount of freedom in this.

The first step is pretty easy if you can put your attention in the right place. The first is a felt sense. If you feel constricted, if you feel the place where you are uncomfortable in life, where there is tension that isn’t good tension, that’s where the limiting beliefs lie. Binary thought is where the limiting beliefs lie. If you want to look at an intellectual way to identify binary thoughts, which indicates fear and that your thinking is limited, but mostly physical constriction, tension, stress. Those are all really good signals, places where you are triggered. Those are all really good signals you are in a limiting belief pattern.

Then there is another way to do it, too, which is in general if you are feeling trapped, that’s where you have a false belief. The places where life feels like a chore and that a future life feels like the key to your happiness, that’s the misinterpreting of experiences generally.

Brett: Waiting for the world to change and be in alignment with what you think you want or what you think you need to be happy.

Joe: Or what you think the world should be, exactly. Places where you stagnate, not stuck, but just you are blah in something, that’s usually where you don’t have the whole story. It is really typical for somebody to say that’s not the way we used to do it. It has been done a different way for years. I don’t see any reason to change it. That is often stagnation, and it also shows someone doesn’t have the whole story. This goes deeper. There is more nuance to finding it, but generally that’s enough to be able to uncover probably 100, so start there. Easily 100 limiting beliefs.
Brett: Let’s say we start by exploring where we feel tension that doesn’t feel like good tension as you said, where we feel stagnation, and we start to find what these limiting beliefs might be. We start to develop a practice of seeing through them. Maybe we have got partner work and some exercises. How do you get rid of it? How do you free yourself of the pattern?

A lot of times you can see there is a pattern. For much of my life, I have believed I have attention deficit disorder, and it doesn’t mean I am actually any different now that I see through many ways that that story has limited me. I also still have certain personality traits that people can still point to and be like ADD right there, I see you. How do you see through, then behave differently and show up outside of that belief system?
Joe: There are a couple of things. Someone identifies this is an area where I have a limiting belief system. The next thing is figuring out what belief system is actually creating the tension, and that can be a little trickier. It is usually the one they absolutely believe. If you want a trick to that, in a situation that’s creating tension, go to the things you absolutely believe to be true. Those are probably your culprits. They are the water you swim in, so look for the context you are not questioning. That’s one thing.

As far as getting rid of the behavior entirely, it doesn’t work like that. It is not like I have a limiting belief system that exercise is hard, and so once I think that exercise is easy, I am going to want to exercise. It might be that you just want to exercise more, or it might be that you find a way to exercise that takes so little time that it doesn’t bother you to do it. You don’t know how the behavior is going to change. All you know is that I feel freer. I am more in alignment with who I want to be or who I actually am. The second more than the first, it is like I am more in alignment with my authenticity.

This isn’t like a behavior control methodology. This is a realization methodology. Once you get it, if you get it in your whole body, not just your brain, if you grok the whole thing, then things are going to change, but you don’t get to decide what changes. All you get to really control is the outcome, which is more freedom, more happiness and more joy.
Brett: I’m not used to you saying you get to control the outcome.

Joe: Totally true. The outcome of more joy, not the outcome of my company gets bought, not the outcome of I become skinnier. All you get to control is if you see through your limiting beliefs, you get more freedom and joy, not the concrete outcome but the experiential outcome. It will start happening. It is as predictable as dropping an apple. It is going to go to the ground or go lower if it can. Now I am like dropping an apple on Earth or on a planet with gravity.
Brett: There is more to the story, Joe.

Joe: Exactly. You don’t get to control the specifics of the outcome, like I said, and you do get to see that this practice creates more freedom and more joy. The other step we are not really talking about is how you get from that’s a limiting belief to not believing it. When I say not believing it, the brain is the first thing to stop believing it, but the body and the nervous system, the emotions also have to stop believing it. That’s where the tools come in handy, and it is why they are hard to describe, and it is better to experience them and to do them with somebody. There are tools in so many of the things, especially the master class where we are really looking at limiting beliefs the whole time, general categories of them and everything like that.

But some of the tools are inquiry, basically questioning, the devil’s advocate of anything. That’s a tool that allows you to see through things. Emotional fluidity is a large structure of a tool. There are lots of forms of those tools. Where you have the emotion move allows you to see through things on an emotional level, and allowing pleasure, love, safety, those feelings into your system is the other suite of tools. That’s more of the nervous system tool. Those are the broad categories of those tools.

Examples of the tools would be things like argue the counter case in writing. Write down everything you think you know about it, and question it, or write down everything you don’t know about it is another strong way to do it. If you are caught in a belief system where somebody else is at fault, Byron Katie’s work on blame is fantastic. You could do that form of inquiry. It is really nice. It has a good emotional component. Those are some examples of ways to do that. Like I said, the emotional components, the nervous system components, shifting that is something you really just have to practice. You have to do it in experimental form, not through reading a book or listening to a podcast.
Brett: That piece you mentioned on if you find yourself blaming others, I think that can become a meta trap here as well. You come to understand this framework on limiting beliefs, and you see this in what people describe as woke culture a lot. Somebody will see somebody having some unwanted consequence in their life, and they will say they just have a bunch of limiting beliefs. It is this way of being above them or better than them or trying to fix them. In some sense, just gaslighting people into believing they are at fault for everything that happens rather than they are responsible for their experience.

Joe: If a person is saying that, oh look, they are not as good as me. They are having a physical constriction, most likely. That physical constriction is causing them pain, which is a sign of another limiting belief. The Tibetan Buddhists have a great saying around this. They talk about if I think I am better than you, that’s comparative mind, and that’s misery. If I think I am worse than you, that’s comparative mind, and that’s misery. If I think I am equal to you, that’s comparative mind, and that’s misery. No matter what it is, you will feel it in your body. You will feel that construction. You will feel the limitation of it. Your mind will be the last to see it and the first to unsee it. Then your body is the last to unsee it. It is really fascinating how that works, typically.

Brett: A final question to close this out, if somebody is listening to this episode and they have just started now developing the limiting belief that I must be the kind of person that sees through my limiting beliefs all the time, then I will be happy. What do you have to say for them?

Joe: Notice how that creates tension in your system and see through that belief, or don’t. The choice is yours. You get to do what you like. There isn’t a wrong or a right. This is a cool avenue if you want to do it. It is just fascinating to me how that set up happens all the time, and I think it is the most common. When you talked in the beginning, you said there were societal belief systems that are unquestioned and personal belief systems that are unquestioned. I think it is one of the biggest societal beliefs. If I do X, then I will be happy. If I do X, then I will be good enough and then I will be worthy of love. That is, I think, one of the belief systems that are most limiting and causes the most misery.

Brett: I think it can also be helpful to explore what we get out of our beliefs. For example, working out is hard, we may actually enjoy having that belief because we enjoy being the kind of person who does hard things and gets something out of them. Maybe also exploring what it is that we enjoy about our limiting beliefs and just relishing and enjoying that might be part of getting out of that Chinese finger trap sometimes.

Joe: Yes, yes. One of the biggest questions I will ask people when they are in a limiting belief system is what they get out of it, what the benefit is to them, and what would be scary to let go of it. Those are all great questions. Awesome.

Brett: Thank you, Joe.

Joe: Thank you. Talk to you soon.

Brett: Thanks for listening to the Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter or check out our courses at

Byron Katie:

Ready to Jump In?

Join our free intro workshop and try it yourself.

a free 90-minute intro workshop hosted by AoA facilitators
early access to new courses and opportunities
We’ll send you our intro guide and monthly newsletter.
Unsubscribe at any time.