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The staggering lie of so-called Limiting Beliefs

My gears are really grinding on this one. It’s time to put an end to an insidious, toxic and manipulative lie that entrepreneurs are being sold.

The worst part? They’re so brainwashed, they tell THEMSELVES the lie too.

It goes like this:

  1. You’re struggling to get results with whatever it is you’re doing.
  2. You get training, coaching, consulting or you join some mastermind group to fix your stuck-ness.
  3. Eventually, you realize whoever is supposed to be helping you… isn’t. 
  4. They tell you that you have a limiting belief that is preventing you from succeeding.

These four steps are the beginning of an unethical bait and switch. Thousands of desperate-for-help entrepreneurs are being sucked in and no one is saying anything.

Let’s point a floodlight on this and expose the truth. 

Last week I talked about the trap of false epiphanies and how chasing them is an imaginary, unfulfilling entrepreneurial unicorn hunt.

But wait, there’s more!

Our tendency to get high on epiphany is being abused by a TON of people operating in the business growth and personal development world.

The cost for entrepreneurs caught in this trap is huge: Untold thousands of dollars wasted and the absolute grinding halt of meaningful progress.

How to spot the bait-and-switch

The four step list (above) is just the beginning: A distressed entrepreneur yearning for a breakthrough in their bottom line results goes looking for help. They find someone promising all of that and more.

Then, when they engage and start following the tactical advice or strategy laid out for them… something crazy happens.

They don’t get results.

This isn’t because the advice or tactics they’re getting are BAD, by the way.

It’s because they didn’t have an advice or tactics problem in the first place. They weren’t lacking the right ideas or information. In fact, chances are they were probably DROWNING in good ideas and information.

No, the problem was THEM. The entrepreneur themselves. Who they are.

The ability to execute on your ideas is a function of personality. As such, it ain’t an easy thing to improve upon. A minuscule number of coaches or gurus or whatever can move the dial on that.

(Of course, if this was widely known then 90% of the personal development industry would topple over today.)

Instead of having a hard look at the fundamental components of their own psychology – the parts that make you into someone who can get huge things done – the entrepreneur is told, by the guru, that they have a LIMITING BELIEF.

The bait-and-switch happens when business tactical advice is traded for personal development fu-fu nonsense designed to attack and defeat that limiting belief.

Step 5 (remember the four steps above?) looks like this: You need to fix that limiting belief we just discovered. Pay me and I’ll show you how. 

This is the modus operandi for so many wannabe coaches, entrepreneurial courses and hustlers … it’s crazy. And it works.

Why? 

Because when it comes to “Limiting Beliefs”, it’s really really easy to get people to feel moved.

There are a ton of exercises you can do with someone that will make them feel weak at the knees. You can use regression, visualization and HYPNOSIS – which is misunderstood and more ubiquitous than you think – to get people HIGH on the feeling that they’re having a breakthrough.

They’ll feel like they’ve learned something amazing about themselves and their past. They’ll feel seen. Their mind will be blown.

There’s just one problem. Did you spot the bait and switch?

Let me spell it out:

You come to someone with a business problem.

Initial attempts to fix it fail, so you’re told you have a limiting belief at the root of your epic stuck-ness.

You’re sold the solution to that limiting belief. It feels amazing. You know you’ve made a breakthrough.
You’re happy, you tell all your friends, you refer people, you feel good you spent the money.

It isn’t until weeks later you realize you were sold a solution to a problem you didn’t know you had… and meanwhile that whole business situation hasn’t really improved. 

Working on limiting beliefs doesn’t improve your bottom line. Epiphanies don’t correlate with financial results.

We want to believe that something quick and easy – that feels amazing and can be delivered in a workshop – can change our financial future. 

But it can’t, and it doesn’t.

Talk to anyone who is chasing the epiphany dragon and you’ll only hear one thing: The breakthroughs are HUGE and the results are coming. They’re really close! Just around the corner. I swear!

Then, talk to someone who has actually built a super successful business with stellar, breakthrough financial growth in the last six to twelve months. You will hear a totally different story.
They’ll sound a lot like the social scientists, neurologists and psychology researchers who are circling around things like “Self Regulation” and “Conscientiousness” as the mega-skills that separate the super successful people from the rest.

The entrepreneur will also talk about hard work. And seeing the truth about their business and not bullshitting themselves. About eliminating dumb distractions and getting serious about work.
In other words, they’ll reveal how a combination of eliminating cognitive bias and applying force-of-will has caused them to rocket ahead.

Limiting Beliefs are the gateway to empty epiphanies

When an entrepreneur can’t make real business progress, their coach or guru will give them epiphanies so they have the feeling of progress instead.

Otherwise, you’d have people paying thousands of dollars to learn how to grow their businesses with nothing whatsoever to show for it! That’d destroy the shady business model of the personal development guru in question, so they dish out hot epiphany as a substitute.

And people lap it up, then wonder why they’re not really getting anywhere.

If you’re struggling, you don’t have a Limiting Belief problem. 

You’re not broken.

You CAN accomplish huge success. The only requirement is you have to do huge things first. 

Those things have to happen in the external world and involve concrete efforts on your part to build stuff and make value happen in other people’s lives.

Notice how none of that has anything to do with you, your past or your limiting beliefs.  Ironically, this right here is the only epiphany worth having. The magic happens OUTSIDE of you in the real world.

You don’t have a lack of good ideas. A thousand MBA’s worth of content is available (free) online to tell you what to do. The fact is, you just need to execute on the ideas you already have.
Superhuman entrepreneurial success comes to those who develop a superhuman ability to execute. Execution, of course, makes magic happen in the real world.

It comes down to a rare but learnable psychological skill set which makes those who have it intuitively excellent at taking action, without hesitation or procrastination. That skill set has zero to do with your beliefs or even self confidence.

Over at my company Commit Action, we’re working with some of the top researchers and scientists in the field to make a concrete epiphany-free solution to train entrepreneurs in execution psychology. It’s about leveling up the empirical, measurable character traits of your personality that automatically make you more successful.

Our methods are unsexy and they get results. They aren’t always fun initially, but get really exhilarating in the long term. Makes sense, right?

You can download all our best training and research for FREE as a part of a video training series we just released. If you haven’t checked it out already, you’d be crazy to miss it. Click here to get everything.

And next time someone accuses you of having a limiting belief, know this one thing: You are simply at the limit of their ability to help you. AND, right at that moment the REAL next level of success is within your reach if you can just help yourself to grab it. 

12 Comments

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  1. Peter,

    I’m a big fan of your work and also (nearly always) suspicious of guru-speak. Thanks for this thought-provoking post as always.

    I agree the Limiting Belief factor is way overused — but in my personal experience, every rocket I’ve ridden forward to the next phase of my income or achievement DID involve getting past a limiting belief about myself; in fact, 9 out of 10 times this was the case. Smashing the internal “limit” unlocked my external ability to execute (which I am very good at when I am NOT second-guessing myself). A combination of correct self-understanding + execution makes all the difference for me. And I noticed this phenomenon in myself long before anyone used the word “limiting belief” in my presence.

    While I agree that coaching B.S. around limiting beliefs is a HUGE problem … and often does not lead to successful, actionable results … I’m not so sure that limiting beliefs don’t actually exist. The problem in my business isn’t always me. But you know, 9 times out of 10 it really is. And that realization has liberated my performance.

    I’m curious to learn more about your assertions about the primacy of the external, although I confess I’m currently on the fence.

    Lisa

    1. Hey Lisa,

      What were some of the limiting beliefs you realized were holding you back and how did you smash through them?

      I’m really very curious about that. And did you have a coach or someone similar point those things out and work with you on overcoming them?

      Something I may not have made clear enough in this piece (it was tricky to write – not going to lie) was that there ARE internal psychological criteria that need to be met for entrepreneurs to be successful. It’s just that they are rarely related to “limiting beliefs” in the way most people define them.

      Point is, I wouldn’t say this piece is an argument for the “primacy of the external” as you put it.

      1. Peter,

        Your response helps put the article in greater context. Thank you! Perhaps I should clarify that I tend to equate “internal psychological criteria,” as you call them, with the general idea of “limiting beliefs” (or the overcoming thereof) … but that may be in error.

        For me, the limiting beliefs I spoke of have primarily been related to ability, competency or worth. When I run up against the next “level” I need to hurdle, I step back and take a running start, then stop when I hear the internal voice saying, “Wait, you’re not equipped to do that yet.” Or “You’re not competent enough” or “Why do you deserve to achieve that, and experience the satisfaction and sense of actualization that follows?”

        As silly as these voices sound, they hampered me for years. Overcoming them did not mean that I was automatically successful, but I have found that for myself personally, that fear stops the wheels of my machine. I can be a real grinder on any project–unless I run up against my fear of failing at it for some silly reason or another. Remove the fear, and the machine picks up again. I still hear those voices every day, but I’ve learned to get past them.

        Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big is one of the best descriptions I’ve seen yet of how these inner self-doubts (which I equate with limiting beliefs, as long as a person is believing what those voices say) hold us back. Her book is directed toward women; perhaps women are more prone in our cultural context to listen to these voices?

        I also find as a brand strategist and storyteller for primarily female clients that in nearly every engagement, I must deal with internal psychological criteria, as you call them, before my client can effectively put her business message out in the world and witness its impact in terms of satisfaction or income. The client who still secretly doubts she is “worthy” to share this bold message with the world won’t take action. And those who do go on to execute successfully have first learned how to deal with self-doubt’s ongoing chatter. Keep in mind that I am a strategic writer, not a therapist — and yet 70% of my job has turned out to be therapy or coaching.

        Regarding my ability to overcome these mental voices — I have done it at various times both on my own and with a coach. I am not a psychologist but am pretty obsessed with self-awareness as a path to achievement, so I often self-therapize, study the discipline, and find the breakthrough I need. Recently I’ve hired some excellent coaches who focused on a dual approach. They started with the internal issues and then, as those were dealt with or exposed, moved swiftly into an execution stage that actually tipped how I was spending my time, on which tasks, and the results I got from that expenditure.

        I hope that helps clarify things a bit — if for no other reason to expose areas where I may be misunderstanding your use of the term “limiting belief.” Thank you again for your always well-written and thought-provoking posts.

        I have said more than once that I hope to be Peter Shallard when I grow up. And that is not in any way meant as flattery.

        Lisa

  2. One of our staff sent me this link. Interesting read, thx.

    You’re right, seed of execution is the number one success factor in an early stage business – get an idea and move on it. But there are a lot of reasons (limiting beliefs) around why people won’t do that. It is not a function of personality, but learned behavior.

    If you grow up in a house full of thinkers, postulators, theorizers, and procrastinators, then you likely do it, too. One action builds on another until your “go slow” mental muscles are well developed and your “do something” mental muscles are completely atrophied. That has to be reversed, and to do so, you have to convince someone that getting moving quickly and figuring it out as they go, not before they go, is a better way to be successful. That is a limiting belief.

    A good coach/consultant will baseline your metrics, get you to do something, then measure the results. And in the middle of that, they are challenging you to push past what you think you believe about the world around you in order to be successful. Granted, it’s not the challenge from the coach that changes things, it’s you doing something different. But you are willing to try because they give you clarity on what it could do for you. They challenge your limiting belief.

    Everyone throughout history thought a 4-minute mile was impossible until Roger Bannister did it. Now every single world-class runner is sub-4. That was nothing more than a limiting belief. Everyone already had the metrics and clearly defined actions to get to their goals, but were only able to push through because they finally believed sub-4 was possible. A myriad other examples of limiting beliefs show the same thing.

    So, as always, it’s never a clean and easy answer. It’s not just “limiting beliefs”, nor is it simply “execution psychology”. It’s breaking through your crusty view of what is possible (limiting belief) AND doing something about it enough times to grow your speed of execution muscles.

    Check out the word “conation” – http://bit.ly/1uELJVC You’re on to something – execution is central, but I believe the answer is more inclusive of our view of the world. Both/and.

    1. Hey Chuck,

      Thanks for the detailed comment and for stopping by!

      I agree with much of what you’re saying, especially the muscle metaphor. Being raised in a house of “thinkers” and “procrastinators” TOTALLY causes those muscles not to develop… but here’s the thing…

      You can’t have an epiphany or break through a limiting belief and suddenly have rippling strong muscles!

      It requires work. No matter which way you slice it.

      Insight and breakthroughs are great, and often a big part of the absolute bleeding edge of progress (see your Bannister example) but I would argue those are the edge-cases. Most of the time, it’s the hard patient work that actually has the biggest impact.

  3. Hmm…. struggling with this article..

    From my observation in multiple entrepreneurial communities, Limiting Beliefs are underrated and not paid that much attention to. If you mention it, you get looked at as if you’re talking some Woo-Woo stuff. And most things Entrepreneurs are sold are not Limiting Beliefs being a problem.. mostly it’s ‘system’, ‘X-step method’ etc.

    And LIs are quite easy to spot on an average Entrepreneur. So this article is a bit weird. Maybe more context and examples could be given or it just missed the mark this time..

    1. I suspect we hang out in different places! Although this article is about what happens when someone follows the “X-step method” – or attempts to, at least – and then doesn’t get results. What happens then?

  4. Peter,

    You’re definitely right that eliminating limiting beliefs without taking any action accomplishes nothing. Breakthroughs and epiphanies only matter if new commitments and actions immediately follow. And the best way to overcome limiting beliefs is by taking action despite whatever beliefs and fears may be there.

    What I’ve seen work is sticking to your four pillars and occasionally using things like limiting belief elimination tools to make it easier to take the actions if there’s been a repeated failing and a clear pattern of behavior and emotion can be identified.

    This article has helped me see more clearly what you’re saying about clients feeling like they’re making progress just because they have insights about themselves but still aren’t taking the action. It can be easy to forget as a coach that you’re not really serving them unless who they’re being and what they’re doing is shifting and therefore producing real results.

    At the same time accountability, deadlines, specificity, and measurement only seem to go so far if someone has a huge conditioned fear about taking a certain kind of action like making a follow up call or cold call. To me at that point it’s not about fixing someone, it’s about giving someone medicine when they’re sick instead of trying to get them to force it. Do you think it detracts from developing execution psychology if a conditioned fear is overcome with a coaching process instead of a person’s own determination?

    Would you agree that there’s a place for effective limiting belief elimination tools as an occasional support to the main work of shifting who someone is being (mainly through the osmosis of having a coach who already has execution psychology) and helping them take consistent action with the four pillars?

    Best,

    Andrew

  5. Fascinating. As a solo/womente/micro-preneur, I’ve run into many and a day’s worth of these kinds of coaching strategies and philosophies. With a whole lot of woo-woo and whipped cream on top…

    One of the reasons I’ve stuck with the Shining Academy run by Leonie Dawson (no, I’m not an affiliate) is that she knows how to balance the feel-good, encouraging, hippie, positive energy/limiting belief sort of speak with the kick-in-the-pants take action ideas, workbooks, executables, etc. Shiny stuff plus elbow grease. Inspiration plus perspiration. Find your own wild donkey…and then ride it.

    So while I’m not quite ready to toss out the baby of psychological change with the bathwater of ‘limiting beliefs’, I’m very happy to see you calling the waters dirty and refocusing us on the necessity of actually scrubbing (to stretch that metaphor to its fullest…) in order to see results.

    Or, as the Apostle James put it over two thousand years ago, ‘Faith without works – is dead.”

  6. Peter,
    I am so glad that I stumbled upon your site (thanks to Franchisegrade.com). I greatly appreciate your insights and strategies. I also appreciate all the comments that have been presented here, which have seemed to be very thoughtfully submitted, adding perspective and additional value to your point of reference. While I do believe there are limiting beliefs (what we call drunk monkeys) telling us lies and build false evidence appearing real (FEAR), once we apply your concepts at a high level, we can cage the drunk monkeys and move forward more aggressively to fulfill our dreams and aspirations. Thanks for what you are doing and sharing.

  7. Peter, I don’t know you personally but what you’ve said in this post could not have been said any better. I was busy doing research for a booklet I have to write for a client, when I landed on your page. I absolutely love the way you think, and the realistic outlook you have on life. I’ve been saying this for years and I’m so happy I found this post 🙂 I hope I can get your permission to share this!

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