Not long ago I went into the sauna at our local YMCA. There was a man in there I’d never met before. But in an unexpected seven-minute conversation I learned more about limiting beliefs than I could have ever expected. My own, in particular.

Let me explain.

I like to sit in the sauna for about 10-15 minutes after working out. It helps me decompress and keep my sweat going a little longer. Sometimes there are other guys in there, but I rarely say much let alone start the conversation. I’m not much for small talk.

But this time was different. When I walked in, two men were having a conversation. The topic was kids and snacks and how hard it is to maintain a healthy diet when they’re walking around with a box of Cheez-Its.

The Sauna Conversation

After a minute or two, one of the men left. So I started talking to the other one. Here’s how the conversation went (edited and paraphrased for both length and my failing memory):

ME: How old is your daughter?

HIM: She’s 9.

**Somehow the conversation dipped and dived until it segued into the following**

H: It was incredible. He inspired a lot of people to go out and try new things.

M: He probably depressed a lot of people too, when they realized they couldn’t do half the things MJ could do.

H: You can look at it as he depressed people, but isn’t it better to think about it the other way? He proved it can be done. I find that inspirational.

And there it was. Classic glass half full/half empty scenario. Apparently, somewhere deep down, my natural reaction to a feat is “man, I’ll never be able to do something like that.” A feat that should or could be inspirational has become a downer. For no reason other than my limiting beliefs.

When that realization hit me it made me sad. It doesn’t seem right that the person behind something as aspirational as the Life Changers Project would think so negatively. Subconsciously, besides. Then again, the entire point of the project is to grow. And I’m a work in progress just like anyone else.

So yeah, I was sad. But now I was also aware. And that led to determined. Determined to stop thinking that way. Determined to replace those thoughts with different, positive ones. Thoughts more like those from the perspective of my new friend.

If Michael Jordan can do such incredible things with his athleticism, why can’t I use my own talents the same way?

The Key To Overcoming Self-Sabotage

The biggest difference between those who do and those who don’t is the belief not only that they can, but that they will. The sauna conversation is evidence of that. That’s not all that separates Michael Jordan from me, but in this case, it is the most critical.

In the middle of a conversation, my natural state of mind was one of negativity. That’s not who I want to be. Self-sabotage is real and it’s dangerous. I knew I needed to fix it. But first, I needed to recognize when it was happening.

The most important piece of overcoming self-sabotage (or any negative behavior) is awareness.

It sounds simple. And it is. But it’s necessary. If you’re not aware you’re doing something out of habit, there’s almost no chance you’ll stop doing it.

But once you’re aware, you’re more likely to become aware while doing it, and that will give you the best chance to change.

The sauna conversation led to an awakening of sorts. I’m now more aware of my nonconscious tendency to humor limiting beliefs. This has resulted in my noticing them so much more often and giving me an opportunity to act accordingly.

How to Change Your Limiting Beliefs

It’s easy to say just change your belief structure and everything will be okay. What’s not easy is actually changing them. They’re habits and habits are such for a reason—because we do them often and without thinking.

Though difficult, any habit can be changed. Since my conversation in the sauna, I’ve thought quite a bit about how to change my habit of limiting beliefs.

So far, these are the three things that have worked best.

Catch Yourself in the Act

When training a dog, it’s important that you reward or reprimand them as they are doing something. The more time that passes, the less likely they are to associate the reward with the action.

Humans aren’t all that different. The best way for us to understand the impact of our actions is to realize we’re doing something at the time we’re doing it. If too much time passes, we will rationalize or the severity.

Like what happened to me in the sauna, the best way to change limiting beliefs is to realize how sneaky they are. To feel the impact when it’s freshest. To do that, we have to catch them in the act.

Correct Negative Thoughts Right Away

As the Saturday morning cartoon GI Joes used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.” It’s true, but it’s only half. The other half is as important, if not more. Once we catch ourselves thinking negatively, we have to do something about it.

Correcting the negative thoughts right away is critical in reversing the habit. Awareness is great, but does little good without acting upon it.

In my experience it’s also best to replace the limiting belief with a more empowering one in the moment. This helps train our brains to naturally think the thoughts we want it to.

Stretch Your Comfort Zone

By definition, limiting beliefs put restrictions on what we think we can do. They’re often subconscious thoughts, making them harder to notice.

That leaves two options. We can wait for the limiting beliefs to appear, and try to replace them with more enabling thoughts. Or, we can seek out new opportunities to stretch our comfort zone and expand what is possible.

Quickly say yes to things you’d normally deliberate. Try something new. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Don’t worry if the thought of that made your palms clam up. That’s normal. But it’s also the best way to improve your limiting beliefs. It’s not as likely as the other ideas are to make them go away, but when we stretch our comfort zone we move the bar out further.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs Takes Time

The realization of my subconscious limiting beliefs caught me off guard. So much so that I found it difficult to finish the conversation. I was so disappointed that I’d allowed myself to think that way. I wanted to do something immediately to fix it.

After thinking more about it, I realized this wasn’t something I could change immediately. I didn’t always think this way. It had taken time to allow the doubts to grow and it would take time to improve them.

I have since decided on these simple “rules” for overcoming my limiting beliefs.

Be Patient

Again, this isn’t something we’re going to fix overnight. The quicker I am to acknowledge that the better my chances of making real progress over time. Baby steps. Slowly but surely the doubts will be less frequent. When they do come they will be for things that are more deserving.

Be Persistent

If I catch myself in a limiting belief pattern, I have to do something about it. Allowing even one slide by because I’m not in the mood to address it will confuse the new habits I’m trying to build. Persistence and time equal results.

Be Kind to Yourself

Like any new habit, there will be relapses. I know I will not stop having limiting beliefs and by accepting that, I am less likely to punish myself for them. Acknowledge, correct, move on. The worst thing I can do is make this personal against myself.

All Because of Small Talk in a Sauna

I am not a fan of small talk. I rarely initiate it. I certainly don’t go out of my way to initiate it in a sauna. But for some reason on this day, I did. I’m not sure what made me do it, unless it was because I was meant to have this point driven home.

I do believe in gentle nudges from the universe, helping to point our minds and bodies in the right way. Maybe that’s what this was all about. Maybe I needed that conversation to give me a nudge and maybe I needed to write this to give you one as well.

In what ways are limiting beliefs affecting your progress? Tell me about it in the comments.

RJ Licata author headshot


I am a marketer, a writer, and a thinker. Sometimes I do all three at once. My greatest achievement is convincing my wife to marry me. We have three kids and yes, one of them is my favorite. I'm the author of "Lessons for Joey: 100 Things I Can't Wait to Teach My Son" and "Where Greatness Lives".

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