Sometimes the biggest thing holding you back from greater success is something you might not even be aware of.
They’re called "iceberg beliefs," and they could be major obstacles that you don’t even realize. Andrew Shatté, PhD and chief science officer at meQuilibrium, a digital resilience coaching platform, says that iceberg beliefs are the self-limiting beliefs we have sometimes below the surface of our consciousness. And they can be devastating to our confidence, state of mind, and achievement levels.
"We often find that an iceberg—like ‘I should get everything done perfectly’—drives people to excel, so it really does have an upside. But unfortunately human beings, being what we are, we never get anything done perfectly," he says. Constantly falling short of that yardstick can lead to sadness, shame, despondency, and frustration, Shatté adds. To root out these beliefs and get rid of them, try these five steps.
A big warning sign that you have an iceberg is when you say things like, "That’s impossible" or "I have to," says mental toughness consultant Andrew D. Wittman, PhD and the author of Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You. When you’re feeling fear or resistance about something, it could be a sign that you have an underlying belief that is triggering those reactions.
Where do you feel "stuck" in your life? Where do you overreact emotionally? Shatté says exploring areas with which you are dissatisfied and looking at why you don’t make changes can be a good way to identify self-limiting beliefs. Icebergs typically fall into three categories, he says:
- Achievement. This is where you believe you have to get everything right and perform perfectly, or that you have to do everything yourself. Neither of those beliefs are possible to achieve.
- Social. Beliefs here are often about a duty to make others happy or to perform certain roles for others. You may feel that you have to subvert your own needs to make others happy.
- Control. Here, the beliefs are typically chasing after impossible levels of control in your life and believing life will be better when you achieve them. You spend energy trying to achieve the impossible.
Your icebergs may have been formed when you were a child, so they could be pretty well-entrenched and hard to shake, Wittman says. But once you find them, you need to give them a rest, even for brief periods, by suspending your disbelief that you can get beyond them. If that sounds impossible, you need to think again—you do it when you get lost in a movie or other experience that you know is not real, he says. Once you’ve silenced the belief, ask yourself how you can do the thing that you want to do but feel you can’t.
"If you say, ‘How would I?’ your brain will go to work and find all the information that would back that up, and so that puts you in the position of where you can, or at least you can find the solution to, whatever you're facing," Wittman says.
Once you’ve started mapping out a way to get to where you want to go, the next step is to set a stretch goal toward what you want to achieve, says New Jersey psychologist Patricia Farrell, PhD and author of How to Be Your Own Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Your Life Back. Choose a goal that will help move you in the direction of your overall objective, but make sure it’s slightly out of your comfort zone, she says. You may not achieve it at first, but the more you work toward them, the more confidence you will build—and confidence is the enemy of self-limiting beliefs.
Walking around with self-limiting beliefs is like being on autopilot, letting some other force tell you how to maneuver in the world, Shatté says. When you start to identify and eliminate those beliefs, it can be very liberating, he says.
"They're very broad-based, general statements about how the world should be, so the more we clear them up, the more we gain control in very broad areas of our lives," he says.