How to Change Your Limiting Beliefs – The Ultimate Guide

Change limiting beliefs

by Vlad Dolezal on March 5, 2010

Elephant keepers in India have an interesting way of keeping their elephants from running away. They tie them to a wooden peg with a rope.

It doesn’t make sense on the surface, since a rope like that has no hope of holding a grown elephant. But ask any elephant keeper and he will chuckle and explain:

When a baby elephant is born, the herder ties it to a peg with a rope. At this point, the rope is strong enough to hold the elephant.

The baby elephant quickly learns that trying to escape the rope is futile. And he keeps that learning with him, even as he grows up and the rope becomes far too weak to hold him.

And like that rope, we often form beliefs that might be useful at first, but then hold us back in life, long after the original reasons are gone.

I won’t go into much detail on why limiting beliefs suck. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that they do! (If not, just google it).

Instead, I’ll get right into how to change them!

So get ready, because soon you will learn how to dissolve emotional superglue, cut off table legs of evidence, and replace limiting beliefs with empowering ones!

What is a belief, exactly?

I covered this briefly in EVERYTHING Is A Belief. If you don’t feel like reading it, here are the key points:

  • there is no “true” or “false” with beliefs, only useful and detrimental
  • a belief is just the best available explanation of the evidence you observe

This time, we’ll dig a bit deeper. And I’ve prepared some pictures to help you understand 😀 (behold my artistic skills…)

Think of a belief as a tabletop. The legs are the supporting evidence. And sometimes the legs are even superglued to the floor of your mind with emotions.

(Here in the UK we weirdos call it “maths” because it’s short for mathematics. If that confuses you, just pretend I say “math” throughout this article 😉 )

And to break a limiting belief, you will first need to get rid of the superglue, then get rid of the evidence, and only then can you change it.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

Changing your limiting beliefs

Let’s go through this process together. This will work best if you pick a limiting belief, and go through this process with that in mind.

1. Identify a limiting belief

Take a few moments to think about beliefs you hold that might be holding you back.

It can be in the form “I am …” or just about the world in general. As long as you think it might be holding you back, that will work.

Remember, there is no true or false with beliefs. Only useful and detrimental. Don’t worry about “truth”, and instead decide if it’s useful to you, or if a different belief would be more useful.

For example, you might believe that “The recession is a bad time to start a business”. That would definitely be more limiting than “There will always be demand for exceptional products and services.”

Take a few moments to pick a limiting belief. You can still carry on reading if you can’t think of anything, but it would be really helpful if you do.

2. Choose a belief you would like to have instead

This will become important later (when we dislodge the evidence for your old, limiting belief and replace it with evidence for the new one).

I think this step is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll just give you two examples:

old: “I am unattractive.”
new: “I can attract just the right partner for me.”

old: “I will never earn over $30,000 a year.”
new: “I can earn as much as I want for my ideal life.”

3. Get rid of the emotional superglue

Very often, beliefs have an emotional charge attached to them.

I was at a life coaching seminar recently and I heard a great example of this. We talked about beliefs, and one woman in her forties put up her hand timidly:

“Yes?” Asked the presenter.
“I still believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy,” she piped up.

The presenter dug a bit deeper. It turns out the woman still believed in those things, because it brought her the feelings of:

  • being in touch with her roots
  • sharing the culture with other people

And so she held on to it. Note that this was NOT a limiting belief for her. She lived her life quite fine with it.

I just wanted to give you an example of beliefs giving emotional payoffs.

With that in mind, once you’ve identified your limiting belief, think about the emotional payoff it gives you.

For example, thinking you suck at maths might give you:

  • commiserating with friends who also claim to suck at maths
  • giving up responsibility for your maths grade
  • avoiding being called a “geek”
  • and many others…

The emotional payoff you get is unique to you.

Once you’ve figured out what it gives you, it’s time for the all-important question: Is the emotional payoff worth holding on to this belief?

Take a good few moments to answer this. Because you know what? Sometimes the answer is “yes”. In which case you can stop right there, because no technique (except advanced psychotherapy) will help you change something you don’t want to change.

But let’s say you decide the emotional payoff isn’t really worth the limitation. You decide you want to change!

At this point, you’ve already begun dissolving the emotional superglue. There’s still some left, but every time you remind yourself that you really want to change, it gets weaker.

(Using the Pain and Pleasure Principle might help at this point. It will help you increase the motivation to change and decrease the motivation to stick with your old beliefs.)

4. Re-frame the evidence

Remember how a belief is just the best available explanation for the evidence?

Well, you decide what is the “best” explanation for the evidence! You can easily choose an alternate explanation that doesn’t limit you. And once you do, this new way of thinking about the evidence often makes more sense than the old one!

Let’s go with the tabletop, and re-frame the evidence so it no longer supports “I suck at maths”:

Evidence 1:
I failed the last two tests
Alternate explanation:
I haven’t studied properly for them. I used the wrong studying methods.

Evidence 2:
I got an answer wrong in class
Alternate explanation:
I was tired
Even the best students sometimes get it wrong. Getting an answer wrong is not an indication of maths skills.
I have become better at maths by stepping up and getting the chance to fail and get feedback.

Evidence 3:
My mother said it’s her genes
Alternate explanation:
Robert has parents who claim they suck at maths, yet he’s a maths genius. Clearly mathematical ability isn’t fully hereditary.

Notice how the evidence no longer supports “I suck at maths”?

Some evidence might take a bit of skill to re-frame. But with a bit of practice, you can easily dislodge most evidence for your negative beliefs quickly.

Take a moment now to re-frame the evidence for you own limiting belief. (You’re carrying one in mind as we go along, right?)

Also, sometimes you will find it hard, or even impossible to reframe all of the evidence. That’s ok. As long as you take away as many supporting legs as possible, you will be able to shift the belief with this next step:

Update March 2013 – Since reframing seems to be a big sticking point for a lot of people, I’ve written up a clarification of the concept. So if you’re not feeling quite on top of it, check out reframing explained.

5. Find evidence for your new belief

Beliefs have a funny way of operating.

They focus your mind on certain things… so you completely miss things that are inconsistent with those beliefs.

If you believe you’re unattractive, you will notice all the snide remarks and dirty looks – yet completely miss the smiles, greetings and compliments, or just discount them as irrelevant.

Because of this, beliefs automatically snowball. Once a belief gains certain weight, it will start to tack on more and more legs of evidence, and ignore any contrary evidence. So deep-seated beliefs might take several sessions like this, over several days, to get rid of. But the process still works.

In this step, you will actively find all the evidence you can think of to support your new belief!

Think back to all the things that happened in your life, no matter how small or irrelevant they seem, that support it.

The goal here is to establish as many legs as possible. If you get enough evidence, this new belief will blow the old one right out.

And once the new belief become entrenched in your mind, it will start to accumulate even more evidence for itself! Suddenly, the snowballing effect works in your favour! 😀

So take a few moments to remember all the evidence from your life that supports your new belief.

Summary and next actions

Hopefully, you’ve gone through this post with a limiting belief in mind. If you did, you already know how well this method works.

If you couldn’t think of one, that’s ok. You now know what to do the next time you notice one!

To summarize:

  1. Identify a limiting belief
  2. Pick a belief you would like to hold instead
  3. Get rid of the emotional superglue
  4. Cut off the table legs of evidence by reframing them
  5. Gather as much evidence as possible for your new empowering belief

And as you practice this method, it will become ever easier and more effective. You might even start noticing limiting beliefs that your friends hold. Feel free to share this method with them- I want as many people as possible to benefit from this!

And even though the effect might be small at first… it builds up over time. Like the butterfly flapping its wings that causes a tornado in the distant future – swapping out your limiting belief for an empowering one will have bigger and bigger positive consequences as you go through life!

Make the best of this method. It will serve you well!

(image courtesy of paraflyer)

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark March 5, 2010 at 13:36

Great elephant analogy, and I loved you picture of emotional superglue. Definitely one of the best, most practical articles on changing beliefs that I’ve read in a long time
.-= Mark´s last blog ..Super Simple Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for Beginners =-.


danman March 5, 2010 at 14:32

Although not generally this time i must agree with the article , because that is how unknowingly i became good at physics.
I had at the beginning, back in high school, a rather mediocre skill, but a belief i am good at it , as i kind of went well back in my home country ,and also because it was a kind of “manly” subject. At first it did not go too well, but i did not take it much into account, attributing it to simply using wrong methods etc, and so i did more of it…
my test marks went 75, 68, 92, 98 over the course of the year.. ergo, it works


Tim Brownson March 5, 2010 at 15:54

I was listening to Superfreakonomics the other day and it said that African elephants can’t be trained but Indian ones can. I wonder if it has something to do with ear size?

How come you don’t have more readers Vlad, are people just mental?
.-= Tim Brownson´s last blog ..What Are Values? =-.


Vlad Dolezal March 5, 2010 at 18:29


Ya, I already got several compliments on the table pictures.

Maybe I should start a career as a graphic artist…


You forgot to mention the exams where you had over 100%! 😀 [Note to others: I’m serious, he got over 100% on some exams. Ask him for details.]


Superfreakonomics is awesome! What is this thing you were listening to? I don’t remember reading that in the book.

Also, about my readership: I just really picked up the pace in the last two weeks. New subscribers are already streaming in!


Marly March 5, 2010 at 20:46

What about those well-worn pathways in my head? They’re just so easy to walk on because they’ve been trodden so many times before. But your post provides some positive examples of how to create new pathways. Thanks!


Vlad Dolezal March 5, 2010 at 22:15


Funnily enough, I’m just writing a new post around the idea of “well-worn pathways” in your mind. Probably coming in around two weeks’ time 🙂


simply stephen March 6, 2010 at 05:09

Vlad…you had me with the elephant picture. Everything you say must be true as elephants to me are like penquins to you. Frogs are a close second.

Okay, seriously though there is an incredible business management book called Teaching the Elephant to Dance which explores the application of changing set beliefs in business. Excellent read.

While your steps are very cohesive and create a practical solution there is a catalyst that must be applied to make it happen – you must have a desire and passion to change what you want to change.

Without that let’s just say your up a pretty dirty creek!
.-= simply stephen´s last blog ..steps to reduce electronic waste =-.


Vlad Dolezal March 6, 2010 at 13:50


I know what you mean. If somebody starts an article with a penguin picture, I go “Awwwwww!” and agree with anything they say 😛

And you’re absolutely right. The first step is to want to change! Here I’m targeting people who already want that, but aren’t sure how to.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 7, 2010 at 21:56

Hello Vlad, this was a nice article. I liked the point about emotional superglue. I wish I had some talent with illustration.
.-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Change Made Simple – Direct the Rider =-.


Vlad Dolezal March 8, 2010 at 16:14


Ah, do I sense a limiting belief about your illustration skills? 😉


Daria March 8, 2010 at 16:23

Superarticle! Made me thought of..
There`re very few ultimate limits for human existence – death, some diseases. What a madness is to dismiss them in a narcissistical delusion and stay within false boundaries! Congratulations, Daria, that`s what you do. And will do… and want to do…

P.S.On Tim Robinson`s comment, if an African elephant thinks he can`t be trained properly due to the size of his ears, isn`t this a limiting belief for the animal? Mystery…


StE March 8, 2010 at 17:57

I’ve read stuff like this before and thought to myself “easier said than done.” I think your post makes a very good table leg to counter that particular limiting belief!


Farouk March 9, 2010 at 09:17

hey Vlad,
i totally agree, i even wrote a similar post long ago and i also mentioned the elephant example lool , it fits perfectly with the topic


Vlad Dolezal March 9, 2010 at 11:05


Woo! You know you’ve done something right when your blog post reaches the status of a table leg 😀


Funny, when I sent a link to this to Charlie Gilkey, he also pointed me to an article where he used the elephant example. I think it’s pretty widespread around the internet.


Alice March 10, 2010 at 03:22

Vlad, I enjoyed both your elephant and tabletop analogy. I’ve been trying to live a more emotionally happy lifestyle. In general, I’m a positive person when it comes to other people, but I’m highly negative with myself. When I’m feeling blue, I’ll remember to attach more table legs to my poor tables.


Lana - {Daring Clarity} March 10, 2010 at 10:13

Ahh, I learned to listen to Dragos when he recommends someone. Awesome post Vlad and awesome blog. Bookmarked.
.-= Lana – {Daring Clarity}´s last blog ..How I Got to The Core, Got Scared… and Survived. =-.


Vlad Dolezal March 10, 2010 at 12:03


Also, when you’re feeling blue, have a look at Avatar. The Na’vi are blue. Yet they’re awesome. Ergo you’re awesome 😉

(Don’t question the logic, just think it 😛 )


Cheers, glad you like it!


Moon Hussain March 11, 2010 at 16:16


My first time here and really liked this post. The elephant learned behaviour really stuck to me.. incredible how we chain ourselves to our limiting beliefs through past failures (instead of re-evaluating where we went wrong and how to fix it).
.-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..My Three Pronged Approach To Creating My First Niche Website =-.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 16, 2010 at 03:43

I love the process that you gave here. Changing the way we look at the evidence is a great step in the right direction. It doesn’t have to mean what we say it means, yet we often give power to the limiting beliefs by accepting it as evidence of something we can’t change. Great work!
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..3 Simple Positive Thinking Techniques You’ll Love for Tough Times =-.


Vlad Dolezal March 16, 2010 at 04:21


You’re absolutely right, reframing is one of the most powerful concepts.

In fact, I’m preparing a whole blog post just about that, where I go into a lot more detail on the four main ways of reframing. Probably coming a week from right now 😉


Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey March 19, 2010 at 17:35

The beliefs that we hold about ourselves can either push or limit us. You’ve shared some great tips on Changing our limiting beliefs. I’ve heard a great saying, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, either way you’re right.” <— something to that effect. If one thinks they're not good at math then they're right. If they think they're good at math, they're right also.


Vlad Dolezal March 19, 2010 at 17:54


Funnily enough, I was going to include that quote in the intro to this article. But it somehow didn’t quite fit. Luckily, you came along and posted it! So now this article is complete and I can die happy.

Or something… I think I got slightly off topic with this comment 😛


Emĉjo March 19, 2010 at 18:00

Mi opinias ke vi estas fekinteligenta homo kiu jam muuulte progresis.
Daŭrigu kaj vi fariĝos… ha, daŭrigu!



priyanka March 20, 2010 at 19:17

Hey, besides reframing, is it okay to look at things like you’d do when focusing a camera…like, focusing on the good part/the good reaffirmations/praises, and blurring the other bits out (m still talking camera stuff here :-)) Or is me asking you if it is okay evidence that m still seeking ppl’s approval/permission for how i think?? m still learning, u see 😛

Lovely stuff here, btw, and I LOVE how u converted feeling blue = avatar blue = awesome for the benefit of alice. I’m kind of a pessimist but unlearning that to be an optimist..but it’s still kinda me being very positive with other ppl while still being somewhat negative and stuck-up with myself. Your free-flowing thoughts and breezy way of writing works for me. Truly. 🙂


Vlad Dolezal March 20, 2010 at 20:43


Yes, mi certe daurigos! Dankon por la belaj vortoj 🙂


Love the camera metaphor! Might quote you on that in a post I’m preparing 😉 (it deals with reframing in more detail).

Speaking of optimism, I wrote a guest post for Positivity Blog on that a while ago. Here’s the link, in case you want to read it 🙂 :


mypeace July 23, 2010 at 02:10

Great work! There’s a man on YouTube — Sean Stephenson — who got me into this personal development stuff. He’s an inspiring person, to say the least. In your opinion, who are some of the most inspiring mentors, and what are some of the best books you have read on self-improvement, personal growth, etc…?


Vlad Dolezal July 23, 2010 at 09:14


As far as inspiring mentors, I’d go with Tony Robbins, and Dr. Paul Dobransky.

As far as books:

Enjoy 😉


Mrigendra September 9, 2010 at 06:06

Dear Friend:
You are superb in making things clear and presenting them so lucidly. No jargons, no academics, a real fool can understand and change himself : )
Your example is great and that is able to show the abstract and subjective mental structures.


Bob December 2, 2010 at 23:21

Just happened to ltake a look at your article, and loved your table/superglue analogy! I’ve got an interesting spin on the emotions that drive detrimental beliefs. Feel free to shoot me an email, and I’ll send you a PDF on it. Thanks!


Vlad Dolezal December 3, 2010 at 22:38

Alright, done. Looking forward to what you have to share!


Ruth Walker August 26, 2011 at 17:09

Hi, this is brilliant 🙂 Is one of best methods i’ve read for changing limiting beliefs. I think what is so great about it is the simplicity of it. Have briefly tried it on a very unhelpful belief i’ve had most of my life and i feel a little better about it already. Keep up the good work :))


r_ban September 12, 2011 at 17:12

U are Great Vlad!.. not that you have stated something extraordinary, but for me right now your article has done a miracle in my life! Your lucid explanation and brilliant illustration has drove home the concept beautifully. Its great, when people like you share things which acts as a catalyst of transform peoples age old rotten belief. I thank you from the bottom of my heart..!! Its was of Great Help..


Mario September 21, 2011 at 20:51

Hello Velad

I am not sure I completely understand the concept of superglues.

My limiting belief is that women do not want to talk to me when I first approach them. So when later on I avoid approaching someone, it does NOT give me an emotional payoff. In fact, I feel disappointment in myself. a feeling far from a payoff (which usually means a pleasant reward”

I understand the replacing of old evidence with new ones but I am just not sure what my superglues could be. Maybe if I understand the concept better, it would make more sense.


Vlad Dolezal September 25, 2011 at 15:05

Hey Mario!

In this case an example of emotional superglue might be avoiding the responsibility for them not wanting to talk to you. So if you believe that they never want to talk to you, that means the problem wasn’t with your approach (i.e. you doing something wrong), but the problem is with women in general not wanting to talk to you (i.e. something wrong out there that’s not your fault).

Or it might keep you from approaching, in which case the emotional payoff is simply avoiding the discomfort of approaching them.

That being said, those are just POSSIBILITIES. It’s also possible that neither of those really applies to you, and that in fact you don’t have emotional superglue attaching your belief to the floor of your mind in this case. In which case, good news, you can just go straight to the next step!

Does this make sense?


Larry Hilla January 29, 2012 at 17:49

Your write up is a good model of it.


Vlad Dolezal January 30, 2012 at 14:32

I do my best 😉


Ruby Lee February 22, 2012 at 01:44

This is really such a simple and excellent way to describe how beliefs take hold and trap you long after they ought to lose their power. Thank you so much for posting!


Vickey Fahs May 17, 2012 at 10:02

Tremendously educational all of the best, I do think the future prospect could extremely well need far a lot more testimonies.


keith June 5, 2012 at 15:33

hey vlad, i found this post VERY VERY helpful, i read “everything is a belief” last night, and i came back this morning to follow up with this post. i love the way you put the belief concept in a “table model” i’m actually about to take a piece of paper and right out beliefs now, so i can supercharge my life in the direction i want. i appreciate this post, keep adding value to the world! 🙂

check me out @, the (m.o.n) is great!!!


Gautam July 4, 2012 at 08:37

This method is simply awesome. I combined the power of the pain and pleasure principle to this and I have started eliminating my limiting beliefs one at a time.
Beautiful analogy and methodical explanation.

I will keep updating my results periodically.

One question though: How could I tell if a limiting belief has been eliminated for good. Any technique you suggest to evaluate this?


Susan October 30, 2012 at 04:37

My dad always said, “if you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” At the time I thought, well, if I can’t, then why am I bothering? It took me a while to realize that the point was to believe that you can!!


Richard November 13, 2012 at 09:44

I would like to know if this is based on a specific model of change from psychology? May I ask where these steps came from? Thanks! 🙂


Vlad Dolezal November 13, 2012 at 10:31

Hey Richard!

It comes from bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years and organized into a coherent whole.

For example, I got the “emotional superglue” idea from Paul Dobransky, the “beliefs snowball” idea from can’t remember where, while I got the “reduce and substitute” idea from working with changing habits. And I’m really not that familiar with formal psychological models. So… it’s simply what works!


Danny November 21, 2012 at 14:26

Hey Vlad,

I’m trying to apply the theory you describe in this blog to what I think is quite a common belief, in that ‘how other people perceive me makes a difference to my life/wellbeing’, however strangely enough I can’t actually identify any evidence that supports this, which is quite strange as this is quite a deeply engrained belief of mine, I’d appreciate your opinion on this?



Vlad Dolezal November 21, 2012 at 14:54

Hey Danny,

how about examples from movies, or books? Can you think of any you have seen/read where other people’s opinion made a big difference to a major character’s life? Then think about whether that really applies to you or not.

Sometimes it’s not about direct evidence from your own life. I’ve uncovered quite a few beliefs I held because I’ve heard evidence for them in a compelling story, and then forgot where I learned that “fact”.

Let me know if this helps!



Carla December 2, 2012 at 07:16

Great post! I was given an exercise to write out all my beliefs about money, being creative (I’m a humorous songwriter), and doing what you love for a living. Then I was supposed to see which beliefs were limiting and which were helpful, then to work on eliminating/ defusing the limiting beliefs… but I was not told how to do so! So I did a web search “how to change limiting beliefs”- and here you are. That elephant analogy is great. It shows why Aesop’s fables were all animals- just makes it so easy for us to grasp. Thanks for this post!


Vlad Dolezal December 2, 2012 at 09:39

Cheers, Carla, and good luck getting rid of those pesky beliefs!


Dave January 25, 2013 at 13:04

Great post. It can be difficult to let go of beliefs, especially ones that you do not realise you have. I think you explain it really well.
Dave´s last post ..Top Digital Nomad Locations


amine February 15, 2013 at 15:35

thank you bro i really loved the article & enjoyed reading it and benefited from it.


Donna Chow April 6, 2013 at 00:20

Hey Vlad,

I love your article, I’ve blogged about it on
How to Change Your Limiting Beliefs article by Vlad

I hope it can attract some clients for you.



Vlad Dolezal April 6, 2013 at 11:22

Hey Donna,

cheers, I’m glad you like the article enough to share it with others!


Sid Golden May 5, 2013 at 21:34

Hi – first time here. I did notice you’d come across the Henry Ford quote: If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” It’s not QUITE like that though, he forgot to say, “if you think you can’t, then your BELIEF is wrong and can be changed”. I keep saying that to myself whenever I believe I can’t overcome agoraphobia (which in my case is a ‘limiting belief’, not a fear of open spaces). Thanks for the blog, Sid.


Rijschool Oostrom September 24, 2013 at 14:41

I think it’s absolutely AWESOME! when you trek through an absurdly deep puddle in the middle of a rain storm while wearing shin high, water proof boots. Everybody else has to alter their path in order to keep their feet dry (and warm if they aren’t cold already); but not you with the boots. You can walk right on through the deep, cold puddles coming out the other side with your feet just as dry and warm as when you stepped in. Plus it’s fun sloshing through puddles, especially deep ones.


Eric Scott October 24, 2013 at 03:14

Awesome article!! I love the way you explained everything, your analogies and simplicity! Thanks for the great read!


Reggie November 7, 2013 at 06:42

Thank you for your insight into changing limiting beliefs. I love the analogy that you use. Amazing tool you have provided to demistify the things that hold us back.


ambar December 13, 2013 at 02:44


What if my limiting belief is that God hates me. Do you have any suggestions to ovecome that? I even made a list if god thing in my life that I’m thankful for, but the evidence of his hate is overwhelming. Thanks


Zaheen December 13, 2013 at 22:36

Hey Vlad,
Love this post and the graphics! I am launching a 6-week holistic weight loss program in January and it involves behaviour modification assignments. One of the assignments is on limiting beliefs about weight loss. Could I use this post as part of this assignment and of course I will reference you.


ANKIT September 19, 2014 at 12:39

Hi , Vlad this article is awesome! ! I’m going to put these advices in my studies and hopefully I will able to achieve what I have in mind for last 2 years


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