Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: The Neuroscience Behind Them and How to Rise Above

On episode 113 of the inhabit podcast, I delve into the transformative journey of overcoming limiting beliefs, a journey that has the power to revolutionize both personal growth and professional success. With insights from the fabulous event “Girlfriends & Business” hosted by Lori Harder, this episode is a testament to the power of belonging and the impact of understanding our brain’s intricate architecture.

We’re like acorns. Just like an acorn has the innate intelligence and blueprint within to become a towering oak tree, so too do we have everything within us to become our fullest selves. But first, we need to move past our limiting beliefs.

Understanding the Brain’s Layers for Personal Growth

Our discussion navigates through the reptilian brain, limbic system, and neocortex, shedding light on their roles in shaping our behaviors and beliefs. Despite the advancements of modern life, our brains are still wired for survival, not thriving, which often leads to the formation of limiting beliefs. By understanding the structure and function of these brain layers, we can begin to liberate ourselves from these constraints, fostering compassion and self-acceptance.

The Acorn Analogy: From Potential to Realization

The episode introduces the acorn analogy, illustrating the inherent potential within us all, akin to the blueprint within an acorn that destines it to become an oak tree. This potential is often hindered by our thoughts, which can prevent us from accessing our innate intelligence and achieving our fullest potential. However, by recognizing and addressing our limiting beliefs, we can unlock our true capabilities and grow into the towering oak trees we are meant to be.

Strategies to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

We explore practical strategies to overcome these limiting beliefs, including therapy, hypnotherapy, plant medicine, and journaling. These tools can help us confront and dismantle the barriers holding us back, allowing us to move forward with confidence and clarity.

Empowerment Through Knowledge

This episode is not just a conversation; it’s a call to action for anyone ready to break free from the shackles of limiting beliefs. By understanding the evolutionary reasons behind these beliefs and employing strategies to overcome them, we can embark on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment.

Join Us in Growth

If you’re ready to transform your life and tap into your full potential, this episode is for you. Dive into the fascinating world of the brain’s architecture, understand the roots of your limiting beliefs, and take the first step towards a limitless future.

Listen to the full episode below and embark on your journey to becoming a towering oak tree.

At the Girlfriends & Business event on February 3, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Speaking on stages is a dream of mine (with limiting beliefs surrounding it). . . why not grab a photo opp on a stage I’d one day love to be speaking on?

Full Transcript from Episode 113:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the inhabit podcast. I am inspired today to talk with you about limiting beliefs. 

Yesterday, I went to an event called Girlfriends & Business hosted by the fabulous Lori Harder. And I was in the room with many established female business owners that are a lot further along than me. And typically when I go into spaces like this, I feel fraudulent. I get overcome with imposter syndrome. And yesterday, that didn’t happen. I was not overtaken by it. I felt it when I pulled up and when I was walking into the room, but I grounded myself. And I said– internally, not out loud, although that might have been effective– “You belong here. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be.” 

What I want to share on today’s episode is how I have made major progress in feeling that way, in feeling grounded and feeling as though I belong, and how I have overcome a lot of the limiting beliefs that I know so Many of us deal with why we all experience this is because quite frankly, our brains are such that they’re wired to help us survive, not thrive. 

We live in a very different world than our ancient ancestors did, and despite the fact that millennia have passed, our brains have not adapted to modern conditions. So what I want to do in this episode is take you through the basics of the neural architecture. I’m actually going to read some excerpts from my book that’ll be coming out this spring as well called Higher Self Habits, because learning the architectural limitations that we all share and why we have them actually liberated me to not be so hard on myself. It made me experience so much more compassion than I had ever been able to muster for myself. And so I’m hopeful that learning this will also empower you to understand why you have the limiting beliefs that you do, why you might do the things that you do despite them not being in alignment with the goals that you have, and some strategies to overcome them.

So first, I want to kick this off with an analogy. For a moment, I want you to imagine an acorn. Within that acorn, lies the potential, lies the blueprint required to create an oak tree. Maybe one that could grow over a 100 feet tall. That innate intelligence, that blueprint, that potential is within the acorn.

Now think about yourself for a moment.

You too were created with all of the innate intelligence, with the blueprint, with the potential to grow into the person that you know you were created to be. Where the oak tree has an advantage over us, this acorn… It has an advantage over us to become an oak tree because it does not have thought. It just responds to the conditions. And if the conditions are favorable, it will become an oak tree without having to think about it consciously.

Meanwhile, we humans– and I’m going to get into more of this in detail here in just a second– we are both blessed and cursed with having a neocortex. The prefrontal cortex is what differentiates all of us human beings from everything else on the planet. And while it is to our advantage. It’s also a disadvantage if we let it be. So because we can think, because we can get in our own way, that we can cut off our access to this innate intelligence, to our blueprint, to our potential, and remain a fucking acorn. And I don’t know about you, but I am done staying an acorn or a sapling, at best. I’m ready to grow into a towering fucking oak tree. Okay?

Are you as well?

I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m just sick of my own bullshit.

Are you there too? You sick of your shit yet?

Yes. I’m bringing back swearing because it just feels right today. (Hopefully you noticed the explicit warning and you’re not listening to this with kids in the car. And if you are, so sorry.) 

If you are sick of your own shit and you’re ready to grow into a towering oak tree that can provide shade and blessings for generations to come. This is the episode for you.

So let’s get into it.

So the first thing I want to explain are the three layers of the brain. 

We have a base layer, which is the reptilian brain. And it is called the reptilian brain because it’s what all reptiles have. This is a layer of the brain that evolved 500 million years ago. This layer of your brain is tasked with basic survival. Okay? Functions like breathing. Your heart rate. Sex. Not for love, though. For procreation only. Basic, basic functions. The stuff that is unconscious. 

The next layer of the brain is the limbic system. This is your emotional center. This is the layer of the brain that all mammals have. So this evolved around 200 to 300 million years ago. This is responsible for emotions, memory, motivation, and it plays critical role in social bonding and processing feelings, experiences. And the limbic system also deals with sex, but from a love and connection perspective, not from the survival perspective of needing to procreate and continue the species. 

I want to quickly draw a couple parallels here. I talk a lot in the Higher Self Habits program and Method about the hierarchy of needs. This is what Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist developed in the early 20th century. And essentially, I want you to imagine here a a pyramid. Right? If you’ve been following the Taylor Swift Habit Series that I am behind on posting on. I introduced this pyramid. So, I believe it’s in Part 2, if you want to watch that for a visual. And I’ll link it in the show notes as well. 

But essentially, you’ve got five layers in this pyramid. At the base are your survival needs. The essentials: water, food, shelter, warmth, clothing that’s appropriate to your climate for survival. Basics. Right?

Then you’ve got safety and stability needs right above that. 

And then we move into the third layer, which is where emotions come in. Love, belonging, connection. We are a species that evolved from tribes. That is why so many of us women long for – and men too – but it seems like women, especially, we really long for these communities. That’s why this event that I was just at yesterday so life giving, because I was in community with other people like me. I found my tribe. Right? 

So, now we move into the top layer of the brain, and these top layers of the hierarchy. So this is the neocortex. The neocortex is what differentiates human beings from every other species. You can also call it the prefrontal cortex, but it is the seat of human intelligence. So it depends on the source, but what I’ve been able to find in my research, is that this layer of the brain developed, began developing around 40 million years ago. And that its latest upgrade happened about 2 to 3 million years ago.

Think about that for a moment. If that’s true, our brains have not had a software upgrade in 2 million years at best. I would imagine life 2 million years ago is really not the vibe. Living in caves, don’t know where my next meal’s coming from, animals trying to eat me, maybe tribes warring. . . just it sounds horrible. Yet, here we are in modern day with a brain that hasn’t really evolved a whole hell of a lot since then. You can imagine why this presents problems. So your neocortex, this is responsible for a whole number of things, but going back to the hierarchy, imagine the top two layers of it. So you’ve got the fourth rung on the pyramid, or fourth level rather, which is self-esteem needs. That’s things like recognition, respect, from others, respecting yourself, the feeling you’re capable of of solving the problems that come your way. That’s a self-esteem layer.

And then at the top is self-actualization. That’s when you are fulfilling your potential, you are in your purpose. Life is good. Right? The way that you do that is when you’ve got the bottom layers shored up so that you can free up your mental, emotional, and spiritual energy to focus on being the best version of yourself. In fact, my book editor pointed out, the first time we were chatting, she said something like, it seems like, “Personal development is a pursuit of the affluent,” which I had never thought of, but she’s exactly right. 

And I said to her, “Do you know why that is? Because if you are in survival mode, if you are struggling with homelessness. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if you are living paycheck to paycheck on a shoestring, stressed all the time, instability. You literally cannot devote the mental resources or any other type of resource to becoming the best version of you.” So if you’re listening to this and you have the ability to work on you and becoming your best version. Congratulations. Right. We are so fortunate to be in that position if we are in that position. So if you’re in a position to do that, just take a pause here to count blessings. Right? 

Wrapping up on the neocortex, then we’re going to get into the limiting beliefs. It’s responsible for higher-order thinking, problem-solving, language, and conscious decision making, and it allows for complex cognitive

functions, including reasoning, planning, and creativity. And I liken it to a supercomputer between our ears. So yes, maybe it hasn’t gotten a software upgrade for quite a while, but nevertheless, It’s a powerful tool.

I’m going to share with you eight reasons why we have limiting beliefs from an evolutionary standpoint so that you can begin to understand that it is not you. It is your brain literally being wired to survive, not to thrive. 

So reason number one is risk aversion. And I’m reading this actually from the first draft of my book, so you’re getting a little preview here. Our ancient ancestors who were overly optimistic or took unnecessary risks were less likely to survive. Limiting beliefs can be seen as a form of risk aversion because they help to keep us safe and in familiar situations. 

Second reason is energy conservation. I’ve talked about this on the show before, but it bears repeating. 

Our brains are energy hogs. Typically, your brain is 2% of your body weight, but it uses 20% of your body’s energy. Let me say that again, because it’s wild. Mind blowing, pun intended. 2% of your body weight is your brain and yet it uses 20% of your energy. If you have limiting beliefs, that can be beneficial because it’s serving to minimize your cognitive load, makes decision making more efficient by narrowing down options. This is actually why we have things like confirmation bias and other forms of bias because our brain loves to save energy and find shortcuts. If we can bucket and categorize and label something, It saves mental energy. So if you have ever experienced decision fatigue at the end of a long day, which I know probably all of you have because it’s something the high achieving women that I work with and talk to about this all mention. The reason is because your brain worked too hard that day. It wants to conserve energy wherever possible, and limiting beliefs are a way of doing that. 

Third reason is social cohesion. So in early human societies, being part of a group was crucial for survival. And if you got kicked out of your tribe, you were up shit creek with no paddle. You were going to die in the wilderness. So you did everything you could to not rock the boat. To maintain conformity to survive. Limiting beliefs usually align with societal norms and expectations, and that serves to maintain social cohesion and keep you alive. 

The fourth is pattern recognition. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns even if they don’t exist, and this can lead to limiting beliefs because based on past experiences, we’ll just assume that will continue to be true in the future, even if that belief is not logically sound. So we make a lot of assumptions based on past experiences to keep us safe in the future.

The fifth is fight or flight. So the amygdala is part of your brain and is key in processing emotions. This is in your limbic brain or limbic system. It plays a significant role in activating fight or flight, and the response is a primal mechanism. It prepares us to either confront or flee from a perceived threat, and a limiting belief is influenced by the system. Your amygdala could trigger emotional responses as leading you to avoid situations perceived as threatening even if the perceptions are not based on current reality. 

Great example of this is public speaking. I think it’s like the number one fear that people have in general, or something like that. Why is that? Because we feel as threatened by it as we would have if a bear was chasing us a million years ago. It’s terrifying to people in part because of what I talked about before with the social cohesion. Right? We don’t wanna make waves. We don’t want people to think we’re a weirdo. We don’t wanna screw up. That’s why oftentimes, whatever it is that your body will perceive as a threat or your brain will perceive as a threat, that’s actually not. That is limiting you.

Number six: confirmation bias. Our brains are more likely to seek out information, confirming our existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. This is an evolutionary shortcut for quick decision making, but it reinforces limiting beliefs. 

Number seven: cognitive dissonance. Oh, I love talking about this. I won’t get on my soapbox about it now, but essentially cognitive dissonance is because our brains, they strive for internal consistency. If we are faced with evidence that contradicts a limiting belief or any belief we hold for that matter, we experience psychological discomfort. Maybe you have been presented with this in the last few years with all of the major changes that have happened in the world, COVID, all of that, this great awakening that I feel many of us are experiencing. You have probably experienced firsthand how fucking uncomfortable it is. Our brains are not a fan of it, but it’s also necessary for growth. Right? If we just continue believing everything that we’ve ever been told, we’re gonna stay the same, and we’re going to be a relic of our past. We’re literally going to be the same as we were in the past if we don’t evolve our beliefs. But yeah, evolutionarily, this was a great way to keep us again in line with the social group belief, which again, helped us to survive and not get kicked out of the tribe. 

Finally, number 8, status quo bias. Evolutionarily maintaining the status quo often meant survival. Limiting beliefs, they probably are keeping you in your comfort zone. And from an evolutionary standpoint, that was probably a lot safer. 

Why I love reviewing this with the people in my program and that go through the workshops I host on habits is because if you can dig in on why you have them and understand it really frees up your resources mentally to examine them and dismantle them. Then you can release them and you can move on. 

It’s like treating smoke versus treating a fire. When we just try to push through without dealing with the fire. You can deal with smoke all you want, but until you put the fire out, you’re not solving the problem. And from my experience, both personally and with the people in my programs, I’m seeing that dealing with the fire, why you have the limiting beliefs, what contributed to them or where they’re coming from allows you to extinguish it and move on.

Some of the ways that you can deal with the fire. The obvious ones that we all know about. Therapy a great way to do this. Hypnotherapy, huge fan. Plant medicine. You know, I love it. And journaling also is something that has helped me uproot and examine so many of the things that have held me back. 

Journaling, specifically is something I want to talk more about. Let me give you an example from yesterday. We did an exercise and it was, what are some of the limiting beliefs you have right now? 

Mine is that I don’t know enough. I don’t know enough to help people. I don’t know enough to be impactful. And then we moved on to later stages of this and it was, what is some evidence that may not be true? Even as I wrote it down, “I don’t think I know enough,” and I’m like, I know that’s bullshit. And I just wrote 55,000 words for Higher Self Habits (for the book). I don’t know that all 55,000 are making it in there, but I know enough to write that much. And it’s not like it’s a fluffy book. Okay? 

I challenge you to write down the limiting beliefs that are holding you back right now. That are keeping you from going for it. That are keeping you stuck in sapling mode, instead of towering majestic oak tree mode, and then write down evidence that proves them to be false. 

And if you need a little help with this, here’s another trick you can do. I think I’ve I’ve talked about this on the show before, but again, bears repeating. You’ve got another part of your brain called the reticular activating system that is incredible for helping you with this. So basically, it is like the Instagram algorithm for your brain. Whatever your RAS thinks you think is important, it’s going to start looking for more of it. So just like how when you are on Instagram, you’re interacting with certain types of content. IG algorithm’s like, “Oh, she loves this stuff. I’m gonna show her more of it.” Same with TikTok. Right? We get sucked into these algorithmic rabbit holes based on how we interact and what we show is important. And we get more of it.

So use your RAS the same way. 

Let me give you an example of how this has worked in your life. You are needing a new car, and the car that you’re interested in, you suddenly see everywhere. Or maybe a family member got a new car that you love. You think it’s a sexy car. I bet you started seeing it all over the place.

And that is why. Those cars were always there. Your RAS just didn’t show them to you until it thought you thought they were important.

The way that you can use this to help you debunk limiting beliefs is to say:

“Show me evidence that I am capable of succeeding at this.” 

“Show me evidence that I am a great mother.” 

“Show me evidence that I have what it takes to go all the way.” 

“Show me evidence that people give a flying shit when I have to say.” 

Whatever it might be.

Watch the evidence begin pouring in. Seriously. 

So to recap. The reason that you have these limiting beliefs, and you have all this head trash, and you talk shit to yourself, is not because you are defective. It is simply your ancient neural architecture trying to keep you alive. 

So we are going to bless it. We are going to thank it for doing such a wonderful job. 

Then we’re going to reassure ourselves that we are safe to express ourselves because we live in a country where we can do that. We’re lucky, aren’t we?

Or if we are even having this conversation, we’re so well resourced that we can even explore our potential and go after it. 

Tell yourself that, show yourself evidence of that and watch how it will free you up. It will help to regulate your nervous system into the parasympathetic rest and digest mode versus the sympathetic fight or flight. . . Always on edge. “What’s going on?” “Am I gonna survive?” 

Watch the spaciousness that can occur when you become aware of this. You ground back into safety and you remind yourself how badass you are. Let your RAS serve all the evidence of that. Because listen, If you are taking the time to listen to a podcast about this, you are taking the time to become better, to even to be casting a vision for what you want. You’re doing so much better than you think you are.

So, kick your limiting beliefs to the curb.

We’re in our towering oak tree era. And go get it. 

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