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Self-Limiting Beliefs

Have you ever noticed the connection between the beliefs you have about a certain event and the ensuing emotions and behaviors? It is not the situation itself that causes the outcome, but our beliefs, or interpretation about what happened. For example, as a result of making a mistake you might call yourself stupid or incompetent.

Aaron T. Beck and David Burns, who are considered to be the founding fathers of Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have laid out a list of the most common cognitive distortions that individuals tend to engage in. I will list 8 of these false beliefs. See if you can identify with some or all of the following:

All or Nothing Thinking

This is a form of polarized thinking or thinking in extremes. Everything is either "black or white" or "good or bad". This is not realistic since life is often somewhere in the middle.


You make an assumption that because something happened in a certain way one time, that it will always happen in that same way. For example, if a colleague is late for a meeting on one occasion, you assume that he/she will be late all the time.

Mental Filter

You filter out the positive in a situation, leaving only the negative. For example, if you have a performance appraisal that is 99% positive, you focus on only the 1% where you have room for improvement.

Disqualifying the Positive

This is similar to the previous one, but in this case you explain away a positive situation by blaming it on luck. This is the case when you minimize a genuine compliment rather than simply thanking the individual.

Jumping to Conclusions

You make assumptions without any supporting evidence. One example of this would be mind reading or assuming that you know what someone is thinking based on their facial expression or body language. Another example is simply to form conclusions based on minimal evidence.

Magnification and Minimization

Putting someone on a pedestal due to magnifying their positive qualities. The other side of the coin is that you tend to minimize your own positive qualities as a result.

Emotional Reasoning

Using your current mood to determine the meaning of a situation, rather than standing back and analyzing the situation in a neutral way.

Should/Must Statements

You set impossible standards for yourself and as a result, always feel that you are not doing or accomplishing enough.


Taking things personally or assuming that you are to blame for events that happen, even if you had nothing to do with how things turned out.

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. - Eckhart Tolle

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