The topic of ‘labels’ and limiting beliefs has come up frequently in my coaching sessions recently when discussing blockages with clients, i.e. why they feel that they can’t be, do or have something they want.  When we dig into why they have such resistance, we often discover that it relates to messages they received as children.

It never ceases to amaze me how sometimes just one seemingly inconsequential comment, particularly from a parent or other authority figure (e.g. a teacher), can have such a massive detrimental impact on a person’s life well into adulthood. Not to mention the fully blown labels we often give children, e.g. lazy, handful, dramatic, angry, etc.

These are just a few real-life examples I’ve had from clients in the last few months and some from my own experience:

  • You’re no good at maths, English, sports, drama, music, public speaking, art, etc. 
  • You’re funny, serious, angry, scatter-brained, intelligent, silly, trouble-maker, class-clown, etc. 
  • You’re not that clever.
  • You’ll never be able to do that!
  • People like us don’t do things like that.
  • Stay in your lane.
  • What if it doesn’t work out? What will people say? You’ll look like an idiot! We’ll look stupid for letting you do it.
  • It’s too risky.

Unfortunately, especially as children, we tend to believe what adults tell us. We accept their comments (and their beliefs) as the truth and may even go as far as to build our whole identity around them. When that happens, we start behaving in a way synonymous with the label we’ve been given.

We have to remain consistent with the view we have of ourselves.

However, if you recognise that you have been limiting yourself in some way based on messages you received as a child, here are some things to consider:

  • People project their own fears, insecurities, low self-esteem, low confidence, etc., onto others – especially children.
  • Those people haven’t lived your life, nor do they know what you’re capable of – only you know that.
  • For some people, putting others down, effectively halting their dreams, makes them feel better about not going after theirs.
  • Your teacher may not have taught in a style easy for your brain to process. This is very common – for example, you enjoyed a subject until you got a new teacher who didn’t teach the same way. Your grades may have dropped, and likely you put it down to the topic getting more complex or that you simply lost interest. Often, that’s not the case, but rather the new teacher taught in a way that wasn’t compatible with your learning style.
  • The ‘adult’ may have been having a bad day and did not consider their impact, especially on a young, impressionable mind.
  • The adult may not have had good emotional intelligence skills and was unconsciously regurgitating their own childhood programming.

My Story

Growing up, I wasn’t academic in the slightest, but I was extremely creative, as were my parents. My brother, however, was VERY academic (a first in our little family) and creative, which to my parents was the Holy Grail! 

I often heard my mum telling people, ‘He’s the clever one; Jo’s not very bright, bless her.’  They didn’t value my creativity because they were creative, too, so they didn’t see it as anything special. 

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do particularly well in school because I believed (or rather, I’d been programmed to believe) that I wasn’t very clever. So, to be honest, I didn’t try very hard, nor was I encouraged to, and I definitely didn’t work towards reaching my full potential – as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have any. 

However, when I got into my twenties, I realised I might not be great at maths and science, but I am brilliant (and I don’t mind blowing my own trumpet here!) at creative problem solving and people skills.

Once I realised that, I returned to college, got qualified and built a great career despite being marked (in my mind) as ‘least likely to succeed’ by both parents and teachers. To this day, my parents are still amazed that I’ve managed to make anything of myself (that’s a little insight into our family dynamics!).


Uncovering your limiting beliefs

Looking at the things we experienced in childhood that may hold us back today is crucial in achieving the life we deserve. It can be tough to unpick some of those long-held beliefs, but I believe it’s one of the most powerful actions we can take.

Following is an exercise to uncover and help you overcome your limiting beliefs.

It’s a good idea to set some specific time aside so that you won’t be interrupted. I recommend physically writing your answers with a pen and paper rather than typing – it helps your subconscious to process the information more effectively: 

  1. What unhelpful messages did you hear growing up?
  2. How are you limiting yourself because of those messages?
  3. Are those limiting beliefs or labels true?
  4. How do you know they’re true? (What evidence do you have?)
  5. What’s a better, more realistic belief?
  6. What positive action can you take TODAY to overcome your outdated limiting belief?

Talking about beliefs, I love this saying…

A belief is nothing more than a thought that we keep repeating!

It’s important to remember that we have to remain consistent with the view we have of ourselves, and so we unconsciously think and behave in ways that reinforce our beliefs – but it doesn’t mean they are true.

I realise that doing this work on your own can sometimes bring up some deep-rooted ‘stuff’, and often it can be hard to be honest with yourself. If that’s the case for you, I suggest doing this exercise with a coach or a trusted friend or partner who has empathy and won’t judge. That said, it may not be the best thing to do it with a close family member!

As you can see from the topics I cover in my posts, I support clients in so many different ways, not least uncovering and removing their limiting beliefs, blockages and resistance. If you would like some additional support in achieving your goals, I offer a free 15-minute ‘discovery’ chat. Click here for contact information.

Finally if there are any topics that you’d like me to cover in upcoming articles, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to let me know.




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