What a cult taught me about 'limiting beliefs'


Updated 2 months ago

I’ve long been fascinated by cults from a psychological perspective. Knowing that particular individuals can be so convinced by someone that a set of beliefs and ideals are true, they are willing to give up their previous life in search of this newfound one, both bewilders and intrigues me.

We could argue for ages about what constitutes a cult, people have varying opinions and I know where my beliefs lie, but that’s beside the point.

The purpose of this is to think about the idea of “limiting beliefs”.

I first learnt about this concept when I was watching the documentary series The Vow about NXIVM, the celebrity-endorsed cult led by a narcissistic, self proclaimed genius, that did unspeakable things to convince women to brand themselves with his initial.

Interestingly though, like with most cults, it actually started out with positively challenging ideas and concepts that made a lot of sense. Limiting Beliefs feature in many self-help books, seminars and even many religions. They’re the concept that we convince ourselves that we aren’t capable of achieving something or being someone because we “aren’t good enough at it” or “don’t live in the right city for that kind of job” or “can’t do it because there isn’t enough time in the day”. Understanding and identifying our limiting beliefs and then—to use common cult nomenclature—reprogramming our minds to remove them is a core tenet of how NXIVM started and actually a positive thing I took away.

I’ve long had limiting beliefs—which will be evident from previous articles—about my ability to be a designer based on my varied job history or that I’m not really a frontend developer because I can’t do everything from memory (despite knowing that most developers are this way).

Lately though, I’ve been training myself out of this mindset. Using this concept of limiting beliefs to reprogram my own brain and I’ve done this in the following five ways:

Daily gratitude meditation

I use a gratitude practice to remind myself daily that I’m grateful to be employed as a designer, that I have a network of people who believe in my abilities as a designer and who trust me to do my job. It may seem silly, but that regular reminder to myself helps a lot.

Regular practice

I never stop practising my skills. Whether it’s a paid job or an idea I want to try out, I practice often. I practice design skills, frontend coding skills and writing about the learnings. All of this helps me feel in control of my situation and feel like I know what I’m doing.

I’ve found that this personal website has become my experimentation ground. I’m not the first person to do this, but it really does make for a safe place to experiment and learn.

Being open and honest with people in my support network about my fears

I’m not afraid to talk to those around me about these worries. I speak to my manager often about my feelings of dissatisfaction with my work or output that day. I speak about my worries that I don’t feel like I’m really a designer. He reminds me regularly that I was hired as one for a reason and that if I was lacking in areas, he’d tell me. Never underestimate the power of being told that.

I also often worry when it feels like what I’ve produced is disliked by my team or could be a lot better. But then I’m reminded that we’re all stronger in different areas so some things take more time for one person to the next.


I’ve been practicing being a mentor to junior designers seeking to push their skills forwards, especially within my team. I’m trying to be a voice of experience, imparting the knowledge I’ve gained about business, stakeholder management, how to manage design-developer handoff. All these things are things I sometimes take for granted but are less well known by junior designers.

Writing about my worries in the open

Finally, I write out in the open about my feelings more now. You’ll notice these articles are often quite personal, and that’s important. Sharing my experiences out in the open like this to the people who do choose to read it becomes kind of therapeutic. It’s a chance for me to work through how I’m feeling but also to share that it’s normal to have doubts and worries.

Not all of these are right for everyone, and please let me know if you have other techniques that could be useful and I’ll update this list.

Ultimately though, in this new year, rather than reflecting on the previous year or saying what will be new this time around, I’d rather share some insight from my own personal journey through my limiting beliefs and leave you with this:

You should never feel like you have no limiting beliefs, but you should always fight to overcome them. The moment you stop being limited or you stop fighting, you’ve become too comfortable and need to find your next challenge.

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This site, and all of my work, is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, and the strongest man I've ever known. My father. I love you Dad ❤️.