If your intention behind this question of “how much time does it take” is to find a silver bullet, you’ve landed on the wrong article, my friend – in all of my decade-plus experience in the space of personal development I’m yet to find credible short-cuts to doing deep inner-work!
If you’re here to know what to expect when engaging in belief work then read on for an in-depth understanding of why this work is important, & the detailed process of changing beliefs along with the biggest hurdle, and different factors that may affect the amount of time it takes to change a belief.
How Long Does It Take To Change A Limiting Belief?
If you really want to know I’ll tell you. But let me warn you that you may not like what you find out! Do you still want to know? Alright, then! This is like asking, “How much time will it take for any given seed to grow into a full-grown tree?” The answer will most likely be, “It’ll depend on the variety of the tree!” Similarly, the period it will take a belief to change will depend upon how deep-rooted the belief is, and the skillset possessed by the individual wanting to change it, amongst other things. Changing a belief needs more work than figuring out how long it takes – it’s important to understand how to change it.
Why Is It Important To Engage In Belief Work?
Before we get into how to change (limiting) beliefs, let’s look at why at all engage with beliefs. I believe it’s important to understand our belief systems and stories so that we don’t live limited by them.
It is a truism of human existence that people are seldom open-minded.
We approach new situations and people, bringing to bear all our past experiences, knowledge, beliefs, and feelings about similar situations and people.
For example, we go to a sporting event with a wealth of knowledge about the game, the players’ positions, and individual plays. That knowledge, which may have been gained through direct experience or secondhand sources, provides us with a variety of expectations about what will happen, who will be there, and what they will be like.
It also guides our attention and interpretations of information while we are at the event and our memory of it after we leave.– Crocker, J., et al. Schematic Bases of Belief Change(1)
Do you see how beliefs govern the way we perceive the world, and thereby, live our lives?! This means, with the “right” beliefs, a.k.a., effective beliefs – those that align with me – I can probably live a fuller, richer life!
The Biggest Hurdle In Belief Work
The biggest hurdle in this work is not being able to recognize that in every moment we’re operating from our beliefs. We tend to say things like, “This is who I am”, “I’m like this”, or “I’ve always been like this” – implying that who we are is fixed since it is how we were born.
I ask you to reconsider this notion – this is not who you are, this is who you’ve learned to be over a period of time. And this learning began even before you were born, in utero. In fact even before that – ever since your lineage began – your DNA carries memories and learning from your ancestors.
If you allow yourself to see that “this” is not “you” – it’s all learned – you will resolve the biggest hurdle. You will begin to see how everything you do is based on some or the other belief system you carry. And once you’re able to see, you’ll have the agency to change, or hone, what you see.
Are Beliefs Bad?
That we operate from our beliefs is not an issue because beliefs aren’t bad per se. I think of beliefs as strengthened versions of assumptions!
We use assumptions all the time – I write this article assuming someone looking to engage with beliefs work will stumble upon it and may benefit from it. If I assumed no one would read it or no one would find it useful, I may not have chosen to spend my time writing it.
So assumptions help us make decisions. When our assumptions prove to be correct on multiple occasions they eventually turn into beliefs. Again, these beliefs by themselves are not a problem. In fact, effective beliefs can help us feel safe, seen, and loved, amongst other things.
For instance, I believe I’m loved because I’ve had enough experiences of receiving love from different people – my family, my friends, and my romantic partner(s). This belief in being loved helps me in subtle yet profound ways during times of distress.
The problem begins when I believe my beliefs to be facts.
Here’s The Real Issue
If I’ve had multiple experiences of not feeling loved, I might form a belief opposite to the one above – I’m not loved.
Imagine how that would affect the way I see myself. It would probably make me think I’m unlovable. How would it affect the way I see the world? I might think people are inherently not good/ can’t be trusted/ won’t have my back. The more I believe in these beliefs, the more I’ll see what I believe in!
Thus, begins the vicious cycle that’s referred to as the self-fulfilling prophecy. My mind concludes my experiences to be generalized facts, based on these facts it creates whole belief systems, & then it operates based on these belief systems which reinforce themselves as that’s all they believe to be true.
For instance, the belief that I’m not loved will carry in it other beliefs like, “I’m unlovable'”, “I’m damaged”, “I’m the problem”, “I can never have happy relationships”, “I can never find love”, “No one will ever love me”. This belief system will lead me to be in unhappy relationships, which will reinforce the belief system.
This is the real issue!
How To Change Beliefs?
So then what do you do? How do you change these beliefs?
There can be different approaches to changing a belief – I’ve always found it most useful to use an approach that’s holistic – it’s inclusive of cognitive meaning-making, emotional charge, and the body’s memories.
Below is a broadly defined process – with 8 steps – on how to change a belief. Each belief, and each person, will need to customize it to suit their unique needs.
1. Find Your Why
Our minds have the tendency to do the minimal work possible – it’s an evolutionary thing based on survival – conserve energy for the rainy days! So, unless there’s a strong reason, it would rather not expend its energy. If you want to change something, you better have a strong reason to change it.
For example, if you want to change your belief, that “Money is bad”, and you live a pretty decent life with no real money problems (maybe you have a partner who earns, or you’ve inherited it, or some other reason), it’ll be hard to change it.
If, on the other hand, you want to change your belief, “I won’t be loved”, and you’ve just come out of your second long-term relationship that just went south, you have a pretty strong reason to change this belief!
2. Take Time To Understand
Beliefs are not stand-alone statements. They are whole systems in themselves. Each belief will have a family of beliefs and an origin story. Unless you take the time to understand its origin and family, you won’t be able to fully resolve it. So take the time to explore the belief you want to change.
Inner-child work, with an experienced guide, can be very helpful for this.
3. Work With Emotions
Every single thought has an emotional charge. Some thoughts may not have a strong emotional undercurrent, nevertheless, there is an undercurrent. Similarly, every belief has an emotional charge.
When you explore your belief in Step 2, you’ll meet its emotional charge. This charge needs to be processed and released in order for the belief to begin dissolving.
4. Work With The Body
Just like every thought has an underlying emotion, similarly every emotion is felt in the body – the body holds it, allows its expression – and if you allow for it, it gets processed through the body & is released.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t aware of these processes and so, unknowingly, these emotions get trapped in the body, and manifest as minor or major dis-ease in the body & the mind.
Somatic work is very important, and helpful, in this process.
5. Replace The Belief
If you don’t like a particular glass window in your house, you don’t just take the glass out & let the opening be as is. You replace it with another kind of glass (or some other material) or put a door, or a wall, in its place!
Similarly, when you let go of a limiting/ ineffective belief, you might want to consider choosing a new belief that is aligned with how you want to live life.
For instance, from “I can never be…” to “I am enough as I am” or from “I’m not worthy” to “My worth is invaluable”
6. Create A Plan
Things are changing every moment, but to see a big change we need to work on the moment-to-moment changes for a consistent period of time.
So, if you want to change a long-held belief that you’ve been living with for the last 20 years – which means you’ve been feeding it for 20 years – you need to give yourself some grace and time to feed the new belief and to let the old one weaken and dissolve.
Based on the old & new beliefs create a plan for yourself on how you’ll incorporate the new belief, and let go of the old one, in your day-to-day life.
7. Reach Out
This work of beliefs brings with it a lot of depth – emotions, body memories, trauma of what happened to you or what didn’t happen that should have (I should have had a safe home where my emotions were tended to), difficulty in making sense of certain events, etc.
Many times reaching out helps you shorten the duration of suffering through the process. You’ll still need to walk the path, but by reaching out you might find the right shoes to walk it in!
Reach out for support to people in your circle who you know have done similar work, or reach out to those who offer these services.
8. Review & Adapt
Plans aren’t meant to be written in stone. Plans are meant to be reviewed based on implementation – based on what you notice during implementation, you amend the plan to make it better aligned with your vision of changing the belief.
Once you work on your plan for a week or two, come back and review it. See what worked, what didn’t, and what you may want to add or delete. And then get back on the ground. Rinse & repeat!
Let’s recap the steps with the infographic below!
Factors That Determine How Long It Might Take
As you work through the 8-step process described above, there are some factors that can determine how long it might take for the belief to change:
1. Time & Consistency
Does it matter whether you spend 10 minutes a day v/s 30 minutes a day practicing something? Will the outcome differ? Of course. If you do 30 mins you might upskill faster, provided you’re using an effective technique.
However, more important than 10 minutes v/s 30 minutes is consistency. Being consistent with 10 minutes a day every day v/s 30 minutes once in a blue moon – you don’t need me to tell you the better option of the two!
If you can do 30 minutes consistently every day – great! Also, consistency doesn’t mean you can’t miss a single day – consistency means you keep showing up after every gap.
If you have the bandwidth to do 10 mins one day, 30 mins the next day, and 5 mins the day after – that’s okay too. Consistency is key.
2. Emotional Wisdom As A Skill
Just like not everyone can fly, play the guitar, or tango – however, anyone who learns the skill to do any of these activities can – similarly, anyone can learn the skills of Emotional Wisdom.
Anyone with the skills to work with emotions and body will find it easier to change limiting beliefs as the process described above needs you to work with your whole being – cognition, emotions, & soma.
If you’re keen to build a deeper understanding of your inner world and learn the skills to cultivate inner joy, clarity, and wisdom, Rooted In Chaos would be a good next step.
3. Being The Editor
We’re all living stories based on some beliefs that were formed before we could cognitively understand what a belief or a story is. The fact that you’re here reading this means you’ve woken up! You’re now beginning to see – even if it’s a little foggy right now – that not everything you believed to be “true” is so.
Find the truths and myths in your story. Find your story! And then edit it. Edit it to align with who you know yourself to be in this moment. You don’t need to figure it all out right away. You just need to begin becoming aware of who you are in this moment, for this moment.
A psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor John Sharp says(2), “If you want to change your life, it needs a re-edit.” You ARE the editor of your life’s story. BE the editor. Heck, be the scriptwriter, editor, director – all of them – because, guess what, if you don’t someone else will!
4. Building Habits
As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, the mind likes to expend minimal effort. And so, if you want to ensure you’re doing something consistently, it’s best to turn it into a habit! And when we talk about habits, we can’t not talk about James Clear!
In his blog post (3), James shares a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology on how long it actually takes to form a habit.
On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.
And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.
In this study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
I promise I don’t share the above to dishearten you! Instead, I share the above to give you a realistic picture, and to ask you to not beat yourself up for not forming a habit in 21 days!
By the way, James Clear’s Atomic Habits is an all-time favorite for me – very simple, logical, and clear doable actions to literally transform your day-to-day!
I can’t recommend this book enough – of course, you’ll need to implement what you read in it 🙂
Finally, no transformational deep inner work ever happens without this – a lot of patience, gentleness, and kindness for yourself. Go easy on the self-judgment & criticism – when they do come up, be patient, gentle, and kind with them too!
Be your own champion. And my favorite quote by a dear teacher, “Be kind to yourself, be wisely kind to yourself”.
- It’s more important to understand how to change a belief than to know how long it will take!
- How long it will take to change a belief depends on various factors including how deep-seated the belief is and what skills the person carrying it has.
- Beliefs need to be understood before they can be changed.
- You can customize the 8-step process shared in the article to change your limiting beliefs.
- The 5 factors described in the article above can make the change process more efficient.
Are there any specific limiting beliefs you’re currently struggling with? How can I support you?
Are there any limiting beliefs you have successfully changed? How did you do it?
I would love to read your thoughts/ questions/ suggestions in the comments box below.
(1) Crocker, J., Fiske, S.T., Taylor, S.E. (1984). Schematic Bases of Belief Change. In: Eiser, J.R. (eds) Attitudinal Judgment. Springer Series in Social Psychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-8251-5_10
(2) Change Your Story, Transform Your Life | John Sharp | TEDxBeaconStreet | https://youtu.be/MN_zmzKT2Wk
(3) James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits. How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science). Behavioral Psychology, Habits | https://jamesclear.com/new-habit