The Hidden Beliefs That Weigh Us Down


Let’s say you’re at a miniature golf course for the afternoon. You convince Jake Johnson, whom you just met, to play a 10 hole course for an experiment you are working on. Before he plays, you tell him that you will be judging his “natural athletic abilities”.

Do you think saying that will impact his game?

Well, research shows there is a good chance he would play worse than normal because of a concept known as Stereotype Threat.

He will play poorly because of a few words you uttered. I find this fascinating.

When I read it for the first time, I couldn’t help but scan my life to look for situations where my performance may have been impaired by hidden beliefs. It was an eye opener.

The study I referenced above happened at Princeton University in ’99. They showed that black participants performed significantly worse than a control group when the test was framed as a diagnostic of “sports intelligence”. White participants performed worse if it was framed as a diagnostic of “natural athletic ability”.

Other studies found that women perform worse at math when they think they are being compared to men (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999), and men perform worse at math when they think they are competing with Asians. (Aronson et al., 1999)

Stereotype Threat Comic

Stereotype threat is only a subset of all the hidden beliefs which limit us in our lives and our learning.

Hidden beliefs ingrained in your brain by OTHERS have the power to make you weaker. (click to tweet)

Take a second to let that statement sink in.

Now, what if you’re not aware of the limiting beliefs you are lugging around? Isn’t that the equivalent of running a marathon while unknowingly carrying a weighted backpack? Definitively not recommended.

Think about this: what if everyone is running the marathon with weights on and you are the only one to notice and drop them. That’s a pretty significant upside. Imagine how light you would feel.


In order to get rid of these beliefs, your first mission is to identify them.

I will find you and I will kill you

I’m opening up the comments on this post for you to share what YOUR hidden beliefs are.

You will be surprised how much you can learn about yourself by going through the hidden beliefs of others.

Sharing your own beliefs will not only help you take the first step towards overcoming them, but also help others identify their own hidden limitations.

Follow this link to share your top 3 hidden beliefs in the comments.

If you are having trouble identifying your hidden beliefs, let me give you a hand.

Hidden beliefs are like scripts that you carry around in your mind that block or impair you when you think about taking action. They are most likely unproven in the sense that you have never effectively challenged them by actually TRYING.

Here are a few examples to get your mind working:


  • “I don’t have the time to start learning something new.”
  • “You can only learn an instrument if you are naturally gifted for music”
  • “I’m a beginner, so I should fall/fail on the first few tries”
  • “I don’t usually succeed so there is no point in persevering”
  • “I’m not good with [insert electronic device], there is no point in trying to make it work”
  • “Why pay for a course when I can get free content on Youtube”
  • “It’s not worth learning X unless I plan to be great at it”


  • “Tomorrow I will take the time”
  • “Why would I try to talk to X, they won’t find me interesting anyway”
  • “Successful people are busy”
  • “Self help is for the weak”
  • etc.

What are the top 3 hidden beliefs that you have carried around?

If you can’t identify your current beliefs or those you have managed to overcome, think about the top 3 hidden beliefs you have noticed in your friends and family.


In part 2: “How to Break Free From Your Limiting Beliefs”  I share the story of how a good friend helped me overcome a Hidden Belief which opened a whole new world of opportunities, and the 2 last steps to overcoming your Hidden Beliefs. (Hint: Step 2 involves creating a Counter Belief)

Thank you Ramit for the inspiration

If you liked this article,

Make sure you don't miss the next one.


  1. Really great article. Seems so true and so obvious and at the same time trying to find ones hidden beliefs is quite difficult. A task I tried. Now how to overcome these beliefs…

    -> I never sing because I have the feeling I don’t have a good ear
    -> I used to never read out loud because I thought I wasn’t capable (When I had children my husband convinced me I could. My 2.5 year old says I read perfectly!)
    -> I never speak in front of a crowd because I “believe” I couldn’t do it well.
    -> Negotiating salary is taboo (I hate negotiating, I feel embarrassed, why? Is money a subject we shouldn’t speak about? Negotiating a raise is close to impossible, even if my work is worth it, why? Shame ? Scared of refusal ? Fear of failure ?)

    Looking forward to your next article, maybe it will guide me in how to overcome these beliefs that become fears.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thank you for sharing, Sienna.
      Do you remember what initially made you think you couldn’t “speak in front of a crowd”?

      You put your finger on something important: That hidden beliefs can turn into fears.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Hi Tristan, thanks for this post. . It makes me want to liberate myself from some of my beliefs that prevent me from doing tons of things just because I think I would not be good at them.

    The first that comes to mind is singing. When I was a 12, my older sister told me that I was singing out of tune, since then I haven’t been able to sing at loud.

    I am over thirty and the other day at church, I surprised myself by faking and PRETENDING to sing, from fear to be out of tune.
    I felt so frustrated.

    I would love to sing out loud and be able to enjoy it, so I guess my hidden belief is:
    “I shouldn’t sing because I could be out of tune”

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Vanessa, you are going to love this article:

      It’s about the difference in between having a FIXED mindset and a GROWTH mindset.
      A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way […]
      A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities”

      It seems as though your sister (probably unknowingly) scared you into a fixed mindset for your ability to sing.
      Thinking that your skill was ‘set in stone’ and you would forever sing out of tune, you didn’t sing out loud, and I bet you didn’t sing much alone either. Because of that you couldn’t improve.

      You still have many years ahead of you. What about taking some singing lessons until you find that voice that was taken away from you?


      Thank you so much for sharing.

      • I have that same hidden belief. I was told several times that I am tone deaf and can’t sing. I would love for that belief to be untrue! 😉 I love to sing, but try to do it only in private.

  3. 1- No one can be interested in me because I fell “overweight”.
    2- Paris is the reason I’m sometimes unhappy.
    3- Even though I want to move back to the states and therefore need a PhD, I don’t believe I’m smart enough for a doctorate degree.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      The very fact that you have identified these deep hidden beliefs shows that you’ve given it a lot of thought and are on your way to overcoming them.
      Good for you.

  4. béatrice says:

    for years everybody told me I sang out of tune which prevented me from trying even when I adore singing. One day I was asked to sing with a group at a cousin’s wedding. I started by refusing telling her I was not able to but she insisted and at the reherseal the girl who was leading told me I was not out of tune. Since then I sing…. alone… but I sing and last fall I joined a group of friends who sing just for fun and for whom fun is more important than perfection.

    I am stiff and dream not to be, I love to dance but I am so self conscious that I become even stiffer. I went to an oriental dance class, had a lot of fun but when my daughter joined us, she agreed that I was not gifted. Instead of trying again I stopped to do something easier for me. Last fall I went to a salsa class, and stiffness hit me again but the kindness of the other dancers helped a lot.

    Speaking in public is so scary, the fear of not being good enough. For the last ten years I have had to do it in front of 100 people to present the yearly accounts of the not for profit I work for. Year after year my confidence built up and not only can I do it without becoming bright red but I can defend my point of vue in any meeting. I realised that if you know well what you speak of you are on the same footing as everybody else.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thank you for your great comment.
      – I LOVE that you found a way to sing with people who prioritize fun over skill.

      – It’s a vicious cycle isn’t it. You want to dance well -> But you believe you are stiff which makes you self conscious. So you dance less – > And you stay stiff -> so you don’t dance.
      The very same way you found a safe haven to sing for fun, I imagine it would be amazing to find one to dance.
      I bet you that stiffness would fade quickly in that type of environment.

      – “I realised that if you know well what you speak of you are on the same footing as everybody else.” -> YES YES YES That and actually putting yourself in the line of fire.

      Good for you!

  5. Rathernot says:

    1. I need to have an important position at work
    2. I want my wife to be proud of me and talk about me in a good way to others
    3. I need to find a job that I love

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Rathernot, 😉

      Thank you for sharing.
      Try pushing further. These aren’t full hidden beliefs.

      A hidden belief would be:
      “I need to have an important position at work BECAUSE that is how you get people to look at you in a good way”

      Hidden beliefs can be negative: when they prevent you from growing or limit your options.
      e.g: “to be successful you must go to college”
      But we all need positive Hidden beliefs as well:
      e.g: “The more I work on becoming who I want to be, the more likely I am to attract an amazing spouse (or have my current spouse respect me)”

  6. Great exercise! And timely. Some friends and I were talking about this just hours before I saw your post. Here are some of mine:

    – There is one right thing to do in all situations (and I should be ashamed if I don’t know what it is).
    – If I know the right thing to do, it should be easy to do it.
    – Hypocrisy and ignorance are sins.
    – Faith in God indicates weakness and stupidity.
    – Love and forgiveness have to be earned, and if I’m not perfect, I don’t deserve either.

    Lies, all of them! Thanks for the opportunity to watch them scurry away in the light….

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Great ones.
      “Simple” definitely does not mean “Easy”
      Really love 1&5.
      #5 is terribly common and so destructive.

      Thank YOU for sharing.

  7. This same concept with mindset right? although “mindset” can be quite general concept.
    Anyway, good article, and these are my 4 hidden belief that often pop out in my mind

    1. I often did not speak because i am afraid to make a mistake and they will judge/hate me for it.
    2. I am afraid to tell my ideas because they will blame me if it does not work
    3. I often did not feel confident (to do anything) because i do not have any achievement that worth mentioning
    4. i struggle to change my bad habit because after failed so many times i completely give up and think if i tried something it will fail anyway

    hope i can get rid of this belief soon!

  8. Hidden Belief-

    1) That I can’t learn when in fact I’m just a slow learner and like to “messy” with the details.
    2) That I will say something stupid.

  9. Thanks for the article! Interesting invitation to introspection:

    My top hidden beliefs are:

    – You could (always) do so much better.
    – There are so many people better than you, you’ll never be an expert at your art.
    – An awkward mixture of “Life is too short to spend hours on a piano scale’ and ‘Tomorrow will certainly be a better day for me to really get into this.”.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thanks for sharing Roro. Great ones.
      Working on #1 & #2 will feel very liberating.
      #3 is one I share with you.
      When I wrote mine down I think I worded it: “Tomorrow I will have more willpower”.

  10. Ian Merry says:

    Thanks Tristan. Great stuff as always.

    My top three are
    – You didn’t go to university because you are stupid
    – I’ll do that later as this is more interesting
    – I’m not really any good at my job, I’m sure they’d rather get someone else.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thanks Ian.
      Think of something you could do this month to have a positive impact on #3. However simple.

  11. I’ve actually been working on these and breaking them down into their simplest forms (peeling the onion) for the last two years.

    1. I will always have limits of success because I don’t have a formal education or any credentials or initials after my name.
    2. People won’t ever take me seriously based on my past or because I’m a woman.
    3. In the end tragedy seems to strike and I find myself alone and sad, so is it even worth it to want what seems impossible.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Brilliant Melissa. You can tell you’ve put time into uncovering these.
      Would you mind talking about #3 some more? I’d like to understand better what you mean.

  12. Great article, it really make me think about my hidden beliefs. When I was in high-school I was going to be the singer in a friends band (we were 15), none of them wanted to sing but I was willing of doing it; when I told my mom and brother, both of them laugh at first about me singing and then they gave a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t do it, so at the end I didn’t do it because I felt I wouldn’t be able of doing it right and got scared. Since then every time I want to try something new or begin a personal project I try not to tell anybody because I feel that doesn’t matter who, they would laugh. This also happens with the things I already do (i.e I do stand up comedy), I don’t like to tell anybody about it because I’m afraid they would think it’s a stupid thing to be doing.
    Looking forward to your next article.

    • I can totally relate.

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thanks Arnaldo.
      Sometimes you wish you could go back in time to change some of these events that impact us in such a way that it takes years to uncover the belief and more to overcome it, right?
      I wonder what would happen if you invited a few close friends now that time has past and you have more perspective. Worth a try?

  13. Oh singing!

    -I’ll never be as good as trained singers who have an ear for pitch. Comes from being in choirs/musicals/singing groups and all the winching looks and scathing remarks I’d get when I’d sing off-key. So I’d get more nervous and get off key/pitch even more. I hate this one because I can and do tell myself I am a good singer because there are facts to back that up (picked as the lead in a musical out of 200 others, trained to read music, etc.) but I don’t believe those facts when I am stuck with an elite group. So far my coping methods have been to avoid such groups, but this belief still hampers my ideas to get voice lessons/sing solo/be in a band again someday.

    • Oh, I should add that I got the lead over nationally ranked singers who were super pissed that the director cast me over them. One of the runners-up was cast as my best friend in the musical and would turn her back to me the entire time we had our dialogue. Even in performances. So I guess I also fear doing better than others because then I will incur their wrath.

      • Tristan de Montebello says:

        Thanks for sharing Sarah.
        Inspiring AND frustrating story.

        • Thanks, Tristan! One reason I’m excited to learn guitar is to have something I can sing along to without scrutiny.

          I thought a lot about the addition after I wrote it. I had only ever been chorus but my senor year I made the goal of going for the lead. I watched the movie, I joined World Choir to be on the Music Director’s radar so he’d know I could sing, and I took extra lessons with the Piano Director and a few friends before class to prepare for auditions. We had to do call-backs, and then call-backs again, and my friends who got the other parts pitched me to the Director (who I had as a teacher as well). I really believed I could get the part, and the elation and nerves I felt about being one of the four picked out of the 200 of amazing.

          I thought about all this because I don’t think I’ve thought, yes I can do this and really prepared for a goal since. From college applications, to specialty programs I’ve avoided any of this type of work and just thrown something together at the last minute with a ‘what the hell’ kind of attitude instead of a confidently prepared mindset. I’ve gotten in, but my slacker methods have then shielded me from being seen as getting in on ‘talent’. Once in, I often don’t work as hard as I could if I were really behind the dream.

          I’m going to try and get back to that first type of trying. It was really cool and empowering, and I liked being confident.

          • Tristan de Montebello says:

            I Love it. Keep us posted.
            My favorite part of playing guitar is playing songs and singing. I’m looking forward to leading you to that place of bliss!

  14. Melissa says:

    What a fascinating article!

    -No one wants to hear me sing (even though I love to sing, and my husband tells me he enjoys it).
    -If I don’t say anything no one will realize I’m not as smart as they are.
    -I should be great at every new skill I learn (even if I’m just a beginner)

    • Tristan de Montebello says:

      Thank you for sharing Sarah. The first step to overcoming these hidden beliefs is to ruthlessly point them out as you’ve done.


Your email will not be published.