September 10, 2015 |Gideon Hanekom

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Norman Vincent Peale once said, change your thoughts and you change your world. What a powerful idea.  In the same way that our thoughts are the key to unlocking the life that we want, unhelpful thoughts patterns can also limit your life.

In this post, we’re looking at 8 such unhelpful thought patterns and how can change them.

Our thoughts impact our actions, and ultimately, the level of success we achieve.  

Our thought patterns influence our emotions and perspective of the world.   

Earl Nightingale once said, we become what we think about most of the time.   

Many of us often make the mistake to look outside of ourselves when we want to improve our lives and the results we’re getting.  

Yet, the answer to better results lies a lot closer than we think.   

In fact, it resides within us.  

What we think and how we think, determine everything in our life.   

Therefore, it is only logical to come to the conclusion that if you can identify your unhelpful thought patterns, you can correct them and develop new ways of managing yourself and the world.   

In the next section, we look at 8 specific unhelpful thought patterns that limit success and how you can challenge them.

1. Making assumptions.

This is the old don’t judge a book by its cover idea. 

The fact is, good decisions require information.

Too many of us jump to false conclusions because we don’t have all the facts.

Before you reach a negative conclusion about a situation or person, delay your judgment.

Gather all the available information and make an informed decision. 

Jumping to conclusions and making decisions based on assumptions, are the best way to set yourself up for some humble pie later on. 

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way in recent weeks … again. 

This is an unhelpful thought pattern that will limit your success because it makes you close-minded and closed off for possible opportunities and new experiences.

How many times have you made a decision too quickly and regretted it?

Give yourself the chance to be right.

2. Applying the past to the future.

The most beautiful girl in high school might have ignored you, but that has nothing to do with your ability to appeal to the woman of your dreams today.

The past doesn’t have to equal the future. 

This thought alone can transform your life. 

So many of us have an internal story (belief system) that we tell ourselves. 

Unfortunately, if you do this long enough, after a while you’ll start believing it and live up to it. 

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The past is good to learn from, but that’s about it. 

We shouldn’t be ignorant about the past, but we need to be careful to define the future by the past. 

The Ancient Scriptures say that there is nothing new in this world, and what was will be again

I believe this. 

However,  I don’t believe it means we can use the past as a perfect blueprint and prediction of the future. 

If you do this in your personal life, you will severely handicap yourself and any potential result you are capable of.

The truth is that we’re too quick to believe we’re “experts” regarding our own abilities and potential.

Unfortunately, we often use failures as indicators of our ability and potential.

Therefore, allow me to say this very bluntly – one failure isn’t enough to prove anything – it doesn’t mean sh!t.

Let me ask you this – would you believe that a flipped coin would only land on “heads” in the future, after flipping it once or twice and getting that result? 

Of course not. 

So, why do it to yourself?

Even if you lack natural skills in one area, you can always learn.

You weren’t born knowing how to walk or do algebra.

In fact, some experts believe that learning how to walk is one of the hardest skills to master

Yet, most of us thought nothing of it when we were toddlers.

We simply tried because it was part of a natural process to get further in life. 

However, somewhere along the line as we grow older,  many of us lose this in an inner drive to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and we buy into this idea that we are limited in our potential.  

You can learn to be a great public speaker, salesperson, or social butterfly, too.

3. Focusing too much on the positive or the negative.

Strive to be accurate.

Consider when you start dating someone new.

At first, you’re too focused on their positive traits.

As the relationship is failing, you’re too focused on the negative.

Neither is accurate. 

One of the greatest skills we can teach ourselves is awareness. 

The more awareness we have in any given situation, the more options we have.

And the more options we have, the more power we have the correct results we want. 

When we live on autopilot, without any form of awareness, we limit our ability to be truly impactful and successful. 

Think of it like this …

if I took someone from the country who knew very little of the city and placed them in the city asking them to get around, how would they fare against someone from the city who had a greater awareness of city life? 

Who will have the most power to exercise the better choices in that environment? 

But, what if the roles were reversed? 

What if you put the city slicker on a farm, who would have the most awareness in power in that environment? 

Generally speaking, each to their own of course. 

We also need to develop awareness within our own situations and environments, in order to function optimally and create the results that we want. 

How do you create awareness? 


Learn to slow down and pay attention.   

4. Giving things too much or too little relevance.

Do you give your failures too much attention?

Do you give your successes too little?

Have a balanced view.

Just because your boss ignored your morning greeting doesn’t mean you’re about to be fired.

Give yourself the credit you deserve. 

A question that I have taught many of my clients, that have served them well is, “Is that really true?” 

Reading something into nothing is a common but limiting thought pattern. 

We need to learn how to take a breath, stand back, and ask ourselves what is really going on here before we react

Getting into the habit of paying too much attention to our failures, and too little attention to our successes will make it very hard for you to be happy and live life freely. 

You need to realise that as with most things in life, this is only a perspective that you choose to apply to your life. 

And since you’re the one applying it, you can also un-apply it.

5. Taking something personally, that has nothing to do with you.

People do and say things for many reasons that don’t include you.

They might be having a bad day or dealing with a personal issue.

Your car breaking down doesn’t mean the universe is out to get you.

Others have more on their mind than just you. 

To put it bluntly – the world does not revolve around you

So get off your high horse, and get on with things. 

Or as Richard Carlson says in his little gem of a book, don’t sweat the small stuff … it is all small stuff.  

Let go of being overly sensitive.

6. Focusing on the past.

I call this one, being a garbage collector

As already mentioned the past can provide powerful lessons.

However, most people don’t use the past constructively.

They focus on missed opportunities and mistakes.

They live in the past. 

They gather and hoard garbage from the past, and then live in it.  

I know this is a crude image, but living in the past is worse. 

When used this way, the past creates feelings of regret. Let go of the past and avoid allowing it to limit your future. 

Here’s a big idea that might set you free if you’re a “garbage collector” – no matter how much you choose to focus on the past, nothing will change it. 

No amount of worry or stress or self-punishment will change what has happened. 

The only thing that will create a new future, is a new decision in the present. 

Let go, and move on.

It really is that easy.

7. Focusing on the future.

I call this one, being a fortuneteller

Having goals and plans is great!

But many use the future as a source of worry, so they never act. 

These are the people that live as if they have some crystal ball in which they can see the future while others can’t. 

They live under the yoke of the “what if’s” and are paralysed by fear. 

They call it something else of course, but in reality, it’s only fear. 

Here’s a simple solution – stay focused on today.

Today is the only time you can change your life.

This moment is the only moment that is real. 

There is no yesterday or tomorrow. 

It is the decisions we make in each moment that ultimately determine our destiny. 

We can make decisions only at this moment.  

So if you want to do something, do it now. 

Let go of the worry of what might happen. 

Rather concern yourself with the question, what if I choose not to act and this is my last moment? 

Allow the future to arrive at its own time.

It will come soon enough. 

You don’t need to help it along. 

Focus on living in the present and let the future unfold as it will.

8. Putting things off.

This unhelpful pattern is much the same as number seven. 

Life is unpredictable at the best of times.  therefore, putting things off is a useless exercise. 

Let me ask you this, is it easier to have your muffler replaced when you notice it’s getting louder and louder or to wait until it falls off in the middle of the highway?

If you wait until you’re forced to deal with things, your solutions will often be less elegant and less effective.

That is, of course, the best-case scenario. 

Worst case scenario is that you never get the chance to do the things that you wanted to do. 

If there is something major and important you need to do, I encourage you to finish reading this post and go into it now.

Well, I hope I served you today.

Spend some time and reflect on some of the unhelpful thought patterns that you might have in your life. 

This list of eight is by no means exhausted, there are many other limiting thought patterns. 

Yet, these are the most common in my experience and you are bound to relate to at least one of them. 

So have the awareness of what’s going on in your own mind, and make the changes needed today to move closer to success in your life. 

It is time to get rid of these unhelpful thought patterns that limit your success.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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