1. Home
  2. Social and Interpersonal Skills
  3. NLP Meta Model
  4. Modal Operators of Possibility

How beliefs can limit our potential

There are some things in the world that are just not possible — we can’t walk through walls, we can’t fly unaided, and we can’t produce something out of thin air. However, there are many things in life that are possible but we believe they aren’t. Consider the following examples: “I can’t do math”, “I can’t read fast”, “It’s impossible to make a million dollars honestly”. These examples show limitations that are based on belief — not objective fact. When we, or others, set limits on ourselves based on belief it is often possible to change the belief and hence make more possibilities available to us. In NLP, these types of limiting beliefs are referred to as modal operators of possibility.

Limiting Beliefs — Cannot and Impossible

The words ‘cannot’ and ‘impossible’ are very limiting. We often interpret them as absolute statements and not something that can be changed. If we say that we can’t do something or that something is impossible, chances are it is just a belief about ourselves. Someone who says they can’t swim is really just someone who hasn’t yet learned how.

Overcoming our limitations

In order to see through a belief statement, replace “I can’t” with “I won’t”. This shows that it is a choice and not an absolute fact. For example, changing “I can’t give a speech in front of a thousand people” to “I won’t give a speech in front of a thousand people” clarifies that you are making a choice. It may be a valid choice — giving a speech in front of a thousand people is a difficult task — but it isn’t impossible.

Another approach to take is to ask yourself “what would happen if I did?” or “what stops me?” or “how do I stop myself?” These questions help further clarify what is preventing you from achieving something and can give insight into how to move forward.

Clarifying goals

When you use the words “can’t” or “impossible” you setup an outcome then put it out of reach. There are several questions you need to ask yourself to clarify the situation:

  • Do you have a good understanding of what the goal, or outcome, is?
  • Do you understand why you want it?
  • Why do you think you can’t achieve it?
  • What are the consequences if you do achieve it?
  • What can you do to get it?

Once the consequences and barriers have been deleted, further examination may show the goal to be less challenging than originally thought.

Summary of Can’t and Impossible

Many limitations are based on belief and beliefs can be changed.

Limiting beliefs can be identified with the words “cannot” or “impossible”.

To overcome a limiting belief change the word “can’t” to “won’t”. Alternatively, ask yourself “what would happen if I did?” or “what stops me?” or “how do I stop myself?”

You can further overcome your limitations by clarifying your goals.

Related Pages

Unspecified Nouns
Unspecified Verbs
Modal Operators of Possibility
Modal Operators of Necessity
Universal Quantifiers
Complex Equivalence
Cause and Effect
Mind Reading