How Confirmation Bias Keeps You Stuck

We all have seemingly mundane occurrences in our past that hurt us deeply. That time you were singing in music class and a classmate leaned over to whisper in your ear “You can’t sing.” The time you answered a question in class incorrectly, and a group of kids laughed at you and called you stupid. That year in school when you just couldn’t seem to pay attention or turn anything in on time, and your parents and teachers kept asking “What’s wrong with you?” 

Instances like these cause us to believe negative things about ourselves, especially when we are young and impressionable. These limiting beliefs can then persist into adulthood, fueled by confirmation bias until they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The Formation of Limiting Beliefs

Limiting beliefs often originate from early experiences or influential figures in our lives. Comments from parents, teachers, or peers, especially during childhood, can shape our self-perception and plant the seeds for negative beliefs.

While these instances were hurtful at the time, the true danger lies in how you processed them and moved forward with a harmful idea about yourself. Negative self-perceptions such as "I'm not good at math" or "I can't do anything right," can take root early in life and persist for years until they feel like unshakable truths. Confirmation bias, a psychological phenomenon, plays a significant role in reinforcing these beliefs and keeping you trapped in self-defeating patterns.

Confirmation Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, remember, and collect information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs while disregarding or downplaying contradictory evidence. Once we form a negative belief about ourselves, confirmation bias selectively filters information to align with that belief, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, let’s say you believe that you are socially awkward and unlikable. When attending a party, you interpret any slightly awkward moment or perceived disinterest from others as confirmation of this belief. You dismiss positive interactions or instances where you felt comfortable, reinforcing your negative self-perception. You don’t try to make friends or approach people, telling yourself that it won’t go well and that you shouldn’t “bother” them with your poor social skills.

Or maybe you believe that you’re not competent enough for a promotion at work. When assigned challenging tasks, you interpret any minor setbacks or constructive feedback as evidence of your incompetence. You dismiss accomplishments and positive feedback, selectively attributing success to external factors or luck. When the chance comes to try for a promotion, you tell yourself you’re not good enough, and so you never get promoted.

Over time, your skewed perception reinforces the belief, making it seem like an unchangeable truth. 

Challenging Limiting Beliefs

Identify your limiting beliefs:
The first step is becoming aware of the negative beliefs that are holding you back. Take time for self-reflection and introspection. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and recurring patterns. Notice any self-limiting beliefs that arise and how they influence your perception of yourself and your capabilities. Therapy can be extremely useful to help you in this step!

Question the belief: Ask yourself whether there is concrete evidence to support the belief or if it's based on assumptions or past experiences. Challenge the belief by exploring alternative perspectives and considering the possibility of a different truth.

Gather contrary evidence: Actively seek out examples and experiences that contradict your limiting belief. Look for instances where you have succeeded or made progress in areas related to the belief. Create a list of counterexamples that challenge the belief and demonstrate your capabilities. By consciously focusing on counterexamples, you can begin to shift the balance of evidence and challenge confirmation bias.

Practice cognitive restructuring: Cognitive restructuring involves consciously replacing negative thoughts and beliefs with more empowering and realistic ones. Identify the negative belief and reframe it by finding more balanced, evidence-based statements. For example, instead of "I can't do anything right," reframe it as "I am capable of learning and improving."

Test your beliefs: Put your limiting beliefs to the test by taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Engage in activities or pursuits that challenge the belief and provide an opportunity for growth and success. As you accumulate experiences that defy the belief, your confidence and self-perception will gradually shift.

Seek support and external perspectives: Share your limiting belief with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. Seek their input and ask for their observations regarding your strengths and abilities. External perspectives can offer a fresh outlook and provide valuable insights that challenge your own biases.

Embrace a growth mindset: Adopt a growth mindset, which involves believing in your capacity for growth and improvement. Embrace challenges as opportunities for learning and development, rather than as confirmation of your limitations. Emphasize effort, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from setbacks as crucial elements of personal growth.

Get support to get unstuck

The stories we tell about ourselves are powerful. Once a limiting belief is established, confirmation bias causes you to keep telling yourself that story, trapping you in a cycle of negative self-perception. It can be extremely hard to identify and challenge those beliefs, especially if you’ve been gathering evidence for them for years. Getting help from a trained mental health professional can make the process much easier. 

At Medens Health, our therapists can help you rewrite your narrative and embrace a more fulfilling and confident life. We offer therapy in-person in California and Nevada, and remotely across ~36 states. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or to register as a new patient get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

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