Power Tool: Freedom Vs. Limitation

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By: Rhonda Van Buskirk


“Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they
carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of
their vision.” ~V.S. Naipaul

When we are feeling freedom in our lives, we see options. We see possibilities. From this open space, ideas seem to come forward freely, easily, and without limitation. It is as if we are able to see things with a broader spectrum. There are no restrictions, or if there are, we see them as small or inconsequential things that are not getting in our way of getting whatever it is that we want.

When we are feeling limited, we feel stuck. We feel powerless. From this closed space, we feel as if we are unable to change things or move them forward the way we would like. Just like a photo filter, when we feel limited, we can be clouded by this perception filter, and therefore unable to see the full spectrum of possibilities. We feel trapped by circumstance and unable to clearly see the power we have inside of us to create solutions. We can become scared, sad, frustrated, and full of doubt. We cannot “see” our way out.

Something that illustrates this concept well is the training of circus elephants. When circus elephants are young, they are chained in place with a large stake in the ground and heavy chains around the legs. The young elephant might try to escape, but the chain is too strong for them. Eventually, they give up because they have learned that they are not able to pull themselves free. Once this shift happens, only a thin rope is needed to chain up the elephant. The elephant can break free quite easily from this rope, but doesn’t even make the attempt, because the elephant believes that the barrier is too strong.

Like the circus elephants, we can enter into this state of believing that we are limited when this is not the case.

Self Application

Something that you hear quite often when someone is coming from a limiting point of view is “I’m too (fill in the blank).” or “I’m not (fill in the blank).” I cannot do this thing that I would really like to do because I’m too old, too young, not smart enough, not educated enough…the list goes on. Once these kinds of statements have taken hold within us, we begin to have tunnel vision. We shut ourselves down from seeing options, taking action steps, or even believing in ourselves.

The challenge is to find out what/where our “chains” are and see if they are really chains or if they are only the equivalent of a thin rope. What is really keeping us stuck? What if we were free from these limitations? What would be different? In order to truly break free, we need to examine what is happening and understand how these things are keeping us from making the attempt.

Limiting beliefs: Is one of those “I’m too…” statements keeping you from feeling the freedom to choose what you want? Perhaps you feel that you don’t have enough of something, like enough money, enough time, enough education, enough skill? Do you feel as if it’s “okay for other people, but not for me”? What are our beliefs and how are they serving us (or limiting us)?

Fear/Comfort: Have you ever heard the expression “the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t”? When a situation is unchanging, there is a level of comfort and predictability. For example, we may have a job that we are unhappy with, but we have been there for some time, so we know the routine. We know what to expect in a given day. We know how much we will get on payday. We know when to avoid our boss because (s)he is in a bad mood. We might want to look for a different job, but this one is familiar.

We know what to expect. If we went after a new job, we don’t know what to expect. It might be worse. It might pay less. It might require you to learn a new skill. This fear can keep us stuck and prevent us from looking at other possibilities because we are afraid of the unknown.

Values: Our life decisions are based on our core values. Values are the things that determine what is important to us and what motivates us. Perhaps something that is seen as a limitation is really a choice that we have made. Say that we decided that we would like to become an architect. We explored the option, but after careful research and consideration, we determined that this would require schooling, self-study or some other form of special training. At the same time, we decided that we would also like to start a new fitness program because we want to take better care of our health and reduce our risk of health-related issues.

These two things are not mutually exclusive, but if it turns out that our only available time to study or to work out is in the evening, then we might make a decision based on our core values. If it is currently more important to us to have a healthy lifestyle than it is to become an architect, then we will start the new fitness program. This could result in a feeling that we “can’t” become an architect and that we are stuck. We have lost sight of our freedom of choice. What are your values? Is there a value conflict that needs to be explored?

Freedom doesn’t always have to mean drastic outward change. Freedom can also mean making a choice to see our current situation differently, getting out of our comfort zone, or opening ourselves up to some creative thinking or new approaches to a current situation.

Coaching Application

Here are some ways to help your client discover their freedom and shift them from limitation.

Powerful Questions: Asking questions and learning more about the situation in which the client feels limited somehow. Why do they feel this limitation? Is this limitation true or is it only the client’s perception? How does the client know that this is true?

Coaching Tool/Visualization: What would the situation look like if the “chain” was no longer in place and the perceived obstacle(s) were removed? What would happen then? What does that look like? How does it feel to the client to have those obstacles removed?

Fears/Underlying Beliefs: Are the limitations really underlying beliefs? How are these beliefs serving the client? Are they operating under a (possibly) false sense of security? Are they operating from a place of fear?

Values Identification/Assessment: What are the client’s values? Is there a possible value conflict in place? The client may not be aware of their values, so this can be an opportunity to explore values and determine what the client’s core values are and how they are affected by them.

Reframing: Is this a situation where some reframing is needed? For example, if a client believes that they are “too old” to do something, is there an example that they can come up with to negate this belief? Is there a time when they achieved something even though they thought they couldn’t? If the limitation were removed completely, what happens then?


  • Where in your life do you feel that you are stuck or limited? Why?
  • Is there a “chain” that holds you back? What might it be?
  • Is it true? Or is it only a belief that it is true?
  • What if this “chain” was removed? What shifts need to take place?
  • What are your values? Is there a conflict in values between what you desire and what it would take to achieve it?
  • Are there any action(s) can you take to create freedom in a particular situation where you feel limited?


  • Quote: Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad “V.S.” Naipaul (b. 1932), Trinidadian writer of Indian descent. Won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2001. http://literature.britishcouncil.org/vs-naipaul
  • ICA Learning Level 1 Module: Values and Life Purpose
  • Byron Katie, http://www.thework.com