Could you be capable of a lot more than you think you are? There's a simple way to find out. Next time you feel certain that you can't do something, try replacing that thought with something else. You don't have to convince yourself that you can do whatever it is, but try considering that it just might be possible. Then be curious to find out. That one small shift in your thinking can make a very big difference.

Just ask Wendy Capland, executive coach to such companies as IBM and Bank of America. Capland is the author of the bestselling book Your Next Bold Moveand she's also my coach. For the past several years, she's been coaching me and I've been writing about it.

In a recent interview and blog post, Capland explained how she discovered that her own beliefs about her capabilities were dictating what she could and couldn't do. She was at the gym when her trainer told her he thought she was holding herself back. "You think like this," he said, holding up his hands in a little square. "And I want you to think like this," and he stretched his hands out wide. "Often, when we're working out together and I demonstrate something that I want you to do, you say to me 'I can't do that. It's too heavy.' And I know that you can, but you don't," he explained. 

Case in point: a 55-lb. deadlift bar that the trainer told her to lift. Capland didn't just think she couldn't lift that bar, she knew she couldn't lift it because she had actually tried to a few months earlier when someone left it lying on the floor. Still, she thought she should practice shifting her thinking away from "There's just no way I can do that!" So she decided to start by thinking, "Maybe it's possible," instead.

Thinking that thought, and following the trainer's guidance, she lifted the deadlift bar for 10 reps. Then the trainer added a 10-lb. weight to each end of the bar, bringing the total to 75 lbs. That seemed truly out of the question to Capland, but "Maybe it's possible," she thought--and she lifted it for three sets of 10 reps.

Are your beliefs holding you back?

That got Capland wondering where else her limiting beliefs might be affecting her because, she says, if beliefs are holding you back in one part of your life, they're guaranteed to be doing the same in other parts. 

"In my business we say that our beliefs create our thoughts, our thoughts create our actions, and our actions create our results," Capland says. "So everything we believe, consciously or unconsciously, turns into some result in our lives."

These beliefs, she says, are not facts, they're simply our perceptions. "It's not true, and it's not not true, it's just a perception that we hold. So many of us act as if our beliefs are true." And, as Capland learned at the gym, our beliefs can control us if we let them.

How can you find out if your beliefs are holding you back, and if you're capable of more than you think you are? Begin with a goal that you're having trouble reaching or a task that you just can't seem to accomplish, Capland advises. "If you're running into a roadblock, ask yourself, 'Do I have a belief that isn't serving me?'"

If you do, you should seek the help of a mentor, friend, trainer, or coach to try and change it. "I don't believe we should do anything by ourselves, it takes too long and it's too damned hard," she says. "Ask for help."

Capland says she's currently coaching a manager who says that working hard makes him feel successful. If he needs to leave early or stay home for his children, he feels guilty for not working. "He has linked working long hours with being successful and that's just not true," she says. "He didn't realize he had been thinking that way."

Ask yourself what's true.

When you confront a belief that might be holding you back, begin by asking yourself if it's true. "And usually, the answer is, 'I've been acting that way, but I'm not sure,'" Capland says. Replace that thought with a different thought, such as, "I wonder if I'm wrong? I wonder if there's another way? Could this be possible?" she advises. Be curious, she says. "And then take some action to shift the results that you currently have," as she did when she went ahead and tried lifting the deadweight bar.

A good coach, she adds, will keep exploring, asking, "What else might be holding you back? And what else?" until you've found all the possibilities. And then, for each, ask yourself whether that belief is working for you or against you, and whether it's stopping you from doing something you want to do. "The ones you think are stopping you are the ones you try to shift," she says.

What beliefs are holding you back from your goals? And what will you be able to accomplish if you let them go?