More Reference Experiences, Less Limiting Beliefs

I know many readers aren’t fans of the whole pickup dealio that I’m in to, but I have to say that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever gotten involved in in terms of personal development. I’ve learned so much from it, lessons that aren’t specific to flirting and dating. I think of framing, storytelling, group dynamics, leadership, self-assurance, self-trust, persistence, being assertive, how to handle rejection, body language, eye contact, social skills… and on and on.

Today I want to address the concept of reference experiences, and how they help kill limiting beliefs. Let’s start with some explanations of these terms:

  • A limiting belief is simply a disempowering belief, one that holds you back. Usually these beliefs are false. Example: Girls don’t like me because of my looks.
  • Reference experiences are experiences you’ve had that tell you more about how the world really works. They serve as reality checks. If you get out there enough and put yourself in enough situations, you can’t help but figure out a few truths. Reality has a habit of smacking you in the face repeatedly until you accept it.


From the above explanations, can you see how reference experiences help kill limiting beliefs? Here are a few personal examples to explain further…

I never considered myself very physically attractive, and I used to tell myself that girls wouldn’t like me because of my looks. But over the years I’ve had enough positive interactions with women to know that this belief is bullshit, simply a story I was telling myself that was holding me back. Now sure, I know I’m still not the best looking guy in the world, but I no longer believe that I’m unattractive. I’ve had too many reference experiences say otherwise.

As mentioned, many of the concepts I’ve learned from pickup apply far and wide, and this one is no exception. I think of how I recently hired an assistant and she’s now busy working for me. I have this limiting belief that I don’t really deserve the money she earns for me, because she’s doing all the work. But I can feel the experience chipping away at that belief. I know that logically I do deserve the money because people should be rewarded for working smarter (not just harder). I know with enough time and experience, I’ll get comfortable with the idea of other people earning money for me.

A more general and simplified example would be tying your shoelaces. At some point you thought such a feat was really difficult and that you couldn’t do it. But then you saw enough other people doing it and practiced it enough yourself that it became really easy. Now you don’t even think twice about tying your shoelaces. You’ve had enough reference experiences enforcing the belief that you’ve become a master at it.

Bad reference experiences

Even reference experiences that we label as bad can be viewed as beneficial. I think of an incident recently where I took home a girl I met at a club and the next morning she asked me for 2000 Baht (almost $70) “taxi money”. I felt my stomach tighten. Up until that point there had been no mention of money. I felt cheated. But more so, I felt like a fool. I should have known better. I’d met this girl leaving a shady club in the wee hours. She’d been pretty drunk. It didn’t take much convincing to get her back to my place.

Like I said, I really should have known better. But at the same time, I’ve chosen not to regret that it happened. I view it as a reference experience, one that made me smarter (or at least less stupid).

(Best be clear here: This way of thinking isn’t a license for reckless behavior. I’m not saying you should go out and do stupid things because you can always shrug them off as reference experiences later. Be smart and avoid trouble whenever possible. But when you do inevitably find that you’ve made a mistake, treat it as a lesson learned and be grateful. No point beating yourself up about it.)

To summarize…

  • You can’t kill a limiting belief with logic. But you can often kill a limiting belief by getting out there and putting it to the test in the real world, by actually experiencing that logic at play.
  • The more experiences you have in life, the easier it is to get in tune with reality. You’ll notice patterns, the same truths coming up over and over again.
  • You don’t have to get down on yourself when something “bad” happens. View it as another reference experience that gives you more insight into how the world works. Learn from it.

How to get more reference experiences

Get out there and do more things. Want to get better with women? Get out there and interact more with women. Want to get better at business? Get out there and start doing business. Want to become a better public speaker? Get out there and start speaking in front of people.

What reference experiences would be beneficial to you? Comments are open.

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  1. Great post man.

    PS: you’ve got me very inspired to do something adventurous living here in Hong Kong like entering an abandoned sky scraper (there are plenty here) .

    1. Be careful. I’m not sure what the laws are like there. In Bangkok I’m pretty sure we could have bribed our way out of any trouble with the authorities.

      Also, know that it can be really dangerous. I don’t advise going. Do so at your own risk!

    1. I only had a single 100 and multiple 1000 Baht notes. I thought 100 might not get her home (didn’t know where she lived in the city), so I was ready to just be generous and give her the 1000. Then she asked me for 2000 and it finally dawned on me that she was a prostitute.

      I couldn’t hide the fact that I was angry and felt cheated. I told her that she’d never mentioned money the night before. I gave her the 1000 and sent her out the door. I don’t think she was too happy about it.

  2. I suppose the classic example is the fire walking experience. This covers several things at once. Courage and will power to do the act. The power of the mind to prevent you being burnt. Your own exploration of yourself and the non average world.

    You should have bargained her down to 1500.


  3. I was wondering about that too but decided that yes of course you did -you’re an honourable guy and it was her job and there had been a misunderstanding. But did you?

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and I continue to find it really stimulating and inspiring. I don’t read all the post I have to admit but when I do, it is good stuff.

    I don’t have any problem with the pick-up or sex stuff. It’s so unusual for people to be honest about this type of thing. Especially men – probably men are honest between themselves but they don’t always tell it like it is whe women are listening. So it is fascinating for me! Women are probably the same – telling the truth to each other and glossing over things when men are around.
    Well, yes I think I will try out your idea in a situation I have. I have a stepson – he is almost 18 and I have problems feeling comfortable with him and his friends. I imagine they think I am old and fat and boring – and that because I am not Spanish I am weird. So often I don’t bother to speak to them – I just scuttle by when they are here. But you are right – better to gather experience and test out my belief -perhaps it is rubbish!
    Have a great day – what a photo – right on the edge! Kate

  4. It sounds like you have discovered a different term for what in psychology is called ‘reality testing’. This concept is used in cognitive behavioural therapy to test out irrational beliefs. It can be quite profound but a lot of it depends on how embedded the belief is. In my experience the motivating factor has to be higher than the fear factor in order to result in action. Often that’s the difficult bit!

  5. I am wondering when you put yourself out there repeatedly to test a limiting belief… sometimes or maybe most of the time you would get both negative and positive responses, correct? And I suppose to break the limiting belief you focus on the positive and find evidence to destroy the belief? Because for example, in the case of the belief “Women don’t find me attractive”, there is no point in carrying that belief if you find evidence for both sides… because it just creates a lower quality of life and a hurdle in interacting with others even if some women didn’t actually find a person attractive. If so it would be just as important to keep repeatedly exposing oneself, to find enough evidence, so you don’t just give up after the first few responses which may be negative. Does that make sense? Any thoughts?

    1. Positive and negative are just labels we assign though. Think of two tennis players and an umpire. Player 1 faults and thinks it’s bad. Player 2 thinks it’s good. The umpire is indifferent. One event and three different interpretations.

      In the case of me going out and finding out how attractive I am to the opposite sex, the simple reality I’ve found is that that some women will find me attractive and others won’t. Just like I find some girls attractive and others not. I’ve learned not to take it personally. If a girl looks at me and rolls her eyes or gives me the cold shoulder, no big deal. I know that if I go talk to another few girls that some of them will like me.

      So in that case it is empowering. Experience has taught me that it doesn’t really matter what one person thinks of me. Plenty more fish in the sea and all that.

      1. Hi Niall, By positive and negative, I meant “Yes, I like you” OR “No, I am not interested”. I did not mean judgement on the experience. I should have been more clear.

        But you make a good point about not taking it personally. I have a tendency to take things personally too much of the time, so I have to work on that.

        1. Ah, I get you. I misunderstood before.

          I think my answer still holds though. Whether a girl says yes or no, it’s still up to me to consider her response positive/negative. Lately I’ve been focusing on finding something funny in each interaction, no matter what happens. I find when I do that, it’s hard to judge any outcome as negative.

    2. Tackling limiting beliefs properly actually involves figuring out what evidence you hold for the limiting belief and finding a different way of looking at it (reframing) so that it no longer supports the limiting belief. Gathering evidence for your new empowering belief to replace that comes along with that.

      I wrote a detailed post on the topic here:

      (Yes, Niall, I’m stealing one of your readers. Muhahahaha.)

  6. You have such great posts. I recently started a new blog, and what’s funny is last night I was having a bit of a limiting belief crisis. I overcame it, and wrote about it this morning. I mentioned your blog (because you’re awesome).

    Anyway… I think we all live with soooo many limiting beliefs. I remember when I first visited France for a summer and then went back to PA to see my family, a friend of my grandmother’s was talking to me about how someday she wanted to go to Australia… some day, some day…. and I said “well, it doesn’t have to be some day. I just went to France for 2 months and it wasn’t as expensive as you’d think.” But she continued on the “some day” path, as if I hadn’t said a thing. We just think there are these limits that aren’t really there. “Oh, I can’t do that” is just the lazy way out (and I’ve taken it, I admit). I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like, if I were to really give 100%, I could do anything I wanted. Just two problems with me. 1. too many things I want to do, and 2. I can still be lazy. lol

    Thanks for the post 😀

  7. Reading tip: the Personal Power Meditation forums.

    Left brain: reads the map you have currently

    Right brain: expands the map.

    That’s why experiences are so crucial to PD and overthinking is bad bad bad.

    I guess it’s also possible to be TOO right brain, ie people who have a lot of experiences but never mull them over and reflect and integrate. Although no one who reads legendary blogs like yours are at risk of that, me thinks 🙂

  8. I have this limiting belief that I don’t really deserve the money she earns for me, because she’s doing all the work. But I can feel the experience chipping away at that belief. I know that logically I do deserve the money because people should be rewarded for working smarter (not just harder). I know with enough time and experience, I’ll get comfortable with the idea of other people earning money for me.

    What does it mean to “deserve” something, anyway? Would be a good topic for a blog post.

    My mantra for this: that which you feel you do not deserve, is that which you MUST experience. (Credit goes to an obscure self help guru by the name of PJ Eby).

    What it means is that feelings of non-desert are a signal from your subconscious that you need experience in this area, and have many experience points to harvest if you go for it.

    Another counter-measure for feelings of non-desert is simply to start doing hard work every day, not necessarily related to income (I’m planning to start a garden, for instance).

    More on proper hard work here:

    This ties into a theory of mine that the feeling of non-desert is some kind of evolved fairness intuition which is adaptive in a small ingroup (you want everyone chipping in equally and not being parasitical in your 50-person caveman tribe, after all) but in the modern world the concept of deserving something is waaaay more fluid. So by working hard on SOMETHING every day, you sate your internal need to be a good tribe member and chip in to the common good.

    I have spent a lot of time thinking about this – non-desert is a huge barrier to success so its many mechanism need to be understood and hacked.

  9. Hmm… I’m not sure your experience was all that moral, even from within your own framework. (And even ignoring the fact she turned out to be a prostitute)

    You said previously that you make sure your interactions are going to be positive for both you and the other person, yet here you’re sleeping with a drunk girl after presumably very little time. How can you tell it’s good for her too?

    Also you claimed that ‘See, for me, it’s not about the girl. It’s not about getting laid. Sure, if I find the girl especially attractive then I experience more fear, more anxiety, but the battle remains internal.’ Same thing – if she’s drunk, then it wasn’t really about a genuine connection, was it?

    Something to think about.

    1. I agree. I’m not proud of what happened. Even if she hadn’t been a prostitute, it wasn’t exactly a great night (always way better when there’s a genuine connection). Simply one of those times when I was horny and not thinking straight.

      But like I said, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’ll just keep it stored in my memory banks and next time I have a chance to do similar I’ll recall the previous outcome and make a smarter decision.

  10. Great post. This is definitely an area I am working on in my life. I think the advice of “Get out there and do more things,” is great advice. I have often been governed by limiting beliefs due to shyness, anxiety and the insanity of having three young children. I have recently been motivated to test these beliefs (by you and others) and I definitely see that the more I test the beliefs in the real world, the less believable they are.

  11. hi Niall

    honest post… and No, you’re not a fool… sometimes one can’t really know what the experience will be until it’s lived…specially in countries that are so way different than where you’re from (from your belief and/or ‘knowing’ system)

    and… this is just an amazing coincidence as my husband & I were just talking about this building yesterday !!! we were almost in disbelief to see it is still standing there, still abandoned…(We lived here in 1998 & 1999 & are now back for a couples months)…

    let’s keep on loving traveling!

    Carou LLou – Nomade since 1994

  12. Hi Niall, thanks for the post! Definitely agreeing with you that having beliefs of limited self-worth is an obstacle we are all facing. Simply a story, like you said, a recording that needs changing.Somewhere along the way we were made to feel like this and came to believe it. It’s as though these preconceived beliefs gradually tainted our perception of our experiences and perpetuated this on-going cycle. In that way, you can almost see in people the path toward more extreme self-annihilistic beliefs. A real broken record playin the same ole crappy song. But I’m thinking that taking a leap of faith into the unknown, like you are doing everyday, would be like smashing the record,proving the belief wrong. It is a great inspiration. Being who we truly are is definitely the most attractive thing of all. You unattractive? You’re right, that is total bullshit. I mean, one just needs to look into your eyes to see the truth. 🙂 Cheers and keep on rockin!

  13. This is almost the basis for my new site. Something I’ve also been doing since 2004 and its amazing how other things open up once you squash one limiting belief.

    Confidence grows and suddenly other limiting beliefs dont even need a reality check. They just get squashed right away because of all the other ones that have been squashed.

    Bangkoks a tricky place for the dating scene haha…. Just make sure they dont play ping pong.

  14. yeah thats the only thing about bkk, most of the girls want money!! lol anyway she should have been glad to get the 1000!! lol. its still quite abit for over there!

  15. Pingback: “I can’t” | Just a ride

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