Socratic Questioning for Your Limiting Beliefs

One of the tools that'll help you most in your daily life is knowing how to question yourself. It involves becoming aware and reflecting on realities that may not be correct or of benefit to you. Learn here how to put this strategy into practice.
Socratic Questioning for Your Limiting Beliefs
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 24 March, 2023

As, people, we’re made of dreams, desires, and infinite fears. However, this third dimension often vetoes the first two. On the other hand, fears facilitate our survival and it’s thanks to them that we can survive as a species. That said, many of them are made up of irrational beliefs and limiting ideas.

For example, you’re probably continually afraid of failing or ‘screwing up’ in almost any situation. You fear making a fool of yourself. Moreover, when you look to the future, you see a horizon dominated by tremendous uncertainty. In fact, not knowing what might happen tomorrow often annihilates your present potential.

It’s obvious that, as a human being, you’ll never get rid of each and every one of your fears. After all, many of them play a fundamental role. However, you must rationalize them, and pass them through a filter of objectivity and even common sense. One way of deconstructing your limiting perceptions is through a Socratic dialogue with yourself.

“I know you won’t believe me, but the highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.”


hand catching mental thread to symbolize Socratic questioning
Challenging and questioning our beliefs allows us to awaken our true potential.

Socratic questioning

Socratic questioning is a method based on dialogue and reflective questions. It allows you to meditate on certain assumptions, explore complex concepts, and develop more critical thinking. This tool was developed by Socrates to question his students about their beliefs.

For this philosopher from Athens, true knowledge was only achieved when people with different perspectives talked to each other. It’ll probably come as no surprise to you to learn that this approach is now one of the cornerstones of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In this practice, professionals are trained to ask open questions that promote reflection and introspection in the patient.

An investigation conducted by the University of Calgary (Canada) highlights the usefulness of the Socratic dialogue for unraveling the beliefs and values rooted within us that modulate every thought, emotion, and many of our behaviors. It claims it’s an ideal tool to facilitate change and a healthier mental focus.

Socratic questioning doesn’t seek to confront you or make you feel uncomfortable. Its purpose is to incite curiosity to reflect on your beliefs and perspectives and assess whether you should adjust them and assume brighter and more beneficial ideas.

How to deactivate limiting beliefs with Socratic questioning

Everyone has certain limiting beliefs. Indeed, on a daily basis, you often develop thoughts that imprison your human potential. The fact that they appear isn’t a problem. The challenge comes when you give value and truth to completely distorted and negative ideas about yourself.

Studies such as those conducted at Stanford University (USA) highlight that limiting beliefs are the foundation of many psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression. So, what if you were to act preventively? In effect, the decision to apply Socratic questioning to deactivate the perceptions that trap you and lead to unhappiness lies entirely in your own hands.

In fact, empowering yourself in the art of self-reflection and critical thinking doesn’t hurt, nor is it uncomfortable. It transforms you. You can’t adapt to a complex and changing world if you don’t first practice self-knowledge. It’s from here that you ignite your virtues and eliminate the issues that are holding you back. Here’s how to do it:

1. Register your limiting beliefs and negative ideas

Becoming aware that you’re producing ideas and thoughts that veto your well-being is the first step. Indeed, keeping track of them is crucial. It’ll allow you to employ Socratic questioning more effectively.

Bear in mind that limiting beliefs are the voice of fear and self-criticism. The fear of failure, that everything will go wrong, that you’re not worthy, that you’ll make a fool of yourself, or that tomorrow will only bring you disaster are clear examples of these kinds of beliefs.

2. Clarification

“I better not show up for that job interview because I know I won’t get it”. “I won’t bother to send them a message because I know they didn’t really like me on our first date”.

Clarification involves considering a  perception that suddenly arises in your mind. It means explaining it a little more, describing it, and giving it more form. For example: “I have the feeling that if I show up for that interview I’ll make a fool of myself” or “Something tells me that they didn’t like me too much on our first date.”

3. Evidence and support for your ideas

Socratic questioning also seeks that you look for evidence that gives objective validity to your conceptions. Such an exercise requires activating your critical and analytical thinking. This is absolutely essential. For example:

“What reasons do I have to think that they’ll reject me in that interview? Why should I make a fool of myself? Is it because I don’t have enough skills to fill the position?” or “What real facts are there to make me think that I gave such a bad impression on that first date?”.

4. Alternative points of view

The change toward well-being won’t be possible if you don’t strive to leave behind your exhausting thought patterns and replace them with more adjusted approaches. It means you must commit yourself to change. That’s because it’s not enough to question yourself and detect harmful ideas if you don’t do anything about it afterward.

Considering alternative ideas that correct your irrational perceptions will allow you to broaden your mind and shine a light on the situation. You must shape new possibilities and more useful mental approaches. For example:

“What do I have to lose if I show up for that job interview? What if, instead of thinking I’ll make a fool of myself, I trust a little more in my potential and my experience?” or “What do I have to lose by sending my date a message to see how they respond? After all, I had a good time with them. Who’s to say they’re not waiting for me to make the first move?”

Socratic questioning requires understanding the reason for your beliefs, confronting them to find out if they’re useful to you, and then proposing an alternative.

5. Implications and consequences

Questioning yourself awakens critical and reflective thinking. Furthermore, it opens up new perspectives for you. It succeeds because when you investigate and question your beliefs, you become aware that much of what you took for granted wasn’t entirely true or beneficial.

To reach the optimal point of self-discovery, you must think about what the consequences would be if you changed your exhausting beliefs and perceptions. Would it benefit you? Would it make you feel better? Could it bring positive changes to your life? For instance:

“If I dare to show up for that job interview, there’s a possibility that I’ll get the job. Even if I don’t get it, I’ll still feel better about myself because I would’ve taken the initiative.” or “If I send the message, we might have another date. But, if it doesn’t happen, at least I’ll feel good about myself for trying”.

Man thinking about Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning is a practice worth exercising on a daily basis.

Your mind is made up of assumptions that are rooted in the depths of your being. Some prevent you from having the life you really want. What’s complicated is that you’re not always aware that certain beliefs make up the foundation that builds the walls of depression or an anxiety trap.

Therefore, it’s worth learning to occasionally question yourself and dedicate time in your daily routine to talk to yourself. In fact, like Socrates, challenge yourself to awaken and acquire new knowledge.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Boden, M. T., John, O. P., Goldin, P. R., Werner, K., Heimberg, R. G., & Gross, J. J. (2012). The role of maladaptive beliefs in cognitive-behavioral therapy: Evidence from social anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50(5), 287-291.
  • Borders, L. D., & Archadel, K. A. (1987). Self-beliefs and career counseling. Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 69-79.
  • Clark, G. I., & Egan, S. J . (2015). The Socratic method in cognitive behavioural therapy: A narrative review. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 39(6), 863-879.
  • Kazantzis, Nikolaos & Beck, Judith & Clark, David & Dobson, Keith & Hofmann, Stefan & Leahy, Robert & Wong, C.. (2018). Socratic Dialogue and Guided Discovery in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Modified Delphi Panel. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy. 11. 10.1007/s41811-018-0012-2.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.