Beware “iceberg beliefs” that can sink your organization

“Ours has always been a hand-to-mouth existence,” the seminary president commented with a shrug and a sheepish smile. “I can’t imagine that thriving is in our future.”

Neither can a lot of the other ministry heads and board members with whom I’ve worked.


A wide swath of the nonprofit sector has been down so long that the possibility of a brighter future seems an impossible dream. For all the pious talk about faith in an all-sufficient God, “iceberg beliefs” – a phrase coined by the author of a FastCompany blog to describe “self-limiting, below-the-surface doubts” – hold stronger sway.


Although directed toward individuals, the five habits identified in the FC article as essential for moving from can’t to can do, are just as helpful in organizational settings.

Check your language: When you’re feeling fear or resistance about something, it could be a sign that you have an underlying belief that is triggering those reactions.

Look for roadblocks: Exploring areas with which you are dissatisfied and looking at why you don’t make changes can be a good way to identify self-limiting beliefs.

Suspend disbelief: Your icebergs . . .  could be pretty well-entrenched and hard to shake. But once you find them, you need to give them a rest, even for brief periods, by suspending your disbelief that you can get beyond them. . . Once you’ve silenced the belief, ask yourself how you can do the thing that you want to do but feel you can’t.

Set a stretch goal: Choose a goal that will help move you in the direction of your overall objective, but make sure it’s slightly out of your comfort zone. . . You may not achieve it at first, but the more you work toward them, the more confidence you will build—and confidence is the enemy of self-limiting beliefs.

Get used to being off autopilot: Walking around with self-limiting beliefs is like being on autopilot, letting some other force tell you how to maneuver in the world. . . When you start to identify and eliminate those beliefs, it can be very liberating.

And a sixth habit worth cultivating, this one from me.

Claim as your organization’s own, God’s promises which have all been made “yes” in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20): Make a habit of beginning and ending staff and board meetings with a Scripture passage such as Jeremiah 29:11, inserting the name of your ministry into the text. Then create opportunities to celebrate God’s goodness to the organization.

As you repeat stories of God’s provision for your ministry yesterday and today, it’s easier to believe that thriving is in your future.

For more on the topic of God’s sufficiency, see:

Cadence, the 20 Mile March, and God’s abundance

Mice, life, and if the Lord wills

Four benefits of turning tough times into teachable moments


  1. Such wisdom, as always.

  2. Excellent! It reminds me of a similar theme, “an OK Plateau” in Gary Keller’s book, “The ONE Thing.” “When you’re in search of extraordinary results,” says Keller, “accepting an OK Plateau or any other ceiling of achievement isn’t okay when it applies to your ONE Thing.”

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