More often than you might think, I have conversations with people that go something like this:

Them: I’m wondering what to do with my life.
Me: Great! What kinds of things are you thinking about?
Them: I dunno. I’d really like to be a writer. But there’s no money in that.
Me: I actually make a very good living writing for people. I’ve even published a few books.
Them: Yeah, but I bet you aren’t exactly a bestselling author.
Me: (Bites lip hard)

This is a live demonstration of what I feel is the single biggest thing holding people back: limiting beliefs. They are a fast-acting poison that can make it impossible for you to succeed. And the irony is that they aren’t real. They are just words that aren’t true, yet change the course of people’s lives.

Think about my example above. I actually do know how to become a successful freelance writer, or a published author. Both involve long-term planning: steps like building relationships, learning and practicing your craft, building a portfolio, studying the competition, and much more. But would you – or most smart people – do all this work if you truly believed “there’s no money in that”?

Limiting beliefs particularly run rampant in the world of self-employment. Personally I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that getting a job is much more secure. Or that there is too much competition. Or that no one ever makes it on their own. These offhand remarks from well-meaning friends would be funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that (a) they are all totally incorrect in my case, and (b) they kill many people’s dreams.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as good cautionary guidance. Our genial host Carol Roth specializes in this. If you are a hipster who wants to be the 453rd person to launch a hot sauce company, her advice (and her book) might keep you from losing your life savings.

Also, some negative advice is truly accurate. For example, entrepreneurs often pay upfront for everything from health insurance to capital expenses, pay higher taxes, and live in a world of cash flow versus paychecks. These things are real. But predicting failure generally isn’t real.

So how can you tell between limiting beliefs and good judgment? Here are the key differences:

The source. Good advice tends to come from people who have experience in what they are talking about. Limiting beliefs tend to come from people like Aunt Mildred or your BFF.

The specifics. Back to Carol’s book for a moment – it is called The Entrepreneur Equation for a reason. There are no rainbows, unicorns or chirpy platitudes about self-employment in it. But each chapter contains assessment tools to help you determine whether you are financially, emotionally and strategically ready to start a business. Good advice always provides data and lets you make the choices.

The outcome. Good advice – even if it is tough love – ultimately tells you how to succeed. Limiting beliefs generally have nothing to offer but helplessness.

So here is my advice for your own business: seek out people who will give you real information, and avoid the negaholics. Limiting beliefs have never served me well, and they won’t serve you well either.